HR professionals are a truly diverse bunch, the leadership development consultancy the Centre for High Performance Development has found through its work with the profession.
This diversity, in part, can be attributed to the variety of routes into the profession. Some choose HR as a career because they love working with people; others are calmed by the HR world after years of turbulence working in the sales department. Then there are the people-minded professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, who give up client-facing roles to take up the HR challenge.
Whatever the route in, their competence is often defined by where and how they served their apprenticeship. Broadly speaking, and this can only ever be in general terms, there appear to be four HR ïtypesÍ.
The thinkers – the really well-read HR professionals who are great at planning.
The counsellors – those with bucket loads of empathy and who find the positive in any situation.
The inspirers – great communicators who started life outside HR.
The achievers – highly-energised HR professionals with a ïcan-doÍ attitude.
See if you can identify your type by answering the following questions. But remember, don’t take it too seriously.
A colleague is upset by a relationship break-up. What do you do?
a Refer to textbooks to check out the best approach for handling emotional situations.
b Be a shoulder to cry on, sympathetic and resist offering any kind of practical guidance.
c Remind your colleague that the office isn’t the place for emotional breakdowns.
d Help them with an action plan on how to get over the break-up.
A new managing director has been appointed. How would you go about forming an induction plan for them?
a Follow the structure you’ve used before which you know produces the right results.
b You believe it is important for a new managing director to get to know people in the organisation, so you set up a series of lunchtime ‘chats’ during the first week, as well as more formal meetings.
c Discuss your ideas for the induction with the new managing director in advance and then secure the commitment of other board colleagues to take part.
d Plan a detailed timetable of appropriate meetings and briefings. Every detail is taken care of, from agendas to room bookings.
An employee is seriously under-performing, but has been with the company for 10 years. How would you deal with the situation?
a Investigate the reasons for the under-performance and research the best way to address the situation.
b Discuss performance issues with other people who work with the employee. Meet with the employee to try to resolve the situation without any preconceived ideas on the outcome.
c Talk to senior managers about the situation and get their approval for your plan of action, then implement it.
d This needs dealing with quickly. You take swift action to introduce a series of performance meetings which will end in a warning. This means the person can be moved on somewhere more appropriate or even dismissed if the situation warrants it.
A senior employee requires some coaching but is reluctant to take part. How would you convince them that it is in their own interests to do so?
a Provide evidence that proves the value of coaching – show studies that explain the link between coaching and performance.
b Identify the underlying concerns of the employee and reassure them that you understand. Highlight your success with coaching your own staff to show it works.
c You’ve been coached yourself before and you talk to them about the benefits. You highlight that some members of the senior management team have had coaching.
d Reassure the employee that the coaching will only take an hour a fortnight for a few weeks and that there are bound to be immediate actions that can be brought into their day-to-day work immediately.
Sickness absence is becoming a problem for your company. How would you reduce the number of sick days?
a Investigate what other HR professionals that you respect are doing to deal with the situation. Then share your preferred strategy with the rest of the senior team.
b Set up some focus groups to investigate the problem and involve groups from around the company in coming up with some solutions.
c It never ceases to amaze you that other people take so much time off sick. You speak to board members about outsourcing your absence management, as this needs urgent and drastic action.
d Set up a monitoring system and instigate an action plan with a number of initiatives to address the issue.
How would you answer the classic interview question _ what is your greatest strength?
a Your favourite answer is: “I tend to be a workaholic and find it difficult to delegate”, thereby showing how hard you work, while trying to be self-effacing.
b You have expected this question and provide an answer you think the interviewer would most like to hear. You accompany the answer with a gentle smile to show that you think you have quite a few strengths, but don’t want to come across as over-confident.
c You have been waiting for this question and portray yourself as an inspirational leader with high business acumen.
d You list your achievements and the benefits these have brought to the organisation. You know you can make a difference and you want everyone else to believe in the changes you have made as strongly as you do.
