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Approachable HR

Approachable HR | Human Resource Executive Online Mike Crownover, senior vice president of human resources at San Antonio-based Valero Energy, is among the HR leaders profiled in our April feature, A Leader's Brand. Here, he shares his thoughts on the art of being approachable to employees.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009
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If an HR leader wants to determine if employees feel he or she is approachable, how would you recommend they find out? Should they simply ask people, undergo a 360-degree assessment or are there other ways?

I think best way to know this is ask yourself, "Are people approaching me?" If you walk down the hall, eat in the cafeteria or go to the coffee bar and no one says a word, you are probably unapproachable. If you think you need a 360 to tell you, you are probably unapproachable.

I think approachability is something that you should know intuitively about yourself. If you don't know, then the question shouldn't be, "Am I approachable?" It should be, "Why aren't people approaching me?" There is a subtle but important difference between those two questions.

In your view, what are the most important steps to take in order to be more approachable to employees?

I have a monthly lunch with 12 randomly selected employees in my group. It takes a couple of years to have lunch with everyone. I am almost finished with my second time around. You have to give employees the idea that you are approachable and that their ideas and thoughts are important and that you are willing to listen.

I eat in the company cafeteria and sit at tables with employees from other parts of the company. Often they ask that HR question that has been on their mind. The bottom line, you have to make yourself available. If you aren't available, then, by definition, you are unapproachable.

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How are you determining whether your own efforts to change your image among employees are working?

I am not necessarily trying to change my image. However, I regularly have employees come see me, outside of the chain of command, with issues that concern them, either from a personal perspective or broader issues that affect the company. Employees don't hesitate to engage me in conversation in the coffee bar or the hallway. Sometimes I think I actually may be too approachable! But if you are in HR, people are your business.

What advice would you give other executives who want to change how they are perceived by employees?

There is no substitute for pressing the flesh. You have to be out and among the workforce if you want to be seen as approachable.

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