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HR Leaders Club: How HR directors are perceived is up to them

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Personal brand was the topic of the HR Leaders Club meeting in July. How you are perceived is under your control, the audience was told.

There's no point in HR professionals grumbling silently to themselves about the state of their corporate reputations. At the July meeting of the HR Leaders Cub in the Lanesborough Hotel in London, sponsored by Buck Consultants, HR directors were reminded they need to 'be the change they want to see' in their organisation. But they have to be able to separate their 'personal brand image' from their 'professional brand'.

Speaker Steve Connell, author of Personal Brand Essence, advised: "People will watch you bring your brand to life whether you like it or not. You can either reinforce or change the perceptions you want to create, or not. Our behaviour drives other people's perceptions of us. We can't control events, but we can control how we react to them. As HR directors, you are being watched all the time by all of your people," he added. "If you give the same messages over and over again, you have to make sure you use the right messages for the right audience."

Connell used the example of a scale of one to 10, where 10 is the most enthusiastic a person could be in putting forward a positive brand image, and one is a negative image.

He said: "You can't do your job on a two. You always have to play from a 10. You want to be the difference that makes the difference, so you have to be more overt at work than you would normally be."

He added: "Business brand is harder to control because you are a cog in a (corporate) machine but, with regard to your personal brand, I think you can control more than 50% of how people think of you through what you say and do."

And he concluded: "So if you do good things all the time, you will be perceived the way you want to be. Brand should be a touchstone for you to decide how to react."

HR'S FUTURE ROLE

As businesses slowly emerge from a two-year long recession, demotivated employees are looking to their leaders and HR professionals to create a workplace that is engaging and motivating. They are looking to their leadership to set the right direction and help them stay afloat.

But the nature of what might be required of HRDs in this process is dependent on a number of factors. With day-to-day work tending to focus on transactional HR, HR professionals can sometimes find it difficult to meet the expectations of internal clients demanding responsibility for talent management, managing change, engagement and reward and performance management. The level of change experience within each company and the capacity of HR professionals to take on more strategic roles can also be significant barriers.

So how can the HR function influence change, particularly when a major cultural shift or organisational restructure is required? We think there are three main areas, the reward for which is increased recognition for HR professionals as a valued partner, while creating conditions for high performance:

- Don't give in to the negativity - Employees who previously wanted to leave their organisation, may now be using the improving corporate climate to look for a new role. Mass departures can lead other employees to get that 'sinking ship' feeling. But HR professionals must not give into this negativity, no matter how they feel personally. Employees should be seen as people looking for career guidance, training, performance management and 'hope'. The HR department needs to demonstrate a positive attitude.

- Champion employees - It is important to continue to understand the viewpoint of employees, to continue to connect with them and reinforce the company message and the importance that employees have in the organisation. This will create value; will support the business by driving forward performance and help with sustaining employment engagement. Reversing the HR functions' perceived image of watching employees all-day long and being unapproachable would be an added bonus.

- Ensure that CEO, HR and line managers are aligned - Employees will pick up on inconsistencies across the organisation. HR practitioners need to work in partnership with line managers, who have direct responsibility for managing people, through to the CEO. Only then can they ensure they are leading by example. Employees watch the CEO at all times and HRDs can help them see where they are not proving a good example.

Anna Marie Detert is head of human capital, Buck Consultants.