Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Question: After five years at my company, I was recently promoted to a managerial position, so I’ll have direct reports for the first time in my life. What advice do you have for a new manager?
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: I’m happy to hear your hard work paid off. Congratulations!
Before Day One, do your homework. Does your organization offer management training or courses? Or, does HR have access to external resources? I highly recommend checking. Becoming a manager (especially one responsible for other people) is a big change and these could help you acclimate more quickly.
I remember years ago thinking becoming a manager was all about having a nicer title, more flexibility, and a higher salary. And then I got my first promotion and realized just how much I earned that extra money and that fancy title. People management is HARD.
Excelling in your role as a people manager demands new skills and a different mindset than you had while executing as an individual contributor. As a people manager, your job is to allocate resources – time, money, and people – to drive your organization forward. Given that resources are typically finite, it’s essential to know how to invest them wisely for the greatest return.
To do so, you need to know a few things.
First, where are you going? In other words, what are your organization’s goals and what is your team’s responsibility? Knowing the company’s strategy and key performance indicators will help you prioritize the right projects when it feels like a million other things are happening.
Second, how are you getting there? What are your resources? Obviously, that includes a budget. But, perhaps more importantly, it means understanding your team – your human resources. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they communicate?
It cannot be overstated: Building relationships and learning about your people, at the outset, is key. Not only does it build trust and comradery, you’ll begin to see how the skills and styles of your direct reports can be combined to create a better team.
In addition, it might also be helpful to find a mentor. How? By asking! Look around your organization for someone you admire. And don’t worry about bothering them. Odds are, they had a mentor early on as well – and may even find your request flattering.
I’ll be honest, though. Some days will be challenging. People will not always agree with what you say or do. Things will go sideways. And it’s on your shoulders to make tough decisions, go to bat for a teammate, or deliver not-so-good news. That said, many days will be incredibly rewarding. It’s now your turn to promote employees, deliver bonuses, and bring in new talent.
Above all, believe in yourself and be resilient. Best of luck in your new role!
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Question: As an HR Manager, how do I handle the sudden appearance of cognitive deficits and memory loss in my boss, the CEO? He is a cancer survivor and takes long-term medicine to prevent a recurrence. Recently, he’s forgotten entire meetings that happened just days prior and can’t remember simple tasks he’s done for years. I mentioned it to him recently, but he became very aggressive. I’ve made the owner aware, but he seems unconcerned. I’m concerned the CEO is going to do something that negatively affects the company financially. How should I approach this?
Taylor: First, I’d like to commend you for recognizing this may be very difficult for both your CEO and the owner. It’s a sensitive situation that could impact your company, so you’re right to wonder how it might be handled best.
It was a good initial move to share your concerns with your CEO and then to his boss. Even if it didn’t produce the outcome you wanted, you elevated the issue and raised awareness. You’d be surprised how many times this first step by you helps produce amazing results over time. At a minimum, everyone in management is aware of the potential problem. It could be that your CEO’s decline is a temporary matter that improves over time. Time will tell.
However, if the CEO’s behavior continues or worsens, you should connect with others within your organization. You mentioned you’ve noticed these changes, so I would confirm your observation with others. In doing so, be careful to maintain the confidentiality of your CEO’s medical history – simply stick to what you all can see.
If you find a consensus of an issue, and you have internal legal counsel, then you should loop them into the situation. If you don’t have counsel, find an executive or manager who has a solid working relationship with the owner. They may be able to advise you on how to approach him more effectively regarding your CEO.
Now, it could turn out you’re the only one noticing these occurrences. If that’s the case, and you still fear they could harm your company’s operations or credibility, you do have another option. As an HR Manager, you can support him as you would any other employee.
If your CEO continues to slip, meet privately and ask if he’s experiencing any difficulties. In doing so, address the behaviors themselves without speculating or assuming underlying causes. If you feel it’s appropriate, you could offer the benefits and protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, or any applicable state-related disability. In other words, there could be small accommodations that make a big difference.
Hopefully, one of these tactics fixes the issue. But, if things worsen and you see real impacts on the company, your last resort will be to meet with the owner again. When you do, be sure to bring solid evidence along with witnesses that can attest to your account.
Remember: You all want what’s best for the company. By being compassionate and transparent, you’ll see that and work together better.