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5 Questions to Help You "Sell" the Value of HR

Jim Harrison, Queen's IRC Facilitator
Publication date: April, 2017
5 Questions to Help You Sell the Value of HR

In the current business environment, it can be very frustrating some days to be an HR professional. In many ways it is like we are living the first line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Never have there been more HR programs and initiatives that can have a direct impact on business results – and never has it been harder to get the attention, investment and commitment of business leaders to make substantive – and at times even minor - changes in order to use the full value of our HR expertise.

In many companies, while HR has been granted a “place” at the table – or earned that place – they have not yet been granted or earned an equivalent and impactful “voice” at that table.

Businesses are in a constant state of change; yet, HR often waits in line for attention and investment behind technology, and technology, and technology, and then marketing (driven more and more by technology) and finance (often driven by technology in the endless appetite for more data). I think you get the point – and if you are an HR professional you not only get the point, you are probably living it. There is an endless, jostling line-up at the money trough for change initiatives – and there is a limited amount of money, resources, “brain-space”, time or attention to handle them all.

There are three reasons why it is easier to sell a technology – or marketing or finance – investment than an HR investment:

  1. The business value of a change in technology can be easier to calculate and justify. The business case is usually more predictable and anchored in more accepted investment metrics.
  1. There is often a “business imperative” that is easier to identify and argue – “Our value proposition is falling behind our competitors because we can’t offer (fill in your own technology-driven blank) – or “Our cost base is too high compared to our industry peer group because we are not utilizing the most up-to-date technology” or “Our data security is not strong. Our customer data is at risk!”  Loudly supporting these imperatives in the popular press are studies like the recent Citibank research that claims that 57% of all existing jobs will be lost to technology in the next twenty years.[1] This is in addition to the jobs that have already been lost!!
  1. Finally, changes driven by HR are usually changes that involve – gulp!! – people! Shocking! But people – managers and staff alike – are a lot harder to manage or change than machines, or marketing campaigns or financial data sets. On top of which it is often harder to draw a direct line between a dollar investment in HR initiatives and a specific, time-bound rate of return.

The great irony, of course, that is never lost on HR professionals is that it is only by developing a well-recruited, qualified, motivated, engaged, well-managed, and competitively compensated work force that any change can be effectively evaluated and executed.

So that’s where most of us live – in a competitive, noisy, money-driven environment. What can we do?  We can teach ourselves how to sell our ideas. To sharpen our pencils and our presentation skills. To build relationships and accept small, steady, measureable victories – to accept the reality that in this day and age having good ideas and a willingness to work hard are not enough. We have to shape and sell and implement those ideas so that they can be seen to have a measureable impact on business results.

To help HR professionals “muscle up” in the realm of selling and relationship management, we have created a checklist of 5 Questions that you need to answer as you work to be heard and have impact. They are essential questions to test yourself against at the start of every project. As you read through this for the first time, we suggest that you identify a critical HR initiative that you are responsible for getting your senior management team (or your boss) to support. As you work through the 5 Questions keep a pad of paper to one side. Answer each question as clearly and honestly as you can for that initiative. In other words, let’s start by candidly admitting where we stand.

 


[1] Dyer, G. (2017, January 18). Davos: The Rich Are Worried | Gwynne Dyer. Retrieved April 06, 2017, from http://gwynnedyer.com/2017/davos-the-rich-are-worried/.