HR – Make Some Noise!
I was talking to a CHRO recently and he was talking about the perception that people in their organisation had about HR. He went on to say "if you want to be thanked for what you do at work, don't go into HR!" He went on to say that people in HR need to "get over the fact that they won’t get a lot of recognition and that if they think that they are going to be thrown flowers and gifts for their work in HR then they should get out of the function now."
In simple terms what HR does is very personal to each employee and it’s always going to be hard to ‘please everyone all of the time’. If the Business Development function fails to meet its’ targets, it focuses on what it can change and makes sure it hits the target next month and if Marketing gets the messaging ‘not quite right’ it will simply redesign the campaign. However, if HR makes a mistake, it will probably impact upon an employees' life, their motivation and their feeling about the organisation – in other words it’s very personal to them!
HR Work is Important
When managers are well trained and effective in their people management capabilities they are able to explain the rationale behind the people systems and to explain coherently why something can or cannot happen. However, even if managers are trained and developed, the less competent or less confident managers will usually advise an employee that their issue is "because of HR" as HR determines pay, job titles and grading, the disciplinary process etc. and so it automatically becomes HR's fault!
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It made me think that HR leaders often echo this same sentiment that their efforts frequently go unnoticed unless something goes wrong; in fact most aspects of the Head Office functions that support an organisation achieve its’ success (such as Marketing, IT, Procurement, HR etc.) are not alone in this regard. This just seems to be the reality for most of these support functions.
If you think about it if you work in an IT department, the business doesn't think about what you do until the IT system crashes and other departments are unable to do their work effectively! There are many elements of HR that are only noticed if things or events go pear-shaped - that's the reality! Whilst appreciating how any function operates the view of many CHRO’s that I have met suggests that compliments shouldn't be expected. Having said this, many corporate initiatives and smaller scale achievements have been realized through HR and organisations will reap the benefits of the functions hard work albeit that HR will not be at the forefront of the successes.
So why is that? HR needs to start letting people working in their organisation know what they are doing and how they are impacting upon the ‘bottom line’ – if an HR function can’t demonstrate that in the current climate then it’s no surprise that the efforts of HR will be forgotten about. Start your influence process by understanding the key individuals you are trying to influence. Start with the CEO and the senior management team. They didn’t get to the top without being 100% focused on what needs to be done and without developing their own agenda and if HR is truly going to help them accomplish their goals, HR has to first understand what gets their attention. This is difficult, but still possible, even if you are in a perceived ‘low profile’ department like HR. One key aspect is that HR has to start talking the language of the business; that doesn’t mean talking about HR policies and procedures but start talking about the commercial challenges (increased profitability, improved efficiency or service etc.) and how HR can support those issues those its’ insights into talent, people capability etc.
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To the senior management team, almost every decision requires a "business case" and because they have learned to think in analytical terms and to quantify everything, HR has to do the same. I have found that the prime reason that so many HR departments are constantly being cut by financially driven initiatives is not wholly because HR hasn’t proved its’ value but because firstly HR does not “show off what it has done” and market itself internally. Secondly, HR fails to provide quantifiable proof of their strategic value in a manner and language that the senior management team understand; namely financially based savings and income benefits. This is why the whole people analytics debate is so important because instead of just trusting HR to do the right things, we now have the opportunity to demonstrate in financial performance terms why certain programmes work and why certain approaches don’t work. Sure, that needs courage because numbers can go up as well as down but that’s the dilemma that all business managers face every day!
There are many HR professionals who hate the idea of self-promotion. The reality is that all support services and professionals need to be on the front foot and say "look what we have done for your business. You now have a commercial competitive advantage because of the clever stuff we have done" ...or words to that effect. I’m not saying that sound HR thinking and practices aren’t valued but the time has come for HR to confidently make some noise – what harm can it do you? If you are afraid that it will place the focus upon you and your function moving forward, then perhaps HR isn’t for you because the scrutiny and commercial rigor has only just begun – wait until the analytics revolution hits your organisation!
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