You know there is a potential sexual harassment case brewing in one of the departments you oversee. How would you deal with it?
a You wrote the company policy on this issue, so you feel comfortable with the company line. However, you review some recent case law to ensure the latest thinking is reflected in your handling of the situation.
b You think that this can be nipped in the bud with some careful discussions. You meet the parties concerned to work out what can be done to diffuse things.
c You don’t believe this is a case of sexual harassment and, to your mind, a bit of cheeky banter in the workplace never hurt anyone.
d This is one of the more irritating parts of your job, something that looks likely to drag on, lawyers might need to be involved and it will stay on your action list for some time.
There have been some major employment legislation changes within the past few months. How would you deal with the roll-out of new employment contracts for the whole company?
a Ensure the detail and reasons behind the changes are fully communicated to all staff.
b Set up workshops with employees to discuss the new contracts and work to secure buy-in before new contracts land on desks.
c Brief the senior team and get the changes endorsed, then brief the rest of the staff.
d Involve team leaders in the roll-out and set strict timelines for implementation.
At a disciplinary hearing, the employee being disciplined becomes abusive. What do you do?
a Call a halt to proceedings and investigate what prompted the aggressive behaviour. You won’t go on until you know what’s behind it.
b Request a break and take the employee to one side for a chat. You can see where they’re coming from and you try and diffuse the situation privately.
c You ask the ’empathetic’ colleague from your team to talk to the person _ you know you’re not brilliant at that kind of thing and they will know what to do.
d Interrupt with a request to focus on the task in hand and to put emotions to one side. Then restart as swiftly as possible.
If you saw a situation developing in the external HR environment that you thought was going to affect your company, how would you bring this to the attention of your senior management?
a Produce a report and presentation that references the latest thinking on the situation. Highlight the views of leading HR figures and then outline the strategy that flows from that.
b Ensure you have some internal views to present to the board as well as the facts about the situation. That way the board can see the likely impact on your staff.
c The board respects your views and, after alerting them to the issue, you do a presentation to reassure them everything is in hand.
d Draft an action plan and then circulate it to the senior management team for comments. You can then get on with implementation.
Keith Liddiard is managing director of global new business at the Centre for High Performance Development.
Score mostly As – the thinkers
You are well-read and a great fan of the theory of HR. There isn’t much you don’t know from the academic world or industry literature. You’re at your best at the beginning of projects; you speak the language of the consultants; and can set the whole project off on the right track with your initial thinking. The big danger for ‘thinkers’ is getting stuck in the planning and not getting to the implementation, so make sure you push on to get the job done.
Score mostly Bs – the counsellors
You are the counsellor and a firm believer in the consensual approach. In meetings, you are very aware of different views and keen to get everyone moving together in the right direction. You have empathetic skills and will always find the positive in a situation or person. Remarkably in HR, you are one of the few people to coach your own staff. You can find it hard to make a decision when necessary. In a crisis, the counsellor who’s gone too far decides on another meeting to ensure everyone is on board, just when you think a decision on action has been reached – be warned.
Score mainly Cs – the inspirers
Impoverished HR departments are lucky to have you – you’re the inspirer. You probably never originally chose HR as a career – and might have been a lawyer, accountant or sales person for example – and then moved from the business side to the people side. You are a great communicator, especially when it comes to dealing with the board. Unfortunately your enthusiasm means you can be less than patient. In particular you get frustrated with thinkers, who you consider too woolly.
Score mostly Ds – the achievers
You are our ‘achievers’ – you want to get things done. Not only that, you want to measure the results of what is achieved too. This ensures you are well regarded by people in the wider business, particularly at the top, who see the thinkers and counsellors as more typical of the HR professional. However, you can end up being frustrated. Achievers tend to have a CV with frequent job changes usually as a result of frustration that they cannot achieve all they want. They move on in the hope that greener pastures will put more ticks in the ‘target achieved’ column.