We often spend time working with HR teams and individuals working on how to be more business focused in their partnering.

We generally start by focusing on an engagement that has been client initiated.  As one of our customers so eloquently put it, the “client is the Horse and we’re the Cart”. Regular readers will know of our 5 phase model for handling this type of engagement which is being used to fantastic effect in the clients we are supporting.

But for this blog, we’re going to look at it from the other perspective. That is, how can HR initiate an engagement/project with the client? Or to use my customer’s analogy – how does HR become the Horse and the client the Cart?

Step 1: Opportunity hunting.

Take a leaf from your clients’ playbook, and start with the business. If you’re in HR supporting a division/team/function for example, do you know what might be “going wrong”? Do you know where the business is considered to be underperforming, or where there is greatest opportunity for growth? Have you had a poke around to see what might be out of kilter or misaligned for success? What is your point of view? The essence of this step is you need to spot an opportunity to make a difference to business performance. The secret sauce is to stop looking for an opportunity through an HR lens (engagement, training, recruitment, talent, development etc.) and instead search through a business lens (sales, revenues, profit, gross profit, speed to market, market share, product development cycle and so on) .

Step 2: Mobilise enthusiasm.

Generate enthusiasm for the opportunity you see! Convince people that you’ve spotted an opportunity. You’re not convincing them you’ve the “solution”, merely that there’s something worth looking at, and getting it addressed. You may not need much commitment, but you probably need enough to undertake a more thorough diagnosis. Once you’ve seen the opportunity, identify the root causes that you’ll then solve and address. Show them the data you’ve reviewed, that makes you think “something could be done”.

Step 3: Dig Deeper

Now you’ve got an opportunity, and enough commitment to investigate further, start your diagnostic in earnest. Gather the experts, get the data you need (quantitative and qualitative). Dig deep but dig quickly. You don’t want to spend months doing this, a few days to a couple of weeks at most. Keep your key stakeholders informed of your actions and at the end share your analysis. What you’re looking for is the 80/20 nugget. You’re convinced that if you tackled this root cause, then you’ve a highly likely chance of making the difference you want to see.

Step 4: Solve it

Now you know what you’re going to address, get the finest minds you can, to work on what the solutions might be. Look outside your team, see what other parts of the business might have done already. Look into other businesses. Act quickly though and know your decision making processes. Once you’ve generated options, how will you decide the best thing to do?

Step 5: Plan for Implementation

By this stage, you should have enough stakeholders agreeing there’s an issue or opportunity, agreeing the underlying causes and agreeing a solution. Now you need to plan for its success. Project planning, communication planning, stakeholder analysis, messaging and so forth. Don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but do consider this step carefully. “Failure to plan is a plan to fail”.

Step 6: JFDI

Execute your plan, with focus, energy and commitment. Monitor progress, tell people about the success you’re having. Get the actions done and dusted.

Step 7: Day of reckoning

Measure and evaluate the impact of your actions. Share success stories. Illustrate the business benefits. Demonstrate proof that you’ve made a difference. Share the credit with the stakeholders and all others involved. But most of all, close the loop back to the starting point. Has the opportunity been seized? Has the issue dissipated.

Many of these steps have a degree of commonality with the 5 phases that are deployed when the client initiates the issue. The magic here though, is in steps 1 and 2. By HR getting on the front foot, spotting opportunities and reviewing them through a business lens, not only do we become the Horse, but we become a Horse that the business wants to have attached to their Cart. (sorry – stretched that particular metaphor too far!)

Have a great week.

PS Cale – that’s for you. Get cracking!

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