Teaching an old dog new tricks


I've recently been promoted to head the career development function for an entire region as opposed to my former scope handling training and development for three departments.

I was expecting a package review on that basis but have since been told by my new boss that the package he proposed was turned down by the VP as he sees this as a lateral move rather than a promotion and does not really see the need for such a function in the first place. Thus I'd need to prove myself to get the review I warrant.

The underlying issue here is that the VP has no interest in the HR function and sees it as a purely administrative set-up. Much of his management style is very "old-school" and "change averse".

My new boss, the Regional HR head, has a great vision and strategy to elevate and upgrade the department and align it with the business needs. He sees career development as a necessity and thus the urgency of setting up this new function within HR which is well overdue.

I truly believe that offering well thought out and structured career development plans will give us a competitive edge in the market and help with the retention of our key players and am genuinely passionate about developing others and inspiring them to reach their full potential.

My question is how can we convince the VP of the dire need of such a function and of the necessity of developing the HR department so he understands its strategic need as opposed to just 'paper-pushing'?

Things have been done in a certain way for so long, but the company has since exponentially grown and HR needs to step up to the plate. Sure we have many drones that are happy with the day-to-day paper pushing but there are a few that are itching for change and for a real transformation.

Do we use employee surveys, focus groups, turnover rates? What tools would we need and how do we go about persuading him to see the value? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? I really want to impress my new boss and show him that taking me on was a positive move and that I will definitely make a difference.

Mary, California

Myra White's Answer:

First, don't try to convince him. Enlist him. As a long term employee he has undoubtedly had career aspirations that remain unfulfilled. See if he is receptive to being the first person you develop a plan for. Obviously you will want to develop a series of questions that surface what he has always hoped he could achieve in his work.

The art of asking great questions is probably best covered off in the use of the Appreciative Inquiry process. If that info is not available, then develop a series of questions that you would ask other employees, (this is where the power plain is flat~everyone gets treated the same) and make him your first executive interview.

Once he sees how it can benefit him, he will see how it can benefit others. Once you know what legacy he seeks to leave; where his passion lies, then completing the follow through to the point where he receives a plan is critical for the credibility of the whole initiative. Few people ask someone about something that matters to them and then actually listen to them. It is the highest honor of respect anyone can receive and is rarely given.

Clearly I don't mean the kind of analytical/logical questions. I mean the kinds of questions that compel a heart-felt answer. It is there that passion and purpose reside.

Secondly, if you can organize employee focus groups into actual discussion groups, then there is an opportunity for employees to come together on the kinds of changes they seek to see. From your bold move above, he may be open to hearing how others in the company see their professional evolution.

This is where his personal communicating style comes in and his security with himself in interacting with the groups. The best thing that can happen is that he shows up to listen. Performance will increase organically simply because when you listen with sincerity, you care. His response to working with his career plan will show you how to best build momentum from there.

If he needs to feel in control and is more likely to tell someone what their career plan should look like, then that approach is far too risky to his reputation and would do more harm than good.

Many companies use employee surveys. The greatest risk is that those surveying the results superimpose their own ideas on top of the data, missing the story that the data tells. Smaller group discussions of a cross section of employees will likely offer more insight.

Turnover rate data tells the story of engagement, leadership and performance gaps and can provide useful information once you have his attention. Keep us posted!

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About our Expert

Myra White
Myra White

Myra White teaches managing workplace performance and organizational behavior at Harvard University and is a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School. She is the author of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Harvard Psychologist's Guide to Becoming a Superstar", a book based on her research into how over 60 well-known people became superstars.

Older Comments

The blunt answer? If your new boss, the Regional HR head has such a 'great vision and strategy' why the (expletive deleted) is he still with this company, let alone the fact that you are?

Sorry to tell it like it is, but if what you say is true, either your boss has lied to you at a certain level about your 'promotion' or the company has. Either would appear to be equally bad, and fatal to any career aspirations you may have with this business.

Let's face it, you would appear to have been promoted from the facts given - new and more senior job, and running an entire region (with presumably more travel involved too.) Yet the VP, who holds the purse strings, doesn't accept that and doesn't even want your department to exist. Oh, how you must be looking forward to the next budget review...

On the basis that you were promoted internally, presumably on merit and on results, the nasty put down that you now have to 'prove yourself' all over again is enough in itself to warrant your immediate resignation. I wonder if a smart lawyer might argue further that it smacks of constructive dismissal?

Who is kidding whom? Is it just you kidding yourself that you can effect change, or your new boss living in fantasy land? Either way, neither of you are going to go anywhere whilst the dinosaur VP holding the chequebook stays blocking your path.

You have said nothing to convince me that anything you say or do will change his/her opinions now. If that is true, the only way you can stay and succeed is to get a champion for your beliefs onside now at a higher level of seniority. However that is a risky path indeed and may just earn you further enmity from the dinosaur.

The real danger here is that your clear passion and enthusiasm for what HR can add to the bottom just ends up being eroded and destroyed, and I wonder further whether your enthusiasm to 'make things better' is making you delude yourself of the harsh facts of this awful situation. You really need to ask yourself that.

There are plenty of other businesses out there who appreciate the value of HR - perhaps the real answer is that it is time to update your CV and go looking for them?

Steve Huxham London