Advice from a global HR executive: An interview with Kris Breuer

We are excited to introduce Kris Breuer as the newest partner at ArchPoint Consulting. With over 25 years of experience developing and delivering strategic HR plans and programs, Kris has been a key driver of organizational change for companies such as Dollar Tree, Godiva Chocolatier, Dow Jones and Campbell Soup Company.

Kris has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of New Jersey and lives in the Medford, NJ area with her family.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE HR AS A CAREER PATH?

In high school, I had a teacher who also owned an outplacement consulting firm. I liked the idea of helping people transition into new careers and it piqued my interest in assessing people and talent.  I pursued a psychology degree in college and afterward found myself in an executive recruiting firm that specialized in hiring C-level executives. Early on I was interviewing CEOs and global functional leaders across a wide range of industries. I found a natural connection between understanding an organization’s need and recognizing a candidate’s expertise and fit.

I did this executive recruiting work on both the search firm side as well as the corporate staffing side, which included heading up global staffing at Campbell Soup Company. It was there that I had the opportunity to venture into the corporate side of HR, learning the function from a seasoned HR leader that believed that people who know talent make great HR partners! So that’s what I did, and I never looked back!

WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING ABOUT WORKING IN HR?

When you approach HR from a business perspective, you have a completely different experience. Developing my knowledge beyond HR furthered my credibility in the business and helped me to be a more well-rounded business partner. In one of my most recent roles, the division I joined was transitioning into a stand-alone business. Instead of only focusing on the core items like aligning benefits, I was able to partner with the CEO and leadership team from a strategic perspective to create a 3-year plan and build a new culture. The nuts and bolts are critical of course but from a business standpoint, HR was able to to help shape the new entity, from organization design to new market entry, creating new channels of distribution and bringing on-board exceptional leadership to drive growth.

I qualify myself as a business person first and an HR person second.

WHAT IS ONE CHARACTERISTIC YOU BELIEVE EVERY LEADER SHOULD POSSESS?

Authenticity. I would love to say things like drive and passion and compassion (which are important!), but I come from a school of leadership that believes that operating as an authentic leader, you gain the trust and confidence of your team which in turn drives results. Nothing beats authenticity and speaking the truth.

WHAT’S THE BEST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU’VE EVER GIVEN OR BEEN GIVEN?

My team used to say I used “Krisisms.” There are a few things that I would say define me.

The true hallmark of a leader is the grace with which they handle adversity. Be the calming force in the face of change.

Teams look for leaders to demonstrate behaviors that are consistent with company values. In stressful situations they become laser-focused on this and take cues from how leaders respond. If I’m in chaos mode, that will translate to what my team will feel. It’s tough to do sometimes, but the key is to lead by example and guide your team. In stressful situations, you can work your way through with grace and avoid the disruption stress can bring.

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU’VE EVER FACED IN YOUR CAREER? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?

Helping organizations navigate change. In one role, the company I was with was filled with constant change in leadership at the top levels of the organization. This meant constant changes in direction as a result of new leaders coming in and having different ideas of where the business should be. Managing through that change is incredibly difficult. It’s one thing to manage through it yourself but leading an organization through change is something different. Here’s what I’ve learned about successfully managing change.

  • Avoid having preconceived ideas about what the outcome looks like.
  • Listen and enroll people in the process. People respond better being a part of the solution.
  • Listen, listen and listen some more.
  • Be transparent from the get-go. Be clear on what your charter is up front. Alignment is critical, so sending confusing or conflicting messages means some heavy lifting later on.
  • Overcommunicate and have clear parameters from the start. “We know this will be difficult, but we’re here to help. We might not have all the answers just yet, but here’s some information to get started.  And we will communicate more on direction and any changes consistently, every XXX weeks.” If people don’t hear from you for six months, that’s a problem.
  • Live the commitment and you build credibility. If you don’t live it, you lose credibility times 10.

WHEN IS IT OKAY TO BREAK THE RULES?

As an HR person, it’s never okay to break the rules if it’s the law or a state, federal or country requirement.  Or if it would create a divide in the organization that undermines vision, culture or values. But if you are operating in the best interest of the business and you know there’s a different way of approaching things, I think it’s okay to challenge the rules.  As an example, if there are best practice insights that could benefit the company or perhaps the business has evolved to where the rule no longer applies.  Challenge the rules when you know it’s the right thing to do. 

WHAT HAS BEEN THE PROUDEST MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER?

Creating a stand-alone business for a global premium chocolate company. That was a challenging time, full of action (and some surprises!) and I loved every minute of it. I’m also personally proud that the relationships I’ve developed over the years are still intact. When a leader seeks out my opinion or my guidance on their career it tells me I am trusted and that they value my input.  So many of them are now close friends as well! Cultivating long term relationships in business is hard in today’s world, so this really gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE FOR LEADERS WHO WANT TO IMPROVE TEAM EFFECTIVENESS?

Understand the makeup of your team – the diverse experiences, approaches and thinking.  Leverage this to enable your team to create solutions and don’t presume you have the answer. The team needs you to provide the operating parameters and then clear roadblocks that get in their way.  As always, communicate and be open minded. Team effectiveness starts with you!

Feedback is a gift. Be open to feedback and be willing to respond to opportunities to improve.

Understanding how the team is feeling about their work, their team relationships and their feelings about you as a leader.

Lastly, make sure you have the best people. Not all people that you like or that are just like you, but the best and most talented. Encourage them to take risks and leverage this collective talent to move the organization forward. Your job as a leader is to provide the roadmap, break down barriers, and course correct when necessary.

HOW DO YOU MOVE UP AT WORK?

The price of entry for me is operational excellence. If you don’t excel at your responsibilities, opportunities will be limited. Also, people move up by consistently keeping themselves and their skills relevant, being a student of the business and industry and taking risks that can catapult your career. Being relevant also means being visible, being in the action, being respected and creating value for an organization.

You can only be a leader by doing. There are people out there who are gifted leaders, world-renowned for what they do and how they do it.  Find a few and study them and what their experience can offer you.

It’s also important to look at what your business competitors do well, but to also be open to looking at what those outside of your industry are doing. As an example, if you’re in procurement in a consumer goods company, do you look at what are people in procurement are doing in the hospitality industry? Are there any lessons to learn here?  Are you networking? You can learn a lot by looking outside your own walls.

WHAT DIDN’T WE ASK THAT YOU WISH WE HAD?

How to manage in a multi-generation environment. Our workforce is comprised of many generations today and will have even more tomorrow.  This to me is one of the biggest things facing organizations and leaders right now. There is a very different mindset entering the workforce and companies, teams and leaders need to be prepared for it. This new workforce wants the value set of their organization to be aligned with their own values. They want the opportunity to learn and grow differently and have the drive and spirit to do things independent of a company.  This means our competition for getting the best and brightest and keeping them may be far broader than what we think it is! Embracing this can be incredibly powerful for an organization.

For more information on Kris, check out her bio or email her today.

Leave a Reply