Case Study

How One Well-Placed HR Business Partner Can Transform an Enterprise and Mitigate Risk

The Challenge

A decades-old international transportation company was urgently in need of a cultural shift in order to support safety, compliance, leadership development, and effective recruitment goals. They needed a strategic HR leader who had the ability to lead through influence following the strong Founder’s departure. The company HR department was sorely in need of solid policies, procedures, mission alignment, and effective leadership.

The HR Business Partner knew the opportunity would present big challenges going in due to Acumen’s transparency regarding the gaps — and he was excited to take them on.

The organization had recently lost their Founder. It was apparent that the right tools from a leadership, personnel, cultural, and compliance perspective were lacking. Leadership needed support and education. The Founder had a positive, “paternal” leadership style and was the person who generally “held everything together.” Upon his departure, the organizational gaps lead to a loss of trust between HR and the rest of the organization. As typical of mid-sized company business owners, he had a hand in every aspect of the company and was a natural born leader. “Many employees stated that he just ‘made the whole thing work.’ If there was an HR problem, he would listen to both sides and make a decision and everyone would say “yes, sir.” Any company with that kind of leader is going to be successful when they have a maestro making it all happen.”

Once the Founder had departed, the new HR leader would have the challenge of transforming the culture and introducing policies and procedures to remedy the lack of effective HR management. It would be crucial to implement compliance and establish a safe, positive, inclusive work environment that mitigated risk.

This HR Leader would need to work as a true partner to the executive team, understanding the history, the business strategy, the diverse personalities of the employees, and HR law to be effective. He would not succeed if he was a “my way or the highway” type of individual; he would need to be a leader who could lead through influence and engender trust to get the job done. Needed was a kind, collaborative leader who listens, while explaining why being compliant was beneficial and essential to the organization as a whole. He also needed to be a knowledgeable HRBP who was able to command the respect of the executive team to allow him to execute on leadership development initiatives.

The Solution

Acumen quickly identified 3 strong potential candidates for the role that had the dual experience in both HR and Safety the role required. Jon not only had the right mix of industries in his background, but he was a hands-on strategist with experience overseeing the facets of HR that needed the most help. This included championing a big cultural change through change management – moving a large organization into embracing compliance and leadership development. Executive Leadership acknowledged him to be a strong cultural fit – a strategic HR Leader who was thoughtful, knowledgeable, and collaborative while being an expert in safety, compliance, training, leadership development, and recruiting. He was a leader who made promises and fulfilled them. He got the job done.

The timeline from when Acumen identified Jon as a strong candidate to when the organization made him an offer of employment took two weeks. Thanks to the great partnership with the CFO, the process ran smoothly and effectively. While placements of HR professionals in more rural areas generally take much longer, Acumen credits their strong, efficacious network which supported the swift identification and relocation of Jon.

Results

Within a few weeks, Jon addressed many organizational gaps and started performing a cultural overhaul. Executive leadership was impressed with the HR training he developed for all management which had employees flying in from both international and multi-state locations. He put together a

5-hour session “HR 101” to ensure cohesion and that everyone was “singing from the same song book” to encourage alignment to avoid liability. The session focused on leadership training and accountability. They reviewed employee lifecycles, progressive discipline, and termination. They were also provided with structured interview processes, “here are the 5 questions we are going to ask all candidates and then there will be 4 that vary for each work group.” Jon implemented effective hiring practices, suggesting that there must be at least 2 people interviewed for every open position. “I helped install rules and procedures, leveraging myself as a business partner, rather than internal affairs.”

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and went from “I don’t want to be here, I’m being forced to do this” to “This was exactly what we needed” and staff and management appreciated the skill required to put together and deliver good, meaningful content. “It was personable – interactive, but not cheesy. We focused on accountability vs. responsibility. Managers may be good at what they do but they don’t always have a good handle on what they do. It’s about developing others and holding them accountable. For example, I don’t need the Director of Maintenance to be best guy to use a wrench – his job is to manage, coach, inspire and be a leader more than having operational skills. It’s about making sure they know what accountability looks like.”

“Initially, there was a fair amount of resistance (to compliance) and it’s legitimate, I’m just the HR guy – I’m not turning the wrenches.  There are a lot of crazy things that can happen in the world today. We need to control every single thing we can control, so crazy doesn’t take over. Let’s be prepared and wear the harness. We need to wag the tail – not let the tail wag us.”

Jon worked with the Executive leadership team to conduct salary reviews.  “Everyone saw an increase. We haven’t done significant increases for everyone in years, so this was a big positive. We pay well in some ways and in others we don’t. What we saw was cost of living going up and inflation. We had lots of people who have not seen a raise in 10 years. We had to make that right and compensate for insurance premiums going up. The next round of increases will be performance-based. I will be installing a review process – the President really wants to do this. Hopefully by third quarter.”

Jon has also had some creative ideas around recruiting, and how they can attract candidates from larger markets. He is also working with leadership to craft vision and mission statements and define the organization’s core values. The process is slowly unfolding, and he is coalescing all employees around their greater purpose.

