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Q&A with Rob Reindl: Discovering the HOW of Leadership

Rob Reindl, former head of human resources at Edwards Lifesciences and author of the new book the HOW of leadership: unleashing the capacity of your people, will lead a presentation on leadership at the i4cp 2014 Conference, March 10 - 13 in Scottsdale, Arizona. We recently sat down with him to discuss his book, his views on leadership, and HR overall.

What made you want to write the HOW of leadership?

I had to be encouraged to do it. I actually was encouraged by the woman who did graphics for it. For the last 14 years, every time I did a presentation as part of our leadership curriculum at Edwards Lifesciences, she did the visuals. She saw a lot of these leadership concepts over the year and said, "Rob, you should write a book."

I said, "That's just not me," but she kept egging me on until one day she said to me, "You're being awfully selfish." I responded, "What does that mean?"

"Well, you want to hold onto all of these concepts just for the Edwards employees you touch and you don't want to broaden the audience for them?" And a light bulb went off in my head that said, you know what, I'm far from selfish and maybe there is a reason to do this that motivates me.

In terms of leadership, where are companies currently succeeding? Where are they falling short?

The intent of my book is to get at exactly that. Companies from a leadership perspective do quite well with the "what of leadership," and by that I mean, there aren't a lot of companies that don't have a good strategy in place, or at least spend some time and emphasis on putting a strategy in place. They have an operating plan that is aligned with that strategy, their employees' goals and objectives are aligned as well, and they have some form of performance management system to keep score of it all. That's almost like the foundation of stuff. But when they go to implement all of it, that's where companies get screwed up.

It's the various interpersonal and psychological matters and different styles and approaches to things that get in the way of their ability to accomplish what they set out to do. Thus the "HOW of leadership": how do you build trust as you go ahead and implement that plan? Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable? How do you make decisions along the way? Do you have the capability of letting go and letting other people do some things that you're holding onto as a leader, that you may enjoy doing yourself?

That's why I decided to do this. I think companies are pretty good at the "what," but they get messed up on the "how."

Given the overall current state of HR, what is top of mind for executives right now?

Having just retired as the head of HR at Edwards Lifesciences, I do believe that the market is coming back and as a result, all those employees who have kind of said "I'm staying put, but when there are more opportunities out there I'm going to jump ship" are... going to jump ship. I do think retention is going to be a growing issue for companies. There are a lot of marketable people that just didn't go out into the market. All these high-potentials who have settled in for a bit are going to be ripe for the pickings.

So we haven't reached that point yet? You think the big exodus is still coming?

I think it is coming. And then combine that with a really intriguing situation with the Baby Boomers. I’m fortunate that I happened to get into a role with a high-performing company whose stock took off over the years and managed to build some wealth, which allows me to do what I am doing right now.

There are a lot of Baby Boomers whose stock plummeted over the last 10 years, their wealth went away and their 401(k)s aren't worth as much as they thought they were going to be. What we do with these people I don't quite know. I have always been a firm believer that these people have wisdom and so finding roles for them is good, but to the extent that they become blockers for high potentials to move up and do bigger things for companies is going to become a challenge as well.

So there's a very interesting situation going on there that has yet to play out. The article The War for Talent was written back in, what, 1998, and that never really played out, right? Because the Baby Boomers never left. They couldn't. So I don't know what we are going to do with that situation.

If you were to task HR executives with one thing to do over the next year, what would it be?

I would say get close to your top talent. Get very close.

I like to ask questions of people who reported to me. One question was, "Why do high performers leave companies?" So we got that information and then took that data and said, "Now, if that's the case, we have data that can tell us where our high performers are relative to the reasons why they might leave." So we put that on a spreadsheet and add red checkboxes where there were areas of risk.

For example: Multiple bosses within the prior two years. If an employee had more than two or three bosses in the last couple of years, that person got a checkmark--a common reason for leaving was their manager. So we took the employee engagement score of their managers and if it was below 85 percent, they got a checkmark.

People leave for pay reasons, too, so if they were below 100 percent of the median, then it got a checkmark. Another one was what they got paid out of their bonus. If that was under 100 percent, they got a checkmark.

So there was a page sent out to every manager that listed their high potentials on the left-hand side and they could see very visually how many red checkmarks were on there and choose to do something IF they wanted to. There might be a valid reason why that checkmark was there, but at least it was a document they could use to ask, "Do I need to do anything to keep my top talent going forward?"

We called it a Top Talent Retention Matrix. In my role I tried to make my stuff as pragmatic as possible. I'm not one of these theoretical guys--I like to make things and create things that people can do something about.

In some ways it sounds like a very simple but powerful tool.

Oh yeah, when I've used it in presentations around here in Orange County, people are always sending me notes asking me for a copy of it. And it's telling how much HR data organizations have access to that they don't turn into information and use in a very powerful business way.

What do you see as that next big thing that organizations need to address?

I might have touched on this with some of the Baby Boomer and top talent comments. Another thing that comes to mind is technology. We probably don't even know what it's going to look like in five or ten years. To think that I used to put a pink slip on a spike on my desk for the messages I received, or we used typewriters, and to see where it's gone now and to see these kids coming into the marketplace ... they have access to such more data and so the whole power-control shift thing will be different organizationally going forward. Although you don't want managers to use information for power, information is power. That people have access to that at all levels in an organization is kind of intriguing. I don't know what that's going to mean in terms of organizational design--is it going to be more of a network type of design?

Certainly the role of leader is going to be very different. My book plays into that--that it's just not going to be about tenure and education and degrees and titles. It's HOW people are going about leading who will far exceed the WHAT leaders who pay little attention to HOW they lead.

Rob Reindl will present on the HOW of leadership at the i4cp 2014 Conference, March 10 - 13, 2014. Early bird registration ends January 24 - sign up now to save $300.

Erik Samdahl
Erik is the head of marketing at i4cp, and has nearly 20 years in the market research and human capital research industry.