The Talent & Organization Effectiveness Committee recently hosted a stimulating conversation about “Influence Effectiveness” and how to up their brand as a business partner. They turned the tables by bringing in C-Suite leaders to tell us what they love and hate about HR resulting in the advice you are about to read:
Suz O’Donnell, Thrivatize President, set the stage for the meeting with a glimpse into her workshop “Stop Speaking HR, Start Speaking Business Results.” She helps HR leaders get increased support and budget from company leaders. One example she gave is to stop using HR terms when speaking with C-level leaders, and instead use business terms and goals as your lead-in to earn the C-suite leaders’ respect, time, and budget. She says to use terms like “productivity” and “profitability” so they will give you time to talk to them about employee engagement, culture, leadership development, etc. for which you want/need their support and budget.
A distinguished panel of C-Level leaders consisting of Kevin Skibinski-General Manager, Amsted Rail; Nick Smith-Chief Operating Officer, National Safety Council; and Carolyn Dolezal-CEO, The Dolezal Group, LLC provided their advice on these critical HR dilemmas:
To gain influence, you must first establish the trust of the business leaders. In order to do so, you must demonstrate deep understanding of business initiatives, what business leaders do, how they do it, and why they do it.
Ask questions, and continue to operate in a strategic manner; do not get stuck and bogged down by “the processes” component of HR. Nick Smith suggested one way to do this was to go beyond the execution of paperwork, and demonstrate your role as a “fair arbiter to help explain policies and processes and be the ‘police’ of those to bring consistency.”
You will continue to build your trustworthiness by being “in the foxhole” with leaders, Carolyn Dolezal says, showing “you have as much at risk as the rest of the leaders,” which gains you respect and credibility. If you want HR to be seen as a trustworthy business partner, this is the time to take risks, engage, and be courageous to push people. Your job isn’t only to process resumes and applications, but to truly help push the business forward. When you support the business as a whole you will get support for your initiatives in return.
Once you’ve built the trust to earn your place at the table, your work isn’t done there-you must continue to be engaged, courageous, and offer your opinion. You are not a placeholder; you have valuable opinions. Don’t be afraid to ask provoking questions of leadership and help remove blinders on how they see themselves.
Kevin Skibinski reminds HR leaders to possess a sense of urgency to “show you are motivated to get things done quickly.” Offer to help business leaders build teams composed of “the right people with the right training,” at the right time, and you will be seen as invaluable.
Realize what you can do to assist with current business initiatives. For instance, many companies experience major changes in business strategy and industry trends. If your organization goes through a period of change, such as a merger or acquisition, think ahead to the people and business implications. Don’t be shy to point out the factors that will slow down the process, such as the integration and blending of the two cultures. Ensuring workforce productivity during transition is the #1 way to ensure profitability, so will be appreciated at all levels, if you explain it in business terms. Think ahead to create strategy around employee engagement and productivity, which demonstrate initiative and forward-thinking.
Kevin points out that one thing HR does well is “to put yourselves in the new employee’s shoes.” Set a plan to meet with new division leadership as early as possible. Basically, don’t wait for someone else to do these things because no one else will. When the merger or acquisition goes through swimmingly and cultures are blended nicely, you will have greater retention and rate of productivity, all of which leads to more revenue. HR will be seen as a revenue-maker.
Many businesses are functioning with limited resources in a very fast-paced environment. HR leaders need to ensure their investments get the same consideration as other areas, and the best way to do this is by leading with data and sharing results. If you want budget for a program or initiative, you must tell them what the “end outcome is” that will help accomplish overall company goals. Carolyn uses the example of sharing that your program will “cut costs or increase revenue. If you can talk about examples of how it is going to make the business run better, then you are more likely to get it.”
Tie everything you can to data, and use those data points to indicate ROI from your ask. When asking for budget, Kevin says one successful avenue is to “point out potential compliance issues, which could cause issues with Legal, which in turn could cost the company money,” and Nick suggests “explaining how your program will keep employees happy and retained.” Whatever your program may be, the more detailed and factual you can be, the more likely you will be able to score the budget you need.
HR has appeared needy over the years in their “ask” to be at the table. Suz O’Donnell says, “Shift that orientation at your organization, so you are leading with the goal of wanting the company to be as effective and efficient as possible, and help them achieve their business initiatives with your role in the organization.” Be consistent and do your homework. Ask business leaders questions-it’s imperative you don’t have your entire meeting time planned out for you to talk the whole time. Get their feedback while you have face-to-face time. Really listen to what they want, and make sure that your actions line up with those goals. This will help you prioritize and pick your battles. Overall, remember why you are in the room and actively participate in the meetings.
In order to be seen as a true business partner, you must contribute to the conversation, think outside the box, and you must propose business solutions. Build a sense of trust, earn your seat at the table, and keep asking questions and creating strategy that challenges status quo. Focus on integrity, leadership, and courage. Lead with data, and show that HR can be seen as a revenue-driver. When you are able to do all of these things, you will truly be a valued strategic partner.