By Stephanie Overman, Senior writer for HRMagazine
To expand your influence and clout, seek the assignment you need and take risks, say three who did.
Professionals in human resource management, like their counterparts in other fields, face barriers to their success. But those who do break through to the executive level have found the right mix of challenging assignments.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), along with the Center for Creative Leadership and Vanderbilt University's Corporate Learning Institute, looked at the assignments and challenges that successful HR professionals need to advance in their careers.
"We found a lot of talented women and minorities were hitting the glass ceiling," says Vaughan Limbrick, SHRM director of education. Limbrick believes HR competencies and leadership skills can be taught, so these talented people can break through that glass ceiling.
"What separates people who are successful is a certain innate political savvy. Can we put a lasso around that? Yes," says Limbrick.
HR professionals generally have the necessary technical skills, but they often lack business skills and influencing skills, according to Limbrick. Those skills generally can't be learned from a book; research shows that 80 percent of them require on-the-job experience.
She cites a series of developmental challenges, adapted from the work of M.M. Lombardo and R.W. Eichinger of the Center of Creative Leadership, as being key to attaining the necessary business savvy. These challenges are ones that
· Include the possibility of either visible success or failure.
· Require an aggressive individual with take-charge leadership skills.
· Involve working with new people, a lot of people, or both.
· Create additional personal pressure such as pressure caused by difficult deadlines, high stakes, heavy travel or longer hours.
· Require influencing people, activities and factors over which the professional has no direct authority or control.
· Involve variety and include dealing with high levels of ambiguity and change such as being placed in charge of an unfamiliar area or juggling multiple problems.
· Will be closely watched by people whose opinions count such as the boss, upper management or outsiders.
· Require building a team, starting something from scratch, fixing a team or turning around a project in trouble.
· Have a major strategic component.
In the following profiles, three HR professionals tell how their willingness to tackle these development challenges has helped them move up the HR ladder.
Sharon A. Lambly, vice president of human resources for Hershey Foods Corp. in Hershey, Pa., knows firsthand about taking risks, taking charge, and being flexible. In the course of her nearly 30-year career, she has learned to seek out a variety of assignments. These have prepared her as she moves to the top in HR management.
Lambly started out at IBM in 1964 as a systems engineer, then became one of a handful of women in the marketing department. A promotion, requiring her to move, gave her the chance to prove her flexibility. And the move was risky. Her new branch had the lowest performance in the region, but two years later "we were the first in the region to hit 100 percent of quota. There's no finer way of proving your credibility," she says.
Lambly changed direction again when she went to IBM corporate headquarters to take responsibility for directing management development.
"I was highly visible to the chairman," she says, especially after she completely redesigned management development during her two-year stint.
"In your career development, there is a point where you have to get out of your technical expertise and demonstrate you can translate strategic direction into action. Frequently people get trapped in narrow functional expertise," according to Lambly.
After her corporate experience, Lambly realized that her perspective was still too narrow. She decided to make another drastic change. Much of IBM's investment was in plants and labs, but Lambly had no plant experience. "I actually took a lower-level job as a personnel manager" to gain that experience.
"Most people who write books and give rules would say that was a very bad thing," she says, but "it was one of best things I ever did. I gained a tremendous understanding of the other side of business. I quickly brought to bear some of the expertise I had from the marketing side and my career took off. About every year I was promoted to greater responsibility."
Lambly took on responsibility for contract negotiation with the federal government and for business and technical planning. She then became director of the personnel division and later was vice president of management services, handling personnel, communications, government relations and administration.
"The theme is constantly getting different experiences, different knowledge skills, going back and forth from functional expertise in HR and business-line orientation," she says. Companies want an HR business partner who has had line responsibility, "not just a personnel technician."
IBM then promoted Lambly to corporate director with responsibility for worldwide HR management, her first international post, an area she sees as critically important in today's business environment.
"I had a desire to run human resources, but I could see I would not have the opportunity at IBM," Lambly says. So when she received a call from Hershey in 1988, she decided to move on to Hershey as vice president of human resources.
Lambly understands the importance of lifelong learning, of staying up-to-date in the industry, of combining classroom and on-the-job training.
Lambly's early experience working with teams taught her a lesson that has stayed with her throughout her career: "I learned at an early age that multiple brains are better than one, that the broader the perspective, probably the better the approach you'll have to the issue."
Lambly is convinced that Hershey selected her because of her rich combination of business and human resource experiences.
"They wanted a business partner; they wanted someone who could lead and take risks," Lambly says.
Ernest P. Moreno believes the key to his success as an HR vice president is that he has empowered others to make decisions about everything from conducting fire drills to running training programs.