Satisfaction with Opportunity

Jon feels he has been given a “seat at the table” and that the opportunity was a great fit for him. “I have been invited to the table and as I prove to be valuable and demonstrate how vital my role is and my ability to do that role. I definitely feel valued and appreciated and have the ability to make positive changes – and do it quickly.”

Jon foresees a long-term relationship with the organization. “They are supportive, responsive and appreciate me.”

When it comes to effectiveness with the staff: “Everyone is cautiously optimistic. It’s important that HR has credibility, that HR models the change we suggest, and follows through. If I say, I’ll get back to you tomorrow, I’ll get back to you tomorrow – I make sure of it. If someone asks for something, ask when do you need this by? And I’ll commit. Then that puts the pressure on me and gives them an experience that I can be counted on. Once you have credibility, everything else falls in place.”

Working with Acumen

“Your team (at Acumen) are very communicative – a big pro. Anyone who works through the process is going to be happy because you are always communicating. I could call and ask questions and you were very up front. Your process is really good. I ended up with a great job that I’m happy at where I get to make real change. My manager is smart, supportive, and a great mentor. I want to be him when I grow up.”

“HR is so important—I touch about 180 members of staff and their lives. I think Acumen was honest about the company and the opportunity – I think the issues ran even deeper than they knew. We were out of compliance for many years. It’s not an overstatement to say that I saved the company liability.”

By Molly Norton

Acumen Facilitates Succession Plan at the Eleventh Hour

Challenge

A mid-sized aerial services company with a family environment was looking to hire its first Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to help the succession from generation one to generation two. The company was forced into transition, as the co-owner and active President/CEO was stepping back and handing over the running of the company to his two sons. This co-owner had great urgency due to serious health reasons.

Acumen Executive Search (Acumen), was retained to lead this search. The President/CEO needed someone who was seasoned in business, aware, and capable enough to prepare his sons for leadership.  This someone would need to instill confidence and help transition the sons into senior roles within the company. He needed an extraordinary, thoughtful, and calm CFO that could be a coach-mentor to the new President/CEO.

Solution

A critical situation that had the potential to become disastrous was averted as the right person to lead the transition was quickly identified. Mitch was that person. He had many years of high-level finance and accounting experience and was a roll-up your sleeves, get things done leader with high EQ and the ability to lead through influence as opposed to ego. He was unique as he had experience in operations as well as finance, which was a bonus to the organization – experience they needed during this critical transition period. The company felt Mitch’s background and his supportive coaching style would make a solid addition to the organization, help guide the company forward, and to lead the sons through a successful transition.

Results

Sadly, the owner passed away shortly after Mitch was hired. Although Mitch felt he didn’t get enough time with the owner, he successfully ramped up the heir apparent, who has assumed the President/CEO position and has benefited immensely from Mitch’s wise counsel and business acumen.  This position was an ideal fit for Mitch as CFO and has allowed him to help move the company forward with the next generation actively in place.

All companies should have a succession plan. Succession plans should ideally be 8 years in the making (bare minimum 4 years) — not weeks. The former owner had a plan, but it had not been implemented because, like many business owners, he thought he had enough time. Thanks to Acumen’s superior and thoughtfully selected candidate, the company not only survived the transition of leadership to the sons but has flourished in the months since Mitch came on board. The sons are more confident and capable because they have an ally and mentor-coach in Mitch.  The company has had zero turnover during the transition, and in fact, they have added staff.

Product Marketing Manager Sought to Fill Gaps and Prepare Prior To Product Launch

“Acumen was easy to work with. I felt both Amanda and Karen genuinely looked out for my welfare. They kept in touch and clearly care about me – so unexpected and so very appreciated. Acumen’s coaching was on point; they advocated well for me resulting in a win-win agreement”

– Ananda, Product Marketing Manager

 

Challenge:

An early stage, pre-launch medical device company needed an experienced Product Marketing Manager to spearhead go-to-market strategy. While awaiting certain data for an innovative yet complex hardware/software product, it provided a challenge and opportunity for solutions. The product is a game changing medical device to be used in predicting disease state pre-dispositions to position patients and providers to enjoy improved health outcomes.

 

Solution:

Acumen’s expertise quickly led to a top-tier candidate. As the interface of engineering, product management, and marketing, Ananda feels he has been able to be a sounding board for the team and has helped with overall direction and marketing approach. The team has been able to focus on goals in order of priorities and have clarity on product deliverables. As a result, Ananda is now a part of a Clinical Studies Group where team members from multiple departments meet regularly to examine next steps in the process of product development and launch.

 

Results:

Ananda feels heard and valued by his company.  He finds the science of the product and the whole space he works in is both exciting and fascinating.  As such, he is currently spearheading a group “The Voice of the Customer” to prepare to partner with customers post launch by building tools to work with and train distributors.

The team began a Culture Committee late last year to bridge the lab and corporate office.  It was an initial success, with approximately 27 people show up to an inaugural event designed to bring everyone together collaboratively as one team.

“I have learned so much and have never been in such a brand spanking new environment. Such a great experience!”