Let’s face it.
HR has a credibility problem.
Time and time again we hear from executives who insist that their HR leader doesn’t see the big picture, doesn’t understand business strategy, isn’t developing solutions to support their goals, etc.
On the other side, many HR leaders are frustrated that executives don’t understand the value they deliver.
They feel shut out of important discussions or like they don’t have a seat at the table.
There’s no question that HR plays a critical role in running a successful business. After all, businesses are made up of people.
HR leaders know this, and so do savvy business leaders.
And yet many executives still don’t see how HR contributes to the business beyond compliance and the traditional HR duties.
The pandemic is only making the disconnect worse. It’s forced HR to stay hyper-focused on legal issues and employee safety.
Although this focus is necessary, it’s now easier than ever to get the impression that HR is too focused on compliance to support the business strategy.
So what causes this disconnect?
And more importantly, what the heck can we actually do about it?
Who’s Really at Fault Here?
It’s really easy to lay all the blame on the other side.
“It’s business leaders’ fault – they’re too short-sighted to see that success starts with our people!”
“It’s HR’s fault – they’re so focused on compliance that they aren’t offering any real solutions for our bottom line!”
But the real problem is how we communicate.
As humans, we are naturally wired to be very focused on our own needs and problems above all else. It’s not because we’re selfish. It’s just human nature to look out for #1.
This is especially true for leaders. They’re some of the busiest people at a company with the largest challenges on their plate.
For business leaders, they spend all day thinking about goals like driving revenue, increasing customer satisfaction, innovating and adapting to change, etc.
In HR, you know exactly how compliance, employee safety, resolving disputes and so forth contribute to these goals. It seems so obvious!
But it’s critical to remember that business leaders live and breathe a different line of work. They’re so focused on the high-level strategy that they often lose sight of how HR fits in.
It’s HR’s job to communicate in a way that directly connects the dots here. HR must always, always talk about their work in a way that underlines how it supports the business goals or bottom line.
A Lesson from Marketing
There’s a lesson from marketing that’s very appropriate here.
Before the iPod, companies like Sony marketed MP3 players with “32 megabytes of memory.” As you can imagine, nobody cared!
Apple took a different approach. They sold the iPod as “1,000 songs in your pocket.”
The difference may seem subtle, but this approach is why Apple absolutely dominated the market.
Nobody knew why 32 megabytes made any difference in your life. In 2001, most people didn’t even know what a megabyte was, let alone why it mattered to them.
But 1,000 songs in your pocket?
Apple made the benefits to the average person crystal clear. They underlined how the iPod let you enjoy a large music collection on the go.
Their ad copy made it obvious why the product was relevant to their audience and how it would benefit their life.
HR needs to take a similar approach when discussing the work of their department.
They must underline the DIRECT impact of their work on the company’s bottom line and goals. They need to make the work of HR directly relevant to the challenges faced by business leaders.
What solutions are you offering them – and how can you frame HR issues so that leaders’ ears perk up when you talk about them?
This is what I mean when I say that HR needs to speak the right language!
A great starting point is putting a dollar sign or metrics to your work.
How much money did you save the business by reducing turnover?
How have customer satisfaction scores improved after initiatives to create a better employee experience? How has leadership development led to greater business results across the organization?
Credibility Starts with Communication
If HR wants to build credibility, they must strive to draw a clear connection between their work and the organization’s current goals and strategy.
The minute you stray away from the business results of your work, I promise you’ll see business leaders’ eyes glaze over.
But if you stay focused on what’s in it for them and the business, they’ll be enthusiastic about the impact your HR team is making.
If you’re taking care of your employees, solving business challenges, and speaking the same language as business leaders, you will earn credibility in no time.
If you’re interested in brainstorming solutions and getting new perspectives from other HR leaders, be sure to join us for our next Leadership & Legal live event. You can submit questions now to get anonymous advice on your unique situation from others who have been in your shoes.
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