If You Can't Lead the Tour You Don't Know Your Business

 I was surprised the other day when I received a round of applause when I said “If you can’t lead the company tour then you don’t know your business.” Let me explain the circumstances.
During a panel discussion this week we the panelists were asked if we had any suggestions about what mid-career HR pros could do to end up leading the function in their company. Fellow panelist, blogger and friend Cathy Missildine-Martin handled the question first. Her response was spot on by stressing that ALL HR “pros” should know how their business operates, how their business makes money, and how to discuss those issues with other management members. That is best practice these days for HR people who are serious about their careers.
I was asked to weigh-in on the question as well. Naturally I agreed with Cathy’s answers. You have to be a business person first before you can truly be a human resources “professional.” If you don’t know the language of business, you don’t understand how money is made and used, if  you don’t understand the economy of your business you cannot be a key contributor to the strategic direction. I told the audience one of the key indicators of understanding your business is the ability to conduct a tour of the company and explain to outsiders what every department and every function does. I made the emphatic statement “If you can’t lead the company tour then you don’t know your business.”
I had the very good fortune early in my career to join a company that emphasized training for newly hired management trainees, sales representatives and HR newbies. We spent 7 weeks learning the business by spending time in EVERY department in the company and becoming familiar with EVERY job in the company. As I was going through my training I ended up talking to employees in the administrative offices who had never spent anytime on the manufacturing floor. They were doing their jobs and using terms that really had no meaning to them in the context of the product being made. They were just “terms”. The proverbial light bulb lit up for me and when I was done with my training I suggested to my boss, the VP of HR, that we could improve people’s jobs if they had some idea of how what they did was connected to what was made. So I was given the greenlight to start a tour for existing employees. Once a week I would take a group of employees, and eventually outsiders, on the tour. This lasted until I got transfered to a plant HR position. But it was fun and I really learned the business. This knowledge was useful, especially when I became the Corporate Recruiting Manager. Once when conducting a tour with a candidate I got what I considered a major compliment when the candidate told me they had never met an HR person who knew their company as well as I did. It made my day! Today I still value that statement.
So if you are interested in really learning your company you need to learn how to conduct the tour. Set up a training program for yourself that allows you to learn everything about your company. Then begin to conduct tours. You may too get a compliment about how well you know the business. And if your boss says it is not necessary, well that is an indication of the value of HR in your organization.

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