Need to know: Business support

Why you need to know:

Most HR people will know who the head of their own business unit is, but they often won’t know the other members of the management committee.

It is really important, however, for HR people to invest the time finding this out. And it’s not just about being able to list names, you need to take it a stage further and find out about the individual personalities of the senior people within your business and the interaction and dependencies between the different parts of the business.

You should make it your business to know the background (both within the company and before they joined) of each of the senior people, the relationship they have with each other, any office politics, who influences who, and how this affects the separate parts of the business and their interaction with each other.

Once you know this information then it can help you be more strategic about how you position ideas. If you know how someone might think or react, then it will influence how you approach them. How you position things might be different if you know that certain people do or don’t get on. And if for example, you know that two people on the management committee don’t get on then this is likely to filter down through the various levels of the business, so knowing this information can help in putting together strategies to over come barriers or hostility to ideas.

If you are not present at management committee meetings there are still many things you can do to discover this information.

You’re likely to be able to read the biographies or CVs of all the committee members on the company website, plus of course you have access to personnel files. You can ask members of the management committee: how did that meeting go, how did they respond to such and such a proposal?

Use your eyes and ears. How often does a member of the management committee come to your boss’s office? Who goes to lunch with whom? Think about whether there’s someone that you’re friendly with who can give you a sense of the relationships between committee members.

The more you know about your business unit, the more you can use your understanding as a tool to help drive through ideas that will benefit your client and ultimately the business.

A word of warning, however. Be careful how you use the information. Remember that this is an exercise in improving business strategy and is absolutely is not about gossip sometimes there can be a fine line between understanding office politics and plain old gossip. Used correctly, your greater understanding can be a powerful tactic, but walk that line carefully – nobody likes a gossip.

by Jan Hills, director, HR with Guts

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