How HR Creates (and Destroys) Credibility with Business Leaders

Written by Mark Nyman


We work with hundreds of HR organizations across the globe. Some HR groups are well thought of and are viewed by business leaders as critical to the success of the organization. Some are viewed as a necessary evil who show up when something is wrong and whose primary role is policing the organization. Many HR groups are somewhere in between the two extremes, but most HR organizations have room to improve in being credible and partnering effectively.

In our work we have observed patterns that increase credibility and also patterns that erode credibility. Below are some simple observations about the approach HR takes that creates or detracts from credibility.

Credibility Creators

Optimize the Business: Many HR leaders lose sight of the fact that HR is a support organization. The goal is not to optimize HR. HR leaders who consistently make decisions using a business lens rather than an HR lens know that sometimes HR work will become more difficult, but that is OK. It does not mean that efficiencies are ignored, but the priority is clear with HR groups that are highly credible. A global pharmaceutical company that we worked with recognized this issue in how they designed talent acquisition. One part of the organization had very different needs and timelines than the rest of the organization. The CHRO responded to the need by embedding talent acquisition capability from an otherwise centralized TA group into that part of the organization. Effective HR leaders have this kind of logic embedded in their DNA.

Outside-In Approach: For years we have talked about the need for HR to be connected to the business. That is valuable but not sufficient. HR groups that are credible have a keen understanding of customers, investors, competitors, and emerging external trends. They use HR levers to help business leaders respond to external trends. For example, a telecom company facing a shift from grounded phone lines to web-delivered media helped launch a retraining program that would help develop the workforce of the future. We call this HR from the outside in. It is easy to talk about but challenging to pull off.

Credibility Detractors

Neglecting the Basics: There is HR work that is very strategic and connected to helping organizations gain competitive advantage. There is also essential work HR must do that is behind the scenes, needed to keep the business running, and often transactional in nature. If the essential work is not done flawlessly, credibility suffers and leaders are not likely to ask HR for help on strategic matters. If you can’t pay people correctly and on time, you are unlikely to have a voice in how to respond to business threats and opportunities. Most of the HR organizations we work in are striving for more strategic impact and don’t get there because basics like payroll and employee relations work is being done inconsistently. The basics have to be fixed first.

Pushing HR’s Agenda: Credibility takes a huge dive when business leaders spend time doing HR work that is not helping them solve their current and emerging business issues. Often HR groups roll out a number of programs that HR views as key while business leaders see no connection to solving their challenges. We call these solutions looking for problems. One organization we worked in had 17 different businesses in various parts of the world. The central HR group determined that every part of the company needed training in effective teamwork. In a few parts of the organization it was very helpful but for much of the organization it was an activity they had to complete but the time spent did not help solve current business challenges.

Driving the Wrong Standards: One of the longest running challenges for HR organizations (and other key functions as well) is knowing what to standardize and what to customize. The answer to this challenge is at the heart of effectively supporting the business. The related decision is what work to centralize and what work to decentralize. Teasing this out is not easy but always worth it. If you get it wrong from the perspective of business leaders, your credibility will take a significant hit. An energy company with operations all over the world implemented a one-size-fits-all performance management system. Many parts of the business ended up creating their own system so that the system was really helping them manage performance. Thousands of hours of work were dismissed and HR credibility fell because HR failed to recognize that a standard solution would not fit a business reality that required a much more customized answer.

Credibility matters. Businesses need effective HR organizations in order to navigate the challenges of today’s business environment.  Most businesses we work in would like to have HR partners helping them anticipate and meet the challenges facing them. To do so, HR must have the credibility to play the role organizations desperately need them to play.

That credibility comes from knowing how HR contributes to business function, how it can function better, and having solutions that help both happen.

Click here to learn more or contact us to find out how The RBL Group can help you build the credibility of your HR organization.

Original article:

Virtuous Radicals: How Some Companies Achieve Positive, Large-Scale Impact on Society while Others Fail

By Jennifer Reimer



How can you and your company achieve greater impact on society?

