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The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Aspiring CHRO? Step Back and Ask Yourself Two Important Questions

I didn’t know quite what to expect going into the Aspiring CHRO Preconference Workshop. As an early-career professional in the learning and professional development field, I was intrigued by the notion of hearing from folks who are looking to assume top-level HR leadership roles. What I didn’t expect was that a side-track conversation (yet one that was certainly relevant to the day’s topic) would stick me the most. In asking about practical approaches to getting campus on board with a new or revamped policy, a lively conversation erupted around one particular constituency: faculty. So much confusion, frustration, advice-seeking, and best practices began filling the air in the room that I was afraid the whirlwind might kick up a Texas-sized dust storm. But, commiserating constructively turned to “Whoa!” when presenter Mary Anne Berzins posed two strategic questions that we should be asking ourselves and our teams: “Who do we serve?” and “How do we serve them?”

The. Shift. Was. Palpable.

All of a sudden, the group experienced what I’ll call “necessary acquiescence.” We accepted that our role as higher ed human resource leaders is to facilitate the work of the academy (not just its people). To do so, we MUST understand and learn to speak to and of our different constituents (not just fellow staff). While the musings in this post could never do justice to the “light bulb moments” that occurred as the conversation progressed, here are several takeaways:

  • Learn to speak the language. Attend faculty senate meetings. Go to convocation and take note of the vernacular comprising academician’s speeches. Don’t delete the provost’s newsletter or university annual research report; read it.
  • Faculty are in the mindset of critical inquiry. Don’t take their “attack” personally; they’re trained to poke, prod, challenge, and question. Embrace this opportunity to better your plan or approach.
  • Demonstrate and respect expertise. Be the expert that you are, just as faculty are experts in their fields. When preparing to meet with a group of faculty, do your research and be prepared to address all aspects of – and alternatives to – a new policy or procedure. Be well-versed and expect a faculty member to expect expertise from you, just as you acknowledge the expertise they hold in their field.

At face value, some might say these are obvious; or, others might dismiss them as unnecessary. But what I took away from the session is that in order to impact the institution – and ultimately our product, which is student learning – we must understand and be able to articulate the impact of all of our constituents. Only then can we be truly effective higher ed HR leaders.

Are you asking yourself: “Who do we serve?” and “How do we serve them?”

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