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How to Be A HR Superstar - BW Profile of GE's William Conaty

We all have our opinions about what we think it takes to be a HR Superstar - a business mind, a hard edge, maybe the selling skills of Zig Ziglar?  Whatever you think it takes, it pays to listen to those who have achieved the highest level in the field.  One of those professionals is GE's William Conaty, who is stepping down as the GE HR chief after In his 40 years at GE, including 13 as head of human resources, where he helped to shape the modern face of HR. Logo_ge

"The guy is spectacular," says legendary former GE CEO Jack Welch. "He has enormous trust at every level. The union guys respect him as much as the senior managers."    From Business Week's recent profile on Conaty entilted "Secrets of an HR Superstar":

Conaty took a department that's often treated as a support function and turned it into a high-level business partner, fostering a deep bench of talent and focusing attention on the need for continuous leadership development. Among other things, he helped manage the seamless transition from Welch to Jeffrey R. Immelt in 2001 and was critical in shaping a new vision of global leadership that emphasizes such traits as imagination and inclusiveness.

As part of the article, Conaty shares 7 keys for HR professionals who want to be superstars in the field.  Among my favorites:

Relentlessly assessing and grading employees build organizational vitality and foster a true meritocracy, in Conaty's view. Employees must be constantly judged, ranked, and rewarded or punished for their performance. Welch famously talked about cutting the bottom 10% of employees. Immelt doesn't like to fixate on hard targets. But Conaty insists that differentiation "is what still drives this company." There's nothing like a bit of anxiety and the knowledge that you're being measured against peers to boost performance. "We want to create angst in the system," he says. "We have evolved from being anal about what percent have to fall into each category. But you have to know who are the least effective people on your team—and then you have to do something about them."

Too often, says Conaty, HR executives make the mistake of focusing on the priorities and needs of the CEO. That diminishes the powerful role of being an employee advocate. "If you just get closer to the CEO, you're dead," says Conaty. "The HR leader locks in with the CEO, and the rest of the organization thinks the HR leader isn't trustworthy and can't be a confidant."

Conaty tries to counteract that risk by distancing himself from Immelt in public settings. While few people spend more time with Immelt than Conaty, he deliberately socializes with other colleagues at functions. Moreover, Conaty says he is the one to "purposely throw the daggers at Jeff that the other guys don't dare do. He knows what I'm doing. I need to be independent. I need to be credible." He also makes a point of being candid with leaders in private. As Immelt recently remarked: "I call Bill the 'first friend'...the guy that could walk in my office and kick my butt when it needed to be."

Good advice from someone who had to satisfy Jack Welch, no small feat... It's a 5 minute read, so click through and enjoy...


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