As a young HR manager striving to gain influence with my line clients I made the argument for a bigger title to get there. I complained to my boss that all of those directors and VP’s weren’t listening because my status in the organization was lower. I didn’t expect the response he gave me, but it was sage advice I’ve employed to this day. He said, “If you have something of value to say, people will listen to you.” It’s pretty simple. In order to be heard, you have to be able to demonstrate that you understand key business objectives and the needs of whomever you are working with. Yet, figuring out what to say is a challenge for many HR professionals. Rather than advocating for the HR function as a whole, it is much more effective to highlight the actual results the department brings and its value to the entire company.
While many focus on the need to get HR a seat in the boardroom, many chief human resources officers are already there. According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study, most CEOs reported that their company’s CHRO or an equivalent position is one of their direct reports. Still, the problem remains that lower-level HR professionals typically don’t benefit from their CHRO’s status and struggle to understand their place in the organization.
That’s because HR is sometimes viewed as highly administrative. While it certainly contains those aspects, such as ensuring compliance, the main goal of the job is making sure the right people are in the right positions and are advancing the company’s objectives. To improve HR’s company-wide standing, we need to focus less on advocating for the function itself and place greater emphasis on the talent aspect of the role.
Another way to better serve the business is for each HR professional to spend time doing a line job at their organization. In doing so, HR can gain a better understanding of what the company does and how their role fits into larger organizational objectives. It also provides an opportunity to use the skills that they coach other people to use, while gaining exposure to key business functions.
In the end, the value of HR is measured by the talent the function brings into the organization and its ability to develop and retain those individuals, and HR professionals need a way to demonstrate the results of their efforts. While finding, hiring and developing the right people for the company is obviously important, HR needs to explain how those people will improve business operations. The growing use of HR analytics is a step in the right direction. The ability to have real data about time to hire, quality of hire, amount of time employees stay in their roles, the number of internal candidates who move into higher-level positions, and a wealth of other metrics can have a significant impact on HR’s standing and ensure that all HR professionals appreciate the impact that their job has on the entire business.
Again, executives in the C-suite don’t care about your title, as long as you have something to say. When HR is able to demonstrate a firm understanding of the company and express what it is doing to enhance operations, executives will listen.