While HR creates, implements and monitors people, processes and culture, HR frequently fails to win support from decision-makers. I know my proposals were often rejected or deferred. I felt stymied since I couldn’t predict what drove the decisions. It spurred me to pivot. I took three steps to improve my influence and my role.
My first step was to accept that logic alone regularly failed to be persuasive. I needed to understand the perspectives and realities of decision-makers. To learn about their priorities, I requested individual interviews with key decision-makers. In a listening mode, I heard their current goals, recent accomplishments, current priorities and decision-making criteria. I ended each meeting by asking what actions HR could take to help them achieve their goals. It opened a constructive dialogue.
The second step was re-defining my role. Instead of identifying myself as an HR leader in a business setting, I adopted the role of a business leader in HR. While this does not seem like a significant move, it broadened my thinking and placed the organization’s health as my top concern. I could do that by using my HR skills.
The final step was to identify current business goals. It was paramount I knew what drove decisions. Only then could I develop proposals that solved pressing business issues that would win support.
Since complexity, uncertainty and change rapidly altered business drivers, I needed a way to analyze fluctuating priorities. I applied a framework of six different goals or mindsets to discern critical objectives. The categories and definitions are:
- The Inventing mindset targets the development of new ideas, products and creating new internal synergies and innovation.
- The Catalyzing mindset focuses on meeting customer requirements, keeping existing customers, building the brand and besting the competition.
- The Developing mindset seeks a robust infrastructure, effective policies, integrated systems and goal alignment.
- The Performing mindset concentrates on improving process improvement, quality, productivity, cycle time and profit margins.
- The Protecting mindset prioritizes an agile culture, developing talent, enhancing teaming, improving collaboration and fostering engagement.
- The Challenging mindset targets sharing best practices, recognizing emerging trends, validating operational assumptions and seeking new alliances to ensure future success.
This goal-oriented framework clarified what drove decision-makers and enabled me to include their goals in my proposals. Combining goals was relatively easy, and the practice developed trust and established me as a valued team member.
However, goals are not static. Consider how quickly the coronavirus has impacted decision making. Therefore, it was essential to check for change. Using the chart below, I stayed in alignment with decision-makers.
Discovering ways to blend business and HR goals requires some creative thinking, but it delivers superior results. Let me illustrate some examples by mindset.
The Inventing mindset
Instead of the typical wishlist suggestion program, a new approach centered on quarterly presentations to upper management with the caveat that each presenter must provide a full cost and consequences analysis. This had the added advantage of giving immediate feedback on whether the suggestions were accepted, rejected or needed additional information. This approach substantially increased the quality, quantity and approval rate of suggestions.
The Catalyzing mindset
Call center training was revamped to ensure that key points were obtained and shared during the first call. As a result, customer satisfaction increased. Another program updated the reward and commission structure to align it more closely with existing strategic goals. A new sales training program was developed to foster consultative sales methods.
The Developing priority mindset
New promotional criteria required demonstrating effective coaching and change implementation. An innovative onboarding process incorporated business knowledge to support a cross-functional orientation.
The Performing mindset
An expanded dashboard with additional in-process metrics spotted issues and successes quickly. Exit interview data was shared in an annual report, which successfully identified areas for improvement. Multiple small improvements surfaced when team leaders asked employees to make a two-percent improvement. While the request was small, the results were significant.
The Protecting mindset
A rapidly expanding firm addressed major talent shortages by developing an internal program of training, coaching and shadowing that provided the needed talent. Improving the transfer of training resulted from team-based training. Intact teams attended a training session where they identified a desired change and developed a change execution plan. Team proposals were then presented to management for approval. Resistance to change evaporated since the team ‘owned’ the initiative.
The Challenging mindset
Recommendation for new structures and policies improved the track records for mergers and acquisitions. Also, best practices were identified, shared, and recognized. Team leaders were encouraged to ask, “what should we start doing and what should we stop doing” to discover opportunities.
As these examples illustrate, HR touches the whole organization and frequently is the only function that monitors performance across the entire organization. HR is uniquely positioned to promote both macro and micro contributions. Shifting into a trusted business partner role does not require an advanced degree, it stems from collecting data, recognizing priorities and formulating novel initiatives. It is up to us to pivot into a trusted business partner role and improve organizational outcomes.