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Deborah Wilkes

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How to ensure your 2024 HR priorities are business-led

How to create a business-led people strategy by engaging and involving business leaders from the start and through to implementation.
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This is the season to plan ahead for 2024 and HR experts are sharing their top predictions. It can be a bit like the latest fashions, however – you might admire them but you can’t imagine wearing them. 

You need something far more practical that is fit for purpose – your organisation’s purpose. Coming to business leaders with the latest HR trends will go down like a lead balloon.

Let’s explore how HR can work its way through to an HR strategy that’s embraced by business leaders.

To create a business-led HR strategy, HR has to turn its traditional approach upside down

There’s a tendency for HR to build its strategy by identifying workstreams, e.g. OD, TM, TA, etc., and to then work out how to align these. This has value but shouldn’t be the start point. This approach is likely to lead you into old and well-worn grooves.

To develop a business-led HR strategy HR must put their favourite HR topics to one side and open up their minds to take a completely fresh perspective.

What keeps your business leaders awake at night? Ask them.

This is a great question as it gets straight to what’s at the front of leaders’ minds, and then you can be sure you’re tackling what really matters to them. Their top pressure is likely to be hitting their numbers – e.g. getting deals over the line, keeping customers happy or meeting operational targets. 

Your next question? ‘Tell me more about that.’ Keep asking for more information, and you’ll find the people links you’re looking for.

Don’t rush to the solution – build the relationship

At this point you’ll want to offer your HR solution and describe how it will help. Hold that thought, because right now you have the opportunity to open the door wider. 

Engaging your stakeholder in talking about their part of the organisation and their goals and needs is a key factor in winning buy-in when you’re ready to go back to them with your suggestions. 

We have our own language in HR and, as a global HR leader said, ‘business leaders get so turned off by HR jargon they won’t even bother to find out what it means.’

Examine people priorities through a business lens

HR has to use the perspective of the business and also use business language. How well do you understand your organisation and what drives success? It’s vital that HR understands the business well enough to identify the levers for improved results. 

For example, it’s obvious to people in HR that retention is good for business. But we have to quantify that – to what extent and in what way? How exactly does retention relate to their key concerns? HR must express that in business leaders’ language – and that means financial. 

Let’s build an example using retention. Research by SHRM, Josh Bersin and others calculates that the loss of a technical, professional or managerial employee costs the business between one and a half and two years’ salary. This includes the costs of recruitment, onboarding, training, the hassle factor and the wait for the person to get to full productivity. 

Use that to calculate the total business cost of regrettable leavers, and you get to a big number that gets business leaders’ attention. Then show how that money could be proactively invested in, e.g. career paths or a talent pipeline, to reduce the risk of losing key talent.

The success of your HR strategy is achieved by getting business leaders on board

The key to successful achievement of HR priorities is winning – and retaining – buy-in. This is why HR has to start from business priorities. 

Misalignment can creep in between what HR sees as priorities and what business leaders worry about. As the year progresses your HR priorities can become empty projects that the business neglects. 

HR has to start by asking, listening to and acting upon what the business needs. 

To ensure that this follows through into full implementation, HR leaders need to plan ahead to proactively manage how their HR strategy planning process will play out.

Start with the end in mind

Let’s envisage a powerful and rewarding outcome for your strategic planning process. Imagine you’re presenting your HR strategy to senior leaders: 

‘We asked you about your priorities for the business. We listened. You said … (e.g. increase revenue, reduce costs). ‘Since then we’ve continued to clarify between us all the factors that drive the delivery of those results. We agreed the priority people areas’ (e.g. retention, skills). ‘Here is the data that illuminates cause and effect. As a result, these are the priorities we’ve identified together.’ 

Here’s the subtext: you’ve signed up for this and I will be holding you to account for the budget and your active support. Schedule in regular review meetings to ensure that this happens despite changing business priorities.

Make clear links between HR’s activities and business results

This is where we come to the subject of measures and milestones. Building these into your regular reviews can be a key tool for continuous reinforcement of, and re-engagement with your HR priorities. 

Collaborate with business leaders to create a framework of measures that link cause and effect. You will be able to prove that people costs go down when retention goes up, and therefore profitability also goes up. Use engagement data too as a ‘leading’ measure to illustrate cause and effect.

Decide what you can do, and what you can’t 

There are many demands on HR and you can’t do everything. How do you choose what you will commit to doing with your resources? This, too, should be driven by business goals. 

It’s a question of prioritising – what will give you the ‘best bang for your buck?’ A quick win is a great idea as it establishes credibility quickly, and builds trust in you for the longer-term projects. 

Once you’re clear about what you WILL do, it’s likely that you’ll have to drop some things off your list. Negotiating this presents another opportunity to build the relationship with your key stakeholders – you can discuss and agree where the value is, and where it isn’t.

Track and celebrate your achievements in HR

HR people tend to be modest but don’t hide your light under a bushel – let it shine. It’s in everyone’s interests for HR to have the reputation as effective drivers of business success. Take every opportunity to share and promote your ‘Business+HR’ strategy and mark your achievements – and your impact on business success.

Writing an HR strategy isn’t difficult. Achieving it is the hard part.

You can produce an elegant HR strategy, but it’s worthless if it isn’t embraced and lived by your key stakeholders. That’s why it’s vital to engage them from the start and keep them involved at every stage. 

Join our workshop ‘How to build a business-led HR strategy’ on Thursday 18th January 2024.

Interested in this topic? Read How to design an effective skills strategy

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