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Deborah Wilkes

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How to build HR’s reputation throughout the pandemic and beyond

Why HR need to claim their seat at the leadership table now.

Operationally, HR have been heroes. Constantly changing employment regulations and working practices have demanded immediate action and communication. There’s no doubt that this has given HR the opportunity to demonstrate expertise, flexibility and dedication to the business as well as to people – but has it helped, or hindered, HR’s ability to win a seat at the table?  

The pandemic offers HR people a once-in-a-career opportunity to drive their credibility and influence. 

There is a risk that these operational demands may have pulled HR even more into the downward cycle of admin that we’ve been fighting for years. Pushing for compassionate measures and consideration for employees’ wellbeing might also have reinforced the ‘caring’ expectation on HR that’s a mixed blessing.

How does that fit with being seen as business leaders?

The great test is what people will say about you when you’re not in the room.  Will it be ‘HR did a great job getting us through this crisis’?  Not a bad obituary, but how much better to hear ‘HR showed great leadership’ or ‘HR proved how pivotal they are to our success’, or even ‘HR are front and centre, strategically as well as operationally’.  

The pandemic offers HR people a once-in-a-career opportunity to drive their credibility and influence. When you’re in the centre of a storm, it’s tough to see the horizon – it’s difficult enough dealing with one wave at a time. It’s vital, however, to plan now to ensure that HR emerge as full strategic partners for the long term. Building HR’s reputation requires conscious action.

Can HR be seen as supportive and strategic?

Our pilot survey for a CIPD branch event revealed some valuable insights. One is a dichotomy which, in many roles, can be a real dilemma: HR people need to be seen as supportive – employees need to feel they can reach out to them – and HR people want to be seen this way. There is also, however, a need to be seen as business-savvy and influential by senior leaders in order to be seen as strategic partners.  

Building HR’s reputation demands a proactive strategy

Self-promotion doesn’t tend to sit well with HR people; a lot of what you do is behind the scenes – creating the conditions for others to do a great job.  That’s another dilemma. The data will help you build a strategy that’s politically intelligent and sensitive to the need to protect your reputation as a trusted partner and authentic leader.  

Political intelligence for HR leaders requires a challenging mix: astute business understanding; speaking the right language; locking into strategic debates and decision-making; being at the right table at the right time and then demonstrating credibility both intellectually and behaviourally. It’s even more powerful when your HR team are lined up behind you.

Align the whole HR team with building the reputation you want

The HR team depend upon their leader’s reputation to build their own. They thrive within a framework of clear identity and purpose, and eagerly adopt clear messages that can be repeated and reinforced in their interactions with client groups.  

Your team can line up behind a shared strategy for HR’s reputation, and develop their skills in managing stakeholders that build into the relationships you want, conversation by conversation. When your partners in the business hear the same message again and again, from different members of the HR team, they sit up and notice.

Delivering great HR is a complex balancing act involving many different interests, priorities and values. It’s one thing to do a great job, and another to be seen to do a great job. When HR manage their reputation proactively, keeping it at front of mind and building it into their strategy for success, it is a great source of pride as well as achievement. (We’ll share data-led insights into how to do that in a future HRZone article).

Take part in our mini-survey to receive solutions on how to build HR’s reputation

We’re extending the survey we mentioned earlier so that we can learn even more, and offer practical solutions. We’re asking HR people to rate themselves before and after the pandemic, so we’re building a quantitative overview. We also ask some free text questions, and it’s these that reveal the true nature of the dilemma and also ways forward, whatever your HR role or level. It really is a mini survey (just three screens) and you can write as much or as little as you like in the free text questions, anonymously of course.

Take part and you will receive a report with the findings.

Interested in this topic? Read Instilling a new era of people management is the key to post-crisis recovery.

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