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Jess Almlie

Learning Business Advisor Consulting

Learning & Performance Strategist

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Ensuring HR’s survival means changing our approach

In the context of dwindling resources and mounting pressure, how can the HR industry not just survive but thrive? Here are strategies for making an impact even in times of financial strain.
blooming yellow sunflower field representing growth

The UN World Economic Situation and Prospects 2024 paints a bleak picture for this year. In most parts of the world, growth is slowing while unemployment and debt increase.

Although some argue that employees want more access to Learning and Development (L&D) opportunities than ever before, HR teams are still likely to feel the pressures of a keen eye on the company finances. 

If the HR industry is to survive, we need to think about and approach our work differently. That means a more strategic focus on where we spend our time and how it impacts the business. 

Consider the following as a new way to think about and conduct the work of HR. 

Widen your perspective

This work isn’t about us, and we spend far too much time trying to prove that it is. The business doesn’t care about HR, they care about surviving and thriving in an era of financial strain. Your focus should be partnering with them on those concerns first and foremost.

Instead of focusing on yourself and your work, bump your perspective up a few levels and see the business from a wider vantage point. Think like the senior leader who is forced to make tough decisions. What are that person’s priorities? How can HR help to make them a reality? 

The irony is that by not worrying about yourself first, you will show more value and impact. If your work aligns with what the greater business is trying to achieve, even amid financial strain, creating buy-in for any initiative will be the easiest part of your project. 

Gain clarity

Get crystal clear on how you and your team do their work, including where you add value and where you do not. How do you best contribute to the business and what does it mean for the business to work with you?

Create a playbook including items like standard turnaround times, what type of solutions you can provide, what you need from a stakeholder in any project, and past project outcomes (ie. we were able to reduce time to onboard by 50% in this area).

This approach helps you to be organised and consistent, as well as set expectations for the business about what it is like to work with you. 

Define a strategic roadmap

Instead of saying yes to all the training requests that come your way, start by creating a strategic roadmap for the next six to 12 months that aligns with the greater business priorities. 

Once your roadmap is defined, compare requests to this specific strategy. Pivot only if the business pivots and only say ‘yes’ when the roadmap and the request match. If you are in alignment, most new requests won’t make the cut.  

This is a ‘strategic yes’ because it allows you to focus your time and attention on the items that will have the biggest impact. Of course, to get to this strategic yes, you will need to get used to saying no. 

If you are really going to move the needle, saying no with grace is just as important as saying yes with certainty. To ensure both, the following can be helpful: 

  • Ask more strategic questions at the onset of any request such as, how does this request tie to the current priorities of senior leadership and/or current corporate initiatives? How will this save you time and money? 
  • Look for opportunities to empower others (the requesters) to do the work, providing feedback along the way if desired
  • Suggest alternatives that already exist within the company’s content library or external sources.
  • Be honest: eg. “This is a great opportunity, but we can’t focus on it right now due to other priorities and available resources. Let’s circle back in six months.”

A measurement plan is a must have

Don’t begin any project or initiative without first having a measurement plan in place. It is much harder to figure out measurement at the end of a project than the beginning (even though it might not feel like that at first). 

Tie your measurement plan to existing measures whenever possible. These might include things like individual performance metrics, quality scores, customer satisfaction scores, time to resolution, employee promotion data, etc. Find out what your business currently measures and start there. 

You can also create evaluations or other measurement tools for a single project. Often, this combined approach of existing and new is best. However, the business will pay more attention to measures it already uses and understands. 

Always keep scale in mind

Think of each project or initiative as an opportunity to develop a larger portion of the company’s population in the future and design it as such. Everything should be seen and designed with scale in mind. This creates additional value and efficiencies down the road. 

Scale means you are developing every product or service in a way that it can be used by multiple areas throughout the business and/or it could be easily replicated with minor tweaks. 

Whenever possible, do not create a single product or service without a plan to scale and reuse. Be sure you integrate this plan into your strategy. It’s an easy way to provide repeatable value to a larger cross-section of the business, even with a small team.  

Making an impact

HR teams have the potential to make an impact even in a time of financial strain, but we, just like the rest of the business, need to think and approach our work differently.

Even the smallest HR teams can start focusing less on themselves and more on the business, think bigger, make their ‘yes’ strategic, measure results and work with scale in mind. Let’s do this! 

If you enjoyed this, take a look at: The Spring Budget 2024: Hints for HR on the future of work

Author Profile Picture
Jess Almlie

Learning & Performance Strategist

Read more from Jess Almlie

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