Back Up the Train
Based on my 20+ year career to date, here is what I have come to know. Business leaders quite often see the road a good 5 – 7 years ahead of where we are. They see it clearly and with a force and passion that can, at times, be overwhelming. As their HR partner, my role is to ensure I listen, understand and help to develop the human capital strategy needed to support that 5 – 7 year vision, to ensure in the here and now, we were building for the future plan.
Over the years, I have worked towards building my expertise and comfort with more of a consulting versus executing approach. In some circles I have heard this referred to as gentle agitation. It’s about helping the leader to see the various options available – the pros and cons, the potential risks from all angles. For me, the only way this is possible is by asking questions, so I have as clear an understanding of the leader’s vision as possible. At times, I found it necessary to ask the leader to “back up the train”, as they were so far out of the station, full of excitement, however with no passengers on board!
Let me be clear. My intent is not to derail the plan and I ensure the leader is aware of this. It is about gaining clarity versus making assumptions. It is about offering my opinion and perspective versus nodding my head in agreement. It is about getting the train ready for departure and the journey ahead. Once on board, I can dive deeper into the vision. My goal is to be able to anticipate emerging issues, to provide suggestions for consideration, to modify the business plan based on changing business conditions, and to partner with the leader and their team in the implementation of the road map towards their 5 – 7 year plan. Let’s be honest – part of backing up the train is also about having an opportunity to coach the leader. By adopting the practice of gentile agitation, asking the questions needed for clarity and understanding, you are actually coaching the leader.
If you have never asked a leader to back up the train before, I expect it may be daunting. I know the first time I asked, the leader was less than thrilled with me. They had become accustomed to their previous HR team executing their plans and then typically getting them out of trouble a few months or a year down the road. After I explained why I was asking, how I was invested in the future and their vision, they were much more receptive to at least slowing the train down enough for me to jump on board. What followed was a great relationship with this leader. They knew I had their back. They knew I would not shy away from sharing my perspective or my opinion. I became a trusted and valued advisor. Today, we are no longer working together, they are now retired and I have moved onto another organization; however they continue to be a mentor to me – reminding me to:
- Agitate don’t aggravate – ask questions to avoid making assumptions and that,
- Sometimes you just need to slow down to hurry up!
Until next time – don’t be afraid to back up the train!