Queen's University IRC

Learning the Art of Painting the HR Landscape

What Aunt Sally and Others Can Teach HR Professionals About Communicating “Up”
Sandi Cardillo
Queen’s IRC Facilitator

October 6, 2014

Learning the Art of Painting the HR Landscape - Teaching HR Professionals to Communicate UpIt’s Saturday morning in cottage country. You’re hugging a cup of coffee on the porch. The mist is just clearing from the lake. The view from the deck is stunning. The geese are feeding at the shoreline. A hawk circles above the pines in the distance. Waves lap the deck, reminding you that you promised your cousin a kayaking lesson later this morning. He’s coming with your Aunt Sally on the train as part of the adventure. Aunt Sally recently discovered plein art painting. “Bring the SUV to the station,” she said. “I have the easel.”

Your mind is on the meeting you were invited to in ten days with the Director of Really Big Stuff. Your assignment: present your thoughts on the two-year view of the strategic people project that became your task when you accepted your new role as business unit support human resources leader for your division. It’s big and you’re just getting your head around it.

“Keep it simple,” her executive assistant said. “She doesn’t want to know about the trees, just the forest. I’ve seen her chew others up when they start talking about the trees. She doesn’t have time for the trees. She takes care of the forest and lets those taking care of the trees do their job. Sorry about the metaphor, but I wanted to give you a head’s up.”

“Wow,” you think. “The forest. Not the trees. Every presentation I made in my last role was all about the trees. My manager wanted the details. He wanted to know that I had a firm grasp of everything and had tied it all up in a nice, neat package. My team members wanted the same thing – to know that I had their back and they could see it in the spreadsheets I’d prepared.”

“How the heck do I approach this?” you think. “I’ve got twenty minutes to cover my thoughts on a two-year seriously strategic project?” Then you remember the Queen’s IRC Advanced HR course your new manager had asked you to attend when you accepted the role in the business unit. At the time it was still pretty new, and frankly, slightly overwhelming to make the transition from subject matter expert to business unit support leader. You remember something from that session about turning the curve on the way to the next level and how things at the next level require a different kind of thinking.

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