Use these suggestions to deliver value to business leaders.
In the face of rapid globalisation, organisations must endure and overcome numerous pressures if they are to excel. It is a constant challenge to remain competitive in a marketplace that is obsessed with growth, technological advancement and innovation.
As we support organisations through these unrelenting waves of change, we should remain cognisant that the option to outsource HR processes and optimise technology is becoming an increasingly attractive and cost effective one. This is a grim picture that is, in fact, a call to action for HR practitioners, an opportunity to mobilise and reclaim relevance in new and creative ways that drive value for our customers. Through this mobilisation, we should also aim to eradicate our unfortunate legacy of perceived paper pushing and bureaucracy.
HR professionals understand and appreciate how worldclass people practices help organisations to boost employee productivity and extract discretionary effort. The value that can be unlocked through meaningful people practices is not always as clearly evident to members outside our fraternity. If people practices are not astutely positioned, they can often be perceived by business as limiting to their agility in the marketplace.
Our chances of success hinge on the extent to which we are able to reclaim our relevance in organisations through a deliberate and focused approach to HR. When trying to ascertain the degree to which HR is perceived as adding value, the relational dynamics between HR and business are a sound litmus test. It is safe to assume that we are doing something right when HR practitioners start to experience a pull from business leaders for input and advice rather than having to drive the people agenda. Here are some basic yet effective suggestions to help evoke an appreciation in business for the value of HR.
Master the basics
There are calendar-based activities and routine HR processes that “keep the lights on” in HR. These are transactions that no one takes note of until something goes awry and all hell breaks loose because, as an example, annual increases did not go through on time. With technology and other innovative enablers readily available, we can’t afford to compromise on service delivery at this basic process level. It would serve HR well to master the basics and bank them as being effective and efficient. The harsh reality is that when a crisis at the process level hits, even the sexiest of HR strategies is forgotten and the spotlight is placed on the engine room of HR. After all, how could something so basic and routine go wrong?
When service delivery at the process level is flawless, HR can in good conscience organically expand its focus toward higher impact value drivers. It is worth noting, however, that it is possible to improve the basics and drive value concurrently. So in summary then, it can be argued that our credibility often rests precariously on the flawless execution of basic routines. The good news is that it is possible to box smart around process and practices through rigour, automation and governance to ensure that the engine room of HR ticks smoothly along.
A good place to start is by eliminating noisy and unnecessary reports. Agree key performance indicators with your stakeholders and keep them focused on the agreed people priorities. To reduce noise, routine reports can be analysed in the background with emerging trends being flagged by HR in simple and action-oriented ways to drive value. Business could benefit from simple and effective HR processes that eliminate duplication and clutter. Highly administrative routines distract from the intended spirit of the process. Simply linking process to meaningful outputs helps to minimise resistance and empowers leaders. For example, rallying support for talent reviews is easier when business understands that the reviews enable swift replacement of lost talent through deliberate succession plans.
Therefore, HR has a key part to play in deconstructing the perception that HR routines are primarily burdensome and futile. Routine in organisations can be positively reframed by helping business leaders to link processes with meaningful outcomes.
Balance strategy and delivery
Whilst transactional basics form a good foundation, HR would be remiss to assume that they materially influence the real business value drivers. They do not boost the competitive advantage of organisations nor do they move the needle on employee engagement and discretionary effort. Credibility and relevance are easily lost in HR departments that tick along on delivery of basic routines with no deliberate strategy in place. For HR to be relevant, a robust and tactical HR strategy that is aligned to the overall business priorities is critically important. Dave Ulrich, a pioneer in thought leadership on HR, argues that HR transformation is unlikely to be successful unless tied to clear business objectives. He goes on to say that we are often distracted by doing HR effectively instead of focusing on effective HR as the means to build overall business success and not the end in itself. Therefore, we need to shift from an internal focus to an external one that allows our customers’ priorities to inform and shape our HR strategies.
In my early years as an HR intern, I often found myself like a kid in a candy shop, in awe of the wide array of HR solutions that were readily available to our fraternity. This is a common blunder. Readymade HR solutions get positioned as a panacea to business challenges. Discerning HR practitioners learn very early on in their careers to understand business challenges before putting forward well considered and high impact solutions that drive value. HR would do well to ensure that our strategies are closely aligned and have a direct influence on business priorities. As a sense-check, choose your most challenging stakeholder to validate your strategy. If you leave the discussion having won them over, you know you’re on the right track.
Once mandated and validated with senior business leaders, an HR strategy should come to life. It is incumbent on HR to mobilise and breathe life into our strategies through focused execution and service delivery. Progress should be tracked with rigour and results reported to business with emphasis on impact and results. This is where HR alignment across the business is critical so that Centres of Excellence and Business Partners are moving toward common goals. Therefore, in summary, a strategy in HR is only as good as the business impact that it yields.
Ditch the “HR speak” – talk business Business leaders are frustrated by practitioners who speak “HR”. To earn and defend seats at the table, HR must be fluent in the translation of people solutions into business terms. It is critically important that HR understands the strategic objectives of theareas within which we operate. Our ability to demonstrate how we will drive material value will surely influence leadership buy-in of HR initiatives and effective people practices.
Excellent HR practitioners are distinguished not only for their business understanding and knowledge. They are able to actively apply this knowledge with ease and confidence, anticipate future business needs and suggest high impact solutions. For example, consider a manufacturing environment. Understanding the nature of the technical skills required in this environment is important. However, the real value add is realised when HR can identify labour turnover trends and forecast the expected loss of technical skills over a defined period of time, thereby allowing them to implement deliberate succession and development plans.
Equally important is the ability to adapt people practices to suit business needs. Regulatory requirements notwithstanding, most people practices can be creatively adapted to suit the needs of specific areas. In this way, regulatory requirements are met and a cut and paste approach is avoided. HR quickly loses credibility when lobbying for the implementation of solutions because other areas are adopting the solutions or because the head office “said so”. Whilst these reasons may play a part, there is very rarely the absence of a sound reason for the implementation of such solutions. This is what should be positioned when lobbying for leadership support. We simply need to position how the solutions will produce material value for the business.
Being effective in HR extends beyond, but does not discount, the basics. As a community, we would do well to master the transactional foundation of our function and we can do this through technology and innovative solutions. The routines should never distract from the real value drivers. Moreover, the definition of value cannot be done in isolation from business priorities. Our success is largely determined by our ability to influence these priorities through deliberate and effective solutions that have buyin and are well sponsored by business.
Pamela Veeran is an industrial psychologist and an Organisational Development Consultant at SAB Miller, www.sab.co.za.
This article appeared in the July 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.