Serious social and environmental challenges threaten the sustainability of human populations. Millions of Rands are spent each year on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes in South Africa and many large corporations have made commitments to socially responsible actions. Yet there is little evidence of a positive impact of these socially responsible actions. This threatens the positive future state of our society and environment.

At the same time, the future workforce, which will largely consist of millennials, is looking for greater influence on society and our planet through their workplaces. Engaging, motivating and empowering them is on the minds of leaders in South Africa today.

These are key challenges for the future leadership of our workplaces. To cultivate a positive interaction with our society and environment and to ensure a positive future state of our businesses and planet, it is critical that we understand the leadership qualities and processes that will guide these positive interactions. We need to know how these leadership qualities permeate through an organisation, empowering and inspiring the future workforce.

In the face of these challenges, we need to ask; Why are many companies failing to make a significant impact? Are there companies that have shown significant positive impact? What makes these companies different?

Jennifer Reimer, an associate of Business Results Group, and strategy and sustainability consultant is currently conducting her PhD research to discover why some companies have a large-scale positive impact on society and others do not.  As a leadership capability company, we aim to provide you with more information about the leadership and management qualities that can be cultivated to ensure a positive future state of your businesses and our planet. The findings of Jennifer’s research will be made available to enable BRG and our clients to better understand what drives some companies to have a significant positive impact on society while others do not.

In the first phase of her research, Jennifer interviewed employees and stakeholders of South African companies, all of whom reported to engage in socially responsible actions. She found that some companies fail to have a significant positive impact on society, and calls these ‘Moral Traditionalists’. They are trying to do the ‘right thing’ but have little impact.  Those that do tend to have a large-scale positive impact have very specific qualities that differentiate them from their peers. She has termed these companies ‘Virtuous Radicals’ and the world needs more of them, especially as corporations grow increasingly powerful, and humanity’s grand challenges remain unresolved.

The difference comes down to the beliefs of leadership teams and how they permeate through the company to influence the company’s role in society and company processes and actions.

The results include:

  • The three key factors that characterise the companies that have a large-scale positive impact – Virtuous Radicals;
  • The qualities of the leaders who are behind the Virtuous Radical companies;
  • The four actions that leaders can practice to cultivate the Virtuous Radical belief system amongst their employees.

Why is this important?

  • Companies want to ensure that their precious investments are, in fact, positively impacting the intended beneficiaries.
  • The ‘millennial’ population, soon to comprise 75% of the workforce, wants to know how they can make a difference at work and the results suggest some ways to do this.
  • To transform companies, leaders and employees for the future world of work, we need to understand what qualities are needed and what drives them.

Become part of the change

In order to learn about how the company’s leadership beliefs permeate through the company to impact employees, stakeholders, greater society and the environment, we invite you to participate in our 15-minute survey. Kindly click on the appropriate link below.

Survey for C-level executives

Survey for managers and employees

Participants will receive a summary of the first phase of the research immediately upon completion, and a summary of the survey results in a few months. Participation is voluntary and confidential. Your name, organisation and responses will be kept completely anonymous. Thank you in advance!

10 Skills For Navigating Paradox

by Dave Ulrich

Leaders in HR who navigate paradox had the biggest impact on business results. Paradoxes exist when seemingly contradictory activities operate together. We experience paradoxes in daily life as captured by the popular phrases: tough love, do more with less, oil and vinegar, sweet and sour, work/life balance, Catch 22, go slow to go fast, good and evil, and so forth. When these inherent contradictions work together, success follows. Instead of focusing on either/or; paradoxes emphasise and/also thinking.

Organisations and leaders who respond to the disruptions above do so by navigating paradox. Navigating paradox accepts and heightens disagreements that enable organisations to change and evolve.  Without the tensions that come from paradoxical thinking and debates, organisations perpetuate the status quo and do not respond to change. Leaders of these organisations need to become paradox navigators to help their organisations respond to the pace of change.

