A recipe for failure or a golden opportunity knocking?

Dear Joan:
My company has undergone a managerial transition and the Chairman of the Board has been booted out. I was the Executive Assistant to the Chairman. I was assured that I will not lose my job, or realize a wage decrease, but there is really no place to put me.

I have been asked to help establish a human resources department, but I have no formal training in this area. I have no college degree. I am 41 years old, female, and can only bring lifetime experiences to the table. The company does not pay for any college tuition. Am I being set up or what?

Someone once said, "We dread clearly, but we dream vaguely." You appear to be preoccupied with suspicions about the company's motives and doubts about your own abilities, rather than recognizing the opportunity here.

I can understand why you would feel a little skeptical, since your boss has been ousted. You probably have a strong feeling of loyalty to him and feel that this situation is unfair. I have no background about the company culture and how it treats people, but I think it's safe to say that most companies don't automatically throw out the assistant when they remove an executive. Each person is generally judged on their own merit.

I suspect that you have a good reputation for handling people issues. I also imagine that you have readability with the other executives and managers, or they wouldn't ask you to set up the Human Resources Department. You may not be aware of this, but often a human resources department in a small to middle-sized company is begun by someone in the organization who has these skills. Often, they don't have a degree in human resources but executives and employees alike trust them.

Rather than focusing on how you are being set up to fail, why not seize this opportunity and run with it?

Here are some steps to follow for anyone who is starting up a new initiative:

Set up a meeting with the most senior executive who will be in charge of this area. Bring a list of questions (or submit them in advance), so that you can leave the meeting with a clear set of mutual expectations. DO NOT begin to work on this without taking this step, or you will potentially set yourself up to fail.

The questions should have a proactive, positive tone. For example, rather than asking, "How do I know you're really serious about this?" ask questions such as, "Can you tell me what level of authority and budget I will have to set this department up?" You will want to ask questions about:

·        What your responsibilities will be.

·        What authority level you'll have to make decisions.

·        What is the budget for the first year start-up, and future plans.

·        Who you will report to.

·        What outside and inside resources you will need.

·        What outcomes they are looking for.

·        How your new role will be communicated within the company.

These are just a few questions to get you started. I urge you to think through each question before the meeting and prepare your own business plan for discussion. Even if your plan is not completely accepted, it will show this executive (and others) the initiative they are expecting you to demonstrate. Another side benefit of developing your own plan for discussion is that you will be able to test your new working relationship. For example, you will see how this person interacts with you, how well he accepts your ideas, and how much independent decision-making you will really have.

If you suspect that the executives haven't done much thinking about this new department, another approach is to get approval to interview some of your key internal customers in order to find out what their needs are. You might suggest doing interviews with executives, managers, supervisors and employees. In addition, interviewing Human Resources managers in similar companies and outside consulting companies can also be a part of your research. Then you can develop a solid business plan with data to back it up.

I would also advise that you share your business plan with other people. Because the Human Resources function touches every employee's life, it's important that you have broad support and understanding of what your new role will be. This may mean attending a senior staff meeting as well as a managers' meeting to present and discuss your plan

Although your company doesn't have a tuition reimbursement program, you will want to ask for some money to attend courses and join local human resources professional organizations. If you aren't able to get approval on this, it will be a telltale sign that they are not very serious about this new venture. In addition, once you are on the job for a year or so, you will be in a better position to determine if you need to go back to school for a degree in this area. If, on the other hand, you decide this isn't for you, your resume will still get a big boost from this experience.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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