"You don't have to be the person doing it all; give people the authority and they'll do it 20 times better than you. Let people make their own mistakes and grow--delegate," says Moreno, who is now vice president of Ruiz Food Products in Dinuba, Calif., a company with 1,100 employees that specializes in packaging frozen Mexican food. He started seven years ago as human resource manager and has grown with the company.
During his tenure, Moreno has completed a highly visible assignment that has become a model for other companies.
When Moreno came up with his most ambitious plan, to teach basic English skills to Ruiz's predominantly Spanish-speaking workforce, he felt that "if I didn't succeed, I would be fired." No one ever suggested that, but he felt he had invested so much time and energy in such a high-profile project that he dared not fail. Today the education center has become such a success that representatives from other companies visit to see how the program is run.
Moreno met Ruiz's need for Spanish-speaking trainers when he developed a successful train-the-trainer program. He also developed a corporate philosophy program that he sees as primarily a training opportunity, "not only to be able to explain what the company wants but to teach self-responsibility. We want to be able to say, 'You can control your own destiny.'"
The question of minority professionals being able to control their own destinies concerns Moreno, a bilingual attorney who sees Hispanics often forced to prove their ability over and over again. To succeed, minorities often have to demand more challenging positions, he believes.
"You almost have to bully your way in, to prove you are somebody. Once you've done that and they see you have the skill, once they can visualize you in the job and start to appreciate you for what you are, then you can be humble again."
Moreno sees himself as a symbol at Ruiz Food Products that "you can be an executive and you don't have to sell out. I'm Mexican and I'm very proud to be a Mexican. Bring your experiences to the table, rather than try to absorb other peoples' experiences and make them yours. I have no idea what it's like to be raised middle class. I know what it's like to be raised by farm workers. Someone else can bring middle class to the table."
Without the traditional middle-class background, Moreno turned to a mentor to fill in the gaps in his education. His boss, Tom Colesberry, "saw a vision that he wanted for the company and he saw me filling that vision. But when I started out there wasn't a fit, so he led me through the business world."
Moreno says Colesberry taught him a lot, not about business itself, but about the social intricacies of that world--"This is how you act, this is what you do, this is how you fit in. If you don't have somebody like that to teach you, you fail. You need somebody to watch over you."
Brenda Schofield, manager of affirmative-action planning for Kraft General Foods Inc. in Northfield, Ill., is an example of an aggressive leader who knows where she's going and how to make herself valuable enough to management to get there.
"Don't let detractors get in the way of your advancement," Schofield advises. "People get defined by their environment, especially women. We have to stand above our environment. You can only be a partner if you think of yourself as a partner.
"I have heard, 'Do you think you should do that or go there?' But you have to do what's important for you," says Schofield, who works near Chicago but whose home is in New York. "I have always had a high level of personal independence."
Women and minorities can stand above their environment by "showing a willingness to take on tasks, by finding creative ways to keep ourselves in a learning mode," she believes.
For example, in Schofield's case, "they recently added interaction with minority conferences; that was not originally part of my job. It's more work, more effort, but you make it happen."
Over the years she has developed essential expertise in equal employment and government compliance.
"I'm known as the resource. They know who to talk to when they need information or need to overcome barriers," she says. "People have to know that you can help them do things, whether they are in a line or staff position. You have to show you're willing to go that extra step, to take on additional responsibility."
Schofield sees her role as being management's conscience when it comes to affirmative-action issues.
"People do get a little bit of religion after they work with me in this area," she says.
Schofield made her move from merchandising to human resources in 1972.
"I was on the fast track and in order to move up, you had to have time in personnel. Then I was recruited by Johnson & Johnson and when they asked me which area I wanted to work in, I decided to stay in HR," she says. "I enjoy the challenges that people bring."
In 1981 Schofield moved to General Foods, which later was bought by Philip Morris. When Philip Morris and Kraft merged in 1989, she became manager of affirmative-action planning.
In human resources, Schofield finds that "it's the creative things you can do that make the job fun for you and productive for the company--things like mentoring and giving awareness programs."
She personally received the benefits of a mentor, who made sure she understood the rules of the company and practical detail.
"He knew I was going to be traveling alone, and he thought I should be independent enough get around," says the native New Yorker, who did not drive until her mentor urged her to learn.
"He liked my energy, my forthrightness, the way I cut to the bottom line. He knew I was willing to do creative things. I was not apprehensive about challenging anybody. I brought new and fun things to the organization," she says.
But he also knew the barriers that even the most determined women and minorities can face.
"He probably figured here was somebody out to make something of her career and he supported me."
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