HR professionals who are paradox navigators encourage, surface, and raise difficult issues so that they can be resolved. For example, we have found that there are times when a business team should diverge and other times when they should converge. Divergence means that alternatives are explored. When an HR professional is in a meeting where there are few options discussed, that individual should encourage divergence where new alternatives are discussed. On the other extreme, when a group remains divergent, the HR professional needs to create convergence and unity to focus attention. We found in our work that as Paradox Navigators, HR professionals may not be the most popular members of a business team because they raise difficult, but necessary issues. But, their ability to navigate paradox is the most important skill for business results.

How to improve skills to be a paradox navigator

Paradox navigation is not an innate trait, but a learned set of behaviours that translate into skills. Based on our research and experience, leaders who are Paradox Navigators possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities proposed in the table below. When HR professionals recognise, assess themselves, and master these skills, they are more able to drive business success.

Paradox Navigator Skills Table

HR professionals and business leaders can acquire and improve these paradox navigation skills through extensive training, development, and coaching. But, perhaps the most important prerequisite is to recognize the importance of navigating paradox in delivering business results. HR professionals who want to deliver real business value must become paradox navigators.

Read the full article at

Contact us at to your HR team into a core business partner that will drive and achieve strategic organisational results.


5 Top Tips for Vacation Communication

Your next vacation doesn’t have to cause a wave.

We weren’t meant to spend the summer cooped up inside an office. In fact, many companies are now advocating for a balanced lifestyle and are encouraging their staff to take advantage of available vacation days.

But with great vacations comes great responsibility. And just as you would prepare for a meeting, you should also prepare for your absences. Far too often a vacation can interrupt an important project, deal or client relationship and derail the progress of your team. However, this process can also flow smoothly if you take the right steps.  It all depends on how effectively you communicate with your colleagues, your clients and yourself.


Heres are our 5 Best Tips for vacation communication:

 Give notice about your vacation well in advance

Whether you’ve booked your vacation a year or a month in advance, your team deserves a fair warning about your travels. Consider the amount of stress and inconvenience you may impose on your colleagues with a last-minute announcement about your two-week trip to Iceland, a week before you board the plane. Everyone needs time to prepare – yourself included. After all, these are the colleagues who will absorb your workload while you’re away.

We recommend giving everyone at least one month notice if possible, especially if you have a larger role within your organization. Set reminders in the weeks and days leading up to your departure so there are no surprises to a forgetful or busy employee. Don’t catch anyone off guard; open dialogue is a must.

Delegate jobs and tasks in your absence

Leave no stone unturned. Over-prepare for every possible situation, task or crisis. Pull colleagues aside and ask them to take over specific responsibilities and be sure to train them thoroughly on the work you are leaving them with.  Is someone stepping into your client meetings? Brief them on specific client needs and details. Will someone take over a special project for you? Give them a detailed list of what needs to be completed.

Prepare a relief document outlining where specific files are located, who to talk to about certain projects or what to do in the event of an emergency. You don’t want to be bombarded with panicked emails while you lay on the beach. It’s better to be safe than sorry and leave your projects in capable hands.

Set up clear out-of-office voicemail greetings and automatic email replies

Your team may know your whereabouts, but your clients or contacts likely will not. We highly recommended reaching out to important contacts and alerting them of your vacation.

Construct a clear and impactful voicemail greeting and include the dates of your vacation and return. Leave an alternate contact that can address your client’s enquires and take care of any pressing matters before you leave. There is nothing more annoying on the client’s side than receiving a vacation notification in the middle of an important project without notice.

More importantly, if you’re providing an alternate contact in your out-of-office messages, be sure to get their permission in advance. This will prevent awkward encounters and ensure your co-worker is well aware that they may be called upon.

If you do email while on vacation, be sure to keep all communication brief and to the point

No one enjoys writing long emails on their smartphone. Similarly, reading run-on emails sent from a mobile device can be a frustrating experience. Despite our best intentions, they’re often full of auto-corrected typos and have than less than ideal formatting.

