By Ted Powell – January 2020
Take a look at how Jamie Steider, Chief People Officer at Virginia Tire and Auto, former Director of Human Resources at Federated Wireless, and a seasoned pro in organizational development views the role of Human Resources. In her interview with SAN Managing Partner Ted Powell, Jamie shared her insights and included some surprising takeaways that can help companies understand the full potential of the HR role.
I recently sat down with Jamie Steider, former Director of Human Resources at Federated Wireless, a company that pioneers products for the commercialization of shared spectrum CBRS capabilities. Jamie is a successful strategic partner in Human Resources and Organizational Development with years of experience in the technology, agency, marketing, entertainment, non-profit and government contracting sectors. We discussed the value of engaging HR professionals as true business partners – the guardians of culture, trust, the employer brand and relationships within that organization – as opposed to the more traditional administrative role.
According to Jamie, if HR views its responsibility as “policing” employees and ensuring that they are in compliance with policies and procedures, they are missing a breakthrough opportunity. By becoming more involved across various departments and teams, HR professionals can step up as real business leaders, contribute to a positive culture and empower employees to resolve problems on their own.
Ted: As an experienced HR professional, how do you describe the ideal HR role in support of a high performing organization?
Jamie: It is ideal when the HR role is identified as a business leader that owns a strategic linkage to strengthen and position the business for long-term success. HR goals need to be tied directly to other business leaders. And cultural effectiveness and/or employee morale should be a goal and responsibility shared by all leaders in the organization, not just HR.
Ted: Any other comments in terms of how you would describe the optimal HR role?
Jamie: To become a trusted leader, the HR lead should not just sit in confidence with the CEO or COO. We are not just there to make the CEO happy. We follow the CEO, the CEO leads us, but we work for everyone below that level. We need to create those relationships by understanding the people’s needs and pain points.
We follow the CEO, the CEO leads us, but we work for everyone below that level.
Ted: It’s not always easy and natural for an HR person to become a fully integrated member of a client leadership team. What advice would you give to someone desiring to move beyond just being an HR administrator?
Jamie: You have to start showing up. Show up to team, sales and business meetings – wherever the door is open. If the door is not open, find a sponsor inside that meeting who can open the door. Demonstrate that you are there to learn. Don’t take notes at first. It really freaks people out when HR takes notes in meetings. Just go and listen. Go consistently and ask questions about the business problems they are facing. Learn the business.
If the business has engineers, take an intro to coding class for a common coding language they use. If you understand the business, you get so much more buy-in. There is more confidence in what you put forward. Be the business leader with an HR background – not the HR leader who doesn’t know the business.
Ted: Some line managers hold a narrow view of HR’s role, causing them to keep HR at a distance. How have you overcome that view?
Jamie: Break the biases and experiences that the people bring from their previous HR experiences. That means being incredibly vigilant with every encounter. It only takes one encounter to reinforce what they already believe HR to be. It’s going to take 10 to 20 encounters with the exact opposite to get them to believe that it can be different. The best thing you have going for you is not when you tell somebody, “Oh, I’m different.” It’s when their peer tells somebody, “Oh no, that new HR leader is different.”
The best thing you have going for you is not when you tell somebody, “Oh, I’m different.” It’s when their peer tells somebody, “Oh no, that new HR leader is different.”
Ted: What was the biggest mistake you ever made? One that made it difficult to get fully integrated with your client. What did you learn, and how did you recover?
Jamie: The biggest mistake that I made was using positional power by asserting that you have to listen to me because I’m HR. It works in the moment, but it has some really drastic long-term consequences where you become that dreaded principal’s office. This difficult lesson taught me the difference between positional power and personal power. I started to accomplish so much more when I exerted personal power.
Ted: How do you balance HR’s role as a policy guardian with your role as a trusted advisor?
Jamie: The company leaders need to affirm that it is not just the HR leader’s job to “police” the business. If somebody says something inappropriate in a room, it shouldn’t matter if HR is there or not. It should be each person’s responsibility to call out inappropriate or ineffective behavior. High performing cultures ensure that the entire executive team acts as guardians of the culture.
High performing cultures ensure that the entire executive team acts as guardians of the culture.
