In the introduction to "The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers," Ben Horowitz, co-founder and general partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, makes a good point. He says, "The hard thing isn't dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare."
As part of a series on must-read books for HR leaders, we're exploring how these strategies can help HR leaders navigate difficult challenges and help their C-suite colleagues thrive in hard times. Horowitz addresses difficult leadership situations other business books gloss over and provides insight HR leaders can use to successfully navigate tough situations that might occur at their organization.
1. Learn to Be a Leader in Hard Times
"People always ask me 'What's the secret to being a successful CEO?' Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out it's the ability to focus and make a good move when there are no good moves," says Horowitz. Every leader faces difficult times and may not know how to proceed. Horowitz recommends that leaders learn how to ask for help. Leaders often assume they're best positioned to solve a problem or need to protect their teams from difficult information. In reality, asking for help can mobilize the resources around you for the best possible solution while managing stress. Additionally, Horowitz advises not to take things personally. Strong leaders need to take responsibility for how their actions contributed to a situation and learn from that, without getting mired in guilt. Focus on building resiliency and persevering.
2. Communicate Clearly: Don't Fall Into the Positivity Trap
Culturally, we're often given the message that being positive is an important part of achieving results and forging good relationships. Horowitz recommends a different approach, suggesting that CEOs eschew extreme positivity and communicate honestly about the state of the organization. He says being transparent about your organization's problems can build trust, focus your team and create a positive culture. PwC found that 55 percent of CEOs are worried about trust in business, so improving this is vital. Encourage an organizational culture that shares all news, rather than a toxic culture that only focuses on sharing negative issues in a gossip style. HR leaders can work with executives to help them create transparent, productive communication channels throughout the organization.
3. Manage Tough Personnel Decisions
Whether it's navigating the waters of standard layoffs or the personal challenge of having to demote a longtime and loyal friend, executives are often kept awake at night by talent-related challenges. HR leaders can help manage these areas daily. Horowitz notes different talent-related challenges and how you can successfully address these issues when they arise:
- Layoffs — Layoffs are difficult and how they're handled can say a lot. Horowitz notes that employees won't remember details of working with you with the same clarity they will recall the day they're laid off. Managers must be clear that an organizational-level performance failing has led to layoffs. Focus on rebuilding from there. Address the entire workforce with a clear message of what happened and the vision forward. Leaders should be visible and available during layoffs. Train your management team on how to conduct layoffs. HR leaders can advise CEOs on how to handle terminations and ensure that managers are prepared for tough conversations.
- Terminating Executives — When terminating executives, communicate with the board and get their support. Prepare for the conversation by focusing on the reasons that termination is occurring, using decisive language that makes it clear the decision is non-negotiable, and having a severance package ready and approved.
- Terminating Friends — Sometimes, in the C-suite, you're called on to terminate a colleague you're close with. Horowitz recommends being prepared for a strong emotional reaction, being clear about your decision and why, and finding an alternate opportunity that fits their skills.
When HR leaders bring their expertise to bear on the situation, leaders can face their most challenging situations head-on and then focus on moving the organization forward into a more successful future.
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