Turn HR’s Value Proposition Upside Down

The Question:  How does HR sell our services to our internal clients?

The Answer:  We don’t.

For a couple decades now, we have been told that HR needs to become more business oriented, focusing on aligning HR practices to the needs of the business and the work of HR to the bottom line.

We know this because research has shown that key HR processes – training, talent management, incentives – all have been well documented to help the business perform better.

Unfortunately, research can only be generalized to a larger sample if the variables are identical and there is nothing about an organization that is identical, from the people, to the culture, to the processes, to the leaders.

Researchers like Jac Fitz-Enz, who pioneered measurement in the HR profession and Gallup, who first tied engagement to business performance, have given helpful tools to HR to “talk” the language of business with their operational counterparts.  And that’s a good thing, because, as an operational leader once told me, “Businesspeople don’t want to hear about the fluffy stuff.”

So, after a couple decades of trying to sell our services, how has that been working for us?  From my research and experience, it’s not working very well.  While some businesspeople have embraced the idea doing what’s necessary to improve engagement and develop talent, many operational leaders just don’t “buy into” the direction in which HR is trying to lead them.  What we end up with is engagement through compliance rather than commitment.

I have come to believe we are looking at this all wrong.  The assumption we have been going by is that HR needs to become more business savvy, Once they do, as this line of logic goes, they will then be able to influence the operational leaders to do a really good job with things like performance management and employee relations simply because the operational leader is clear that their actions benefits their department’s performance, right?

That’s a pretty bold assumption and I think it is wrong.  It assumes that operational leaders a.) know how to do these things well and b.) want to.  It has been my experience that few operational leaders really get what they need to do to truly drive engagement and develop talent.  And if they do, they have thousands of other tasks getting in their way.

Let’s turn our assumption upside down

Instead of preaching HR’s impact on business results, let’s preach leadership behavior’s impact on employee commitment.

First, we must debunk a myth.  HR’s role isn’t to make business or employee decisions. Period. Those decisions are the responsibility of leaders. HR can provide data, advice and coaching but ultimately, the decision must be leaders’, otherwise they cannot behave authentically with their employees.  When the answer is “HR said,” the leader looks powerless – not a good look for anyone trying to generate trust.

Leaders are the linchpin to employee commitment. Rather than focusing on how well HR programs can drive business success, let’s acknowledge that leadership is “fluffy” and help leaders be more comfortable with those behaviors that, in fact, do engage their people.

Leadership Behavior is a Leadership Decision, Not an HR Decision

HR programs and processes are guidelines, nothing more.  They cannot be mandates because HR does not have the authority to mandate. The very best HR can do is build a compelling case for specific behavior, build programs and processes that influence that behavior, and monitor activity.  Holding leaders accountable for those behaviors is the job of leadership and if they don’t a.) see the point, b.) know how or c.) don’t want to, then the outcome is hit or miss.

Change up the “Why”

Remind leaders about humanity, about how employees are people with strengths and vulnerabilities, with flaws and with feelings.  Let them know that their behavior directly influences how their employees feel.

It doesn’t take years of research to recognize that people perform better when they feel better.

Today’s workplace is stressed to the max.  Back in 2006, EAP provider ComPsych reported 74% of workers’ stress came from people interactions (28%) and workload (46%).  In late 2017, Korn Ferry reports that employee stress levels have risen nearly 20% in three decades.

Leaders who contribute to employees’ stress increase their own.  HR can help leaders reduce their own and their employees’ stress by changing their leadership behavior.

Take them back to their personal experience as an employee

Remind operational leaders that they were once just “an employee” and probably had the same experiences their employees now have. HR is in the perfect coaching and advisory role to remind everyone about how they would like to be treated and how much of an impact a leader’s behavior can make on employees. It might sound too fluffy, but it works.

Get leaders to “feel” the importance of treating people well.

Teach them how to build good leader/employee relationships

The growth of regulatory environment in HR has paralyzed leaders, and too often HR uses compliance rather than commitment to encourage leadership behavior. Remember the initial management training where HR introduced the “alphabet soup” of compliance (FLSA, EEO, FMLA, ADA)?  Detailing everything a leader “can’t do” instills paranoia.  Helping a leader recognize that it all boils down to fairness, consistency and authenticity generates a positive sense of how to build a good leader/employee relationship. Remind them that as employee engagement grows, the need to manage by compliance diminishes and “following the rules” simply becomes the routine of the day.

Give the decisions back

Don’t let leaders get away with an “if you say so” attitude toward their leadership responsibilities. Give them the pros and cons, and make sure they clearly understand the consequences of a “wrong” decision.  But make sure they are clear that the decision is theirs.

Don’t keep doing what isn’t working

I am not saying ignore the business impact of HR on the bottom line.  I am saying that may not be enough to influence behavior change.

By connecting leaders to their own experience and humanity and by coaching them to fully embrace their leadership responsibility by building the trust and commitment of their employees, HR is giving them the tools to lead, build trust and motivate performance.

Selling is all about making the buyers believe they want it.

 

Photo credit:Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

Don’t be embarrassed…

embarrassAn article titled “These Ten Policies Are An Embarrassment to the HR Profession” appeared in my newsfeed yesterday. Posted by Liz Ryan in Forbes, I devoured the content and tweeted it to my network saying, “Right on! Absolutely! Embarrassing is a good word!

I read it again this morning, and had a slightly different reaction. I really like Liz Ryan’s writing; she says it like it is – no words minced. And what she says always makes sense. I nod my head and go, “Yup.”

But then I came back down to earth and realized that, while the words resonate, thar’s danger in them, thar waters.

In the post, she slams policies like progressive discipline, doctors’ notes for absences, funeral notices to justify bereavement leave and reference policies that prohibit managers from providing references for their employees.  There are others, but these I mention all share the element of trust. If trust were present, there really would be no need for policies such as these.  Can’t argue there. (more…)

Why I Write

windingroadI have been invited to submit my blog for an award, and as I answered the questions I realized that I have never really stated the purpose of my blog here. I began the blog in November 2012 and as of today, have published 124 posts, and hosted 282 comments. My followers are international, and I have been humbled at learning just how much I don’t know about the world outside the U.S. So I thought I would remedy that omission now. (more…)