Stay in Your Lane?

I am frequently on a road where I see a sign that says, “Stay in Lane”. The area is under construction so there’s lots of equipment entering the road so I kind of understand why they have that sign but seeing it reminded me of an executive I worked with some years ago.

We’d be in a staff meeting and ideas were being exchanged and suddenly someone would offer up suggestion outside their sphere of influence. For example, the discussion would be on sales and if I, the HR executive, would chime in with a thought, he would say, “Stay in your lane.” This happened all the time until we all stopped participating in these discussions. I would only speak if the issue pertained to me.

Did this work? Not at all! Business slowed down and slowly but surely, each of the executive team found other jobs. Last I heard they were acquired by a larger firm and no one I worked with there survived—especially the leader who wanted us to stay in our lane!

What savvy executives try to do is to not put their people or their functions in lanes but encourage staffers to learn and support the business as a whole and to collaborate to find the best possible solutions. This is especially true for those of us in human resources—the more we know and understand the entire business, the greater our impact is on the organization.

In our book, The Big Book of HR, I share the story of the” late Pam Farr, the brilliant and strategic HR executive at Marriott International who used to tell the story that she would time herself in senior leadership meetings…and wait at least 20 minutes before bringing up a HR related issue. All the while, she would be actively engaged in the marketing or finance discussions. This positioned her as a valued partner to other executives who saw her first as a business colleague and then as the HR leader she was.”

What if she’d “stayed in her lane?” Would she have been as successful as she was but more importantly, would the company have been as successful as it is without her input?

My advice to you is to cross lanes when you can. Learn as much as you can about the business you’re in and speak up. Add your voice to any discussion and see where it takes you!

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