This post is a perspective on Evelyn Rogers post regarding Inside-Outside-Inside Leadership which can be found here.
The Outside/In perspective has always been a challenge for the HR function in particular. With the exception of recruiting and external surveys of compensation and benefit practices so much of the work of the HR function is focused on the inner workings of their organization HR professionals are at high risk of losing their perspective on the ” outside “. Reductions in staff resources and increased expectations of the contribution from the function have only made it more difficult for HR professionals to find the time to interact with and observe the “outside “. At the same time we are all working in a world of rapid and significant change so in many ways it has become more important than ever to stay abreast of new developments both in the general business environment as well as the HR field.
Reading a lot is one solution to prevent becoming myopic but in my view that is not enough. Finding the time to participate in external organizations like the Conference Board, the Human Resources People and Strategy Group, and others can be valuable source of information. Just haphazardly attending conferences is not enough and can oftentimes be a waste of valuable time. Strategically allocating a limited amount of time in your schedule to this kind of activity, carefully selecting those events you attend and thoughtfully planning what you will do at those meetings, looking over the attendee list beforehand and identifying the people you want to meet at the event, and identifying the topics you are most interested in during the meeting will ensure you optimize your time.
Professional meetings can be a good source of information on the “outside ” and will surely make you a more valuable HR resource to your clients as you work with them on internal challenges. Becoming a better HR professional, however, is not enough if you expect to be a high value resource to your business partners. Understanding the business challenges so you can put HR practices in context is equally-sometimes more- important. Learn what business/trade publications your business partner reads and subscribe to a few. You don’t need to study those publications or read every article but rather just skim the articles you think are most relevant to the challenges in your business. This will ensure you are at least conversant in the issues your business partner is interested in and you can always go back and read more if any particular issue arises which is important to some HR issue under consideration.
Finally, while reading and listening at conferences will make you a more valuable HR resource, in my experience, there is no substitute for spending time in the market to understand how your business operates in the real world. Visiting customers, market tours, plant visits are all critically important to broadening your knowledge of what makes your business ( and your competitors ) successful. Find time in your schedule to spend time in the business either during the week or maybe even on the weekends. You don’t need to spend a lot of time doing this, but I believe you must spend time observing and understanding what makes your business successful.
As you read this I know the first thing that comes to mind is with all the demands in my job I know I will never have time to do half of these things. My retort is if you want to be a highly effective HR professional you have no choice. There is the saying “if you want to get something done go to a busy person”. I would argue, with the exception of the time you need to commit to reading, the external activities I have mentioned should not require more than 5 days of your time during the year if you take a disciplined approach to scheduling and utilizing your time. Any leader, if they are thoughtful about it, can find 5 days in their schedule over the course of a year, to enhance their skills. In the end I am certain if you take the time to add this “outside” knowledge to your portfolio of skills it will greatly enhance your contribution as an HR professional.