When I worked in a corporate setting I used to judge organisations by whether or not they had an HR Director in the C-suite or if their Head of HR was just called in to give advice when the strategic decisions had already been made. For me, it was a sign that product or service delivery took priority over the people who were making the product or delivering the service and that didn’t sit well with me.
Working alongside CEOs and HR Directors as an HR consultant, I now realise that the main reason why HR often doesn’t have input into the strategy is that little evidence is being produced to demonstrate the effect that HR has on the bottom line of a business and, ultimately, that is the focus of the C-suite.
In a lot of organisations HR is still seen as operational and administrative, instead of strategic. HR is often considered the implementer of processes and the creator of red tape and bottlenecks not the innovative channel for change.
The pandemic has produced an opportunity for HR to demonstrate their value to the business, by creating initiatives that support remote working from both a wellbeing and productivity standpoint. HR teams have been working closely with team members to understand the challenges of home working and used that data to create innovative cost-effective solutions, highlighting the value that they bring.
While this is a great start, HR shouldn’t just shine in a crisis. We need to be making a continuous impact on the business and its people.
My advice to HR professionals looking to get into the decision making room is based around two fundamental areas: data and strategy.
Do you know your data?
When I work with an organisation I need to understand their business and their team. I want to know about their industry, competitors, ideal clients and locale. I also need to know their staff turnover and diversity statistics at each level, assess their organisational structure and understand their short, mid and long-term business plans. This all applies whether I’m helping them to restructure, acquire a new business or add to their team.
Often the HR team (if there is one) is unable to give me a deep understanding of the business and refers me to someone in sales or marketing. They also often can’t provide me with insights on workforce data.
Last year I asked an HR team member of a medium-sized business if they had statistics on the diversity of their organisation, I was told that they didn’t capture the data, but you only had to look around the office to see that they were diverse!
The information was required for a government tender. If the HR team was aware that the business was planning to bid for government work in the future, they could have put a framework in place to capture that data, but once again they were not in the room when the strategic decisions about business direction were being made.
Are you strategic?
An HR team can only be effective to a business if they have a people plan that is aligned to the business plan and long-term objectives. Think succession planning, building skills aligned to future initiatives, and just-in-time hiring that gets the right people, with the right skills at the right time.
If this alignment is in place and can be demonstrated, it can establish the need for HR to be included in strategic C-suite conversations.
Here my three top tips for demonstrating that you deserve that top table spot:
1. Demonstrate your understanding of the business drivers
To create a holistic solution, you need to have a holistic overview, It is therefore vital that you build your business acumen alongside your HR knowledge. It’s important to understand where the business is heading and use that as a golden thread in your planning, goals and objective setting.
When business changes are being proposed, ask questions to understand the thought process. Listen to, understand and then make suggestions for improvements or changes that would produce the same or better results, Also highlight any pushback you could see coming from staff and ways to address them so that you can be better prepared.
2. Demonstrate your understanding of the people data and what it means for the business
We need to get comfortable with data: collecting it, analysing it, reporting it and making data-based decisions and recommendations.
Capture the relevant set of employee data for your business. Examples include recruitment, turnover, exit interviews, sickness absence and stress levels. Monitor them on a monthly basis and use them to identify any issues and support your proposals for changes and investment.
3. Talk about savings or income generation
Learn to speak the same language as the C-suite. Discuss your proposals and how they will improve the bottom-line of the business. For example, investing in leadership development will reduce turnover, saving hiring costs and improve motivation and productivity.
HR professionals need to prove that they can bring value to the leadership team, but that doesn’t mean losing the focus on people. It means doing your research and compiling the data to support your ideas and using the positive results to build your reputation as a valued strategic partner.