Ted: Are there any ways you’ve seen HR executives undermine their role?
Jamie: Yes, it becomes problematic when we try to solve a problem for a client, instead of coaching them to solve it for themselves. For example, if you volunteer to “go talk to them for you,” instead of saying, “let me advise you on how to talk to this other person.” We can inadvertently get too involved out of a desire to prove our value. We become a crutch for the organization. My CEO, Iyad Tarazi, once said and I quote, “I don’t want you to solve the problems in the organization. If you become a crutch for people when having difficult conversations, then we can’t do it without you.”
My CEO, Iyad Tarazi, once said and I quote, “I don’t want you to solve the problems in the organization. If you become a crutch for people when having difficult conversations, then we can’t do it without you.”
Ted: What else has helped you build strong, trusted relationships with your internal clients?
Jamie: Being available, approachable and vulnerable is a huge tool in human resources. I like to visit and work from other locations. Vulnerability is a strength. You can’t expect other people to be vulnerable if you haven’t shown your willingness to be vulnerable first. I don’t ever want to hear “Oh well, HR just showed up.” I’d rather hear, “Jamie showed up.” If I want people to talk about me showing up, then I have to show up as me. I can’t show up as HR. And I am imperfect. I make mistakes. I have feelings that get out of control. If I can’t be human, how can I possibly expect anybody else to come and trust me with their most vulnerable and difficult challenges?
Being available, approachable and vulnerable is a huge tool in human resources.
Ted: You talk about being a custodian, and not a guardian of policies. Tell me more about that.
Jamie: I don’t see myself as being a guardian of the policies. I’m a custodian of the policies. Custodians clean up the policies and keep them compliant with the law. Policies are just words on paper until the organization stands behind them. All employees have to be the guardians of the company policies in support of the real values of the organization. If you believe that you are the guardian of policies, processes and programs, you are firmly stuck in an HR administrator role. See yourself as the guardian of culture, the trust, the brand and the relationships within that organization.
Someone once came to me and asked, “Hey Jamie, can I wear shorts to the office?” I replied, “I don’t know, can you wear shorts?” They looked at me and said, “But that’s why I came to you.” I said, “I don’t know, can you wear shorts?” “Well, Jamie, what’s the policy?” I said, “What I really care about is that you’re making very good business decisions, and you’ve got the right environment to be successful. If you think your meetings on a given day warrant wearing shorts, then why do I care? I trust you to make the right decisions.” When I answer that way, instead of reciting a policy, I know I am being a guardian of the culture, and not a policy. A strong culture reinforces that we trust our people to make good decisions, whether it’s where to spend budget money, or how to dress for the day.
Policies are just words on paper until the organization stands behind them.
Ted: Did they wear shorts?
Jamie: They did wear shorts, and every time they wear shorts, I smile, knowing that I empowered them to make a good decision.
Ted: Can you provide a final word of advice?
Jamie: Regardless of who came before you, the value that you bring is always going to be up to you. Don’t take it personally if their past HR experiences are tainted. Don’t let it change the kind of HR leader you want to be. Find the business leaders who are highly respected and figure out what they’re doing differently than the others. You are no different from any other business leader. Knowing the people, knowing what works, knowing how to build relationships and trust, that will make all the difference.
Our thanks to Jamie Steider, Director of Human Resources at Federated Wireless, for sharing her views on the ideal role for HR professionals. From transformative insights to helpful hints, Jamie gives us an insider’s view of the optimum role for HR professionals as they move from traditional administrators to true business partners. In an ideal world, HR will have a broader, more strategic focus on employee-related issues where both HR and company leaders drive a strong link between the company’s people, its culture, its brand and its business objectives.
Jamie trusts that HR professionals who believe they are the guardian of policies, processes, and programs remain tethered to the role of HR administrator. But when they see themselves as true HR leaders, they drive personal relationships, improve the culture and become trusted allies accountable to the goals of the company. HR can then promote synergy between people to position the company for long-term success. HR professionals need to take the time to learn what’s going on in the organization and find advocates within the company to ease the way. Only then can HR develop a broad viewpoint and take their seat at the table alongside C-suite executives.