It's time to stop thinking of HR as a department that you only hear from when you're in trouble. Everyone is guilty of this mindset, but the truth is that HR fosters productivity. It's the machine that's constantly running and recalibrating to make your business better.

If you truly want to shift your perspective, you should follow best practices for hiring an HR director and aim to find someone who will help infuse your business with purpose. In the book "Firms of Endearment," Raj Sisodia and his co-authors report that purpose-driven companies provided returns of 1646 percent between 1996 and 2011--that's compared to 157 percent for the S&P 500. You need your workforce behind you to reach such heights, and to get there, you need a director of HR who understands your employees' strengths, challenges, and needs.

As a benefits firm, my company works with a lot of HR personnel. We've learned how important HR directors really are. So when it came time to hire our own, we put a lot of thought into it. We considered how to define the role, what kind of person we needed, and how to find that person. We decided our HR director should do three things: find and inspire great talent to be a part of our team, establish systems and procedures to train and measure workforce effectiveness, and serve as an evangelist for our company.

These are things your HR leader should do as well. But the question remains: How do you sift through candidates to find the perfect person? Here are six characteristics to look for:

1. A deep knowledge of HR: The right person should have a few years of experience and a strong understanding of compliance and HR best practices. During the interview process, make sure you ask plenty of questions that will gauge industry knowledge. An ideal candidate is totally comfortable talking about health insurance, payroll, and compliance.

2. A passion for the work: The right person should be excited about going above and beyond the typical duties to be recognized as a thought leader in HR. This person also should be passionate about your company culture and make sure your team members have the resources they need to help your company succeed. The right person needs to focus on that deeper level and question whether initiatives are actually driving success.

3. A sales mentality: Recruiting and hiring is a sales job at its core, so look for someone who has the mentality to effectively "sell" your organization--from the first phone screening to salary negotiations.

4. A grasp of technology: In the past few years, technology has mobilized HR leaders to take action in scalable, efficient ways, and 2015 is the year of HR technology. Leveraging technology not only saves time, but it also makes employees feel more comfortable. They're already using technology in their work, so they expect to use it for HR purposes, too. For example, 15Five is a great online tool to use to maintain continuous feedback loops between managers and employees.

5. An analytical mind: The right person should understand process design and be able to analyze performance and efficacy of training and onboarding practices. And this person should be familiar with tools such as Small Improvements to conduct in-depth performance reviews.

6. A supportive attitude: Above all, you should look for someone who managers will look up to and want to emulate. The right person should be able to provide clear, consistent feedback on how individuals can strengthen their contributions to the company.

It's your HR director's job to make sure employees have the resources to drive company success. It can be hard to ensure good work-life balance and enable working smart--not just hard--at the tactical level. But that's exactly why it's worth putting in the time and effort to find the right person. After all, the HR director is responsible for your greatest asset: your people.

Published on: Feb 9, 2015