When responding to an email on vacation (although we advise against it whenever possible), keep all written communication short and concise. Think about your greater message, structure it into a few key points and relay that message back to your team. Point forms are ideal, and always be sure to summarize your argument at the end of the email to reinforce the message. This prevents follow-up questions so you can get back to relaxing.

Don’t skip a beat! Have a plan to slide right back into work

Returning to the office after a vacation can often be a job within itself. You arrive back to a pile of email threads, missed calls, memos, status updates, potential issues, pressing questions and a staff who expect you to jump right back in where you left off.

Plan ahead for all your post-vacation tasks and execute them the moment you walk into the office. We suggest arranging a catch-up meeting with a few members of your team to discuss what occurred. Organize your email inbox and tackle the most pressing issues first. Keep an open and honest dialogue with your team so you can go over all details and progress on projects or tasks that you missed.

The better you communicate the more effective and productive your team becomes!


A vacation is meant to help balance your life with the ever-demanding responsibilities of your career. Your health and well-being is important. Don’t be afraid to unplug and wind down – just make sure you use our advice on vacation communication.

What value am I creating for someone else?

By Dave Ulrich.


Value is defined by the receiver more than the giver. This simple principle affects professional and personal relationships and impact.

In professional settings, we often judge ourselves by our intent, but others judge us by our behavior. We intend to be provocative, but we come across as snarky. We intend to challenge, but we come across as contrarian. We intend to be playful or funny, but we may come across as cynical or cryptic. We need to have our “head on a swivel” and think about how our actions and behaviors will create value for someone else. It is like being on a balcony watching our life’s performance.

When we focus on value we create for others, traditional management maxims change. Building on our strengths is not complete unless we build on our strengths that will strengthen others. Leadership authenticity (a highly desired leadership trait) is merely narcissism unless our authenticity helps someone else meet their goals. Some leaders brag about how wealthy they are, but real leaders create wealth for others. When the inevitable crisis occurs, value-based, other-centered leaders start with the impact of the crisis on others and how their response will benefit others; self-oriented leaders start by thinking about themselves and what they can and should do. Leaders with a value focus reflect on whom they serve each day and how their work will make others’ work better.

The sample principle applies in many settings. Good teaching is not what I know, but how what I know helps students better accomplish their goals. Professional training and development is more effective when we focus on learning solutions by helping those who attend better solve their problems rather than giving a stirring lecture or presenting an insightful case. Often training faculty are exceptional performers who present the same material as a lecture or case study over and over again. When focused on value creating, training starts with the challenges participants may have, then seeks solutions to those challenges. When I coach leaders, I teach them that listening is not that they understand, but that the other person feels understood. When I work to upgrade a company’s HR practices, we start with the value these practices will have to company success. HR analytics starts with the business and shows how HR work will show up on the business scorecard, not an HR scorecard. When we work on culture change, we start by defining culture through the eyes of the customer (or other key external stakeholder) and define the value of the values. When I write, I often think about the reader and how the ideas might provide insights with impact to them.

In personal relationships, when I start by thinking about what someone else values, I better relate to and serve them. When I start with what is meaningful to my wife, my gifts add more value to her. When I listen to my friends and children, I show that I care for them and their well being more than for my actions. When I celebrate others’ accomplishments, my success is magnified. Good parenting is not about what parents know and do, but about how parents help children discover their strengths and purposes. When someone might do something that frustrates me, I can pause and see how their behaviors may make sense from their point of view. This “seek first to understand” mantra helps build enduring relationship built on mutual respect.


Why Creating a Winning Culture Matters

By Dave Ulrich

Business success is not only about individual talent

Deloitte’s human capital trends for 2015 and 2016 found that organisation issues (culture, organisational design) were the top human resource (HR) issues. Some companies (Disney, Marriott) are trying to maintain their culture, others want to change it (General Electric, Apple), and others want to embed it (Google, Facebook). Top HR leaders share the same message: the war for talent is evolving and needs to evolve toward creating victory through organisation.

Read more about why Creating a Winning Culture Matters

Published in Skyways Insight Magazine – August 2016