Dear UNLEASH: Why won’t leaders buy-in to HR?
Experienced HR experts answer your most frequently asked question.
Why You Should Care
We asked you about your HR concerns, and you had plenty of answers.
Find out what experts advise HR should do to get more investment from senior leaders.
When we launched Dear UNLEASH, an agony aunt for HR professionals, we weren’t sure how many people would write in and open up about the issues they were facing in their department.
However, it seems HR professionals have a lot to get off their chest. As we were sorting through the answers, a recurring theme became evident: HR leaders are struggling to get C-level staff to buy into people projects.
One member of our audience told us they struggle with “getting buy-in from leadership to do more than operational HR” and another commented that “HR is notoriously undervalued.”
To help the HR community tackle this challenge, UNLEASH did what it does best and we spoke with HR leaders across the world to get their insights on overcoming this issue.
Making the voices of HR heard
Nadene Evans, people operations and employment expert at Zenefits, notes “there are a number of reasons why leadership teams aren’t onboard with HR.”
She continues: “Some executives simply may not understand the importance of an efficiently run and relevant HR function, while others may see it as a necessary expense for a non-revenue generating department.
“Either way, it is almost impossible to build a relationship with leadership teams that don’t see the value of HR.”
MCC executive coach and author of The Journal Safari, Moyra Mackie offers a different perspective and possible solution. “As a systemic and team coach I would be asking HR and business leaders to define and align on purpose and then to focus their energies on co-creating programs that align to the strategic needs of the organization.”
Building a relationship and aligning on business goals is a start, but meetings need to be productive and continuously improve outcomes across the business.
Approaching stakeholders with a strategy
With these views in mind, HR evidently needs to approach senior stakeholders with a plan.
Aaron Alburey, managing director and co-founder at LACE Partners, offered insight into how to encourage support: “Initially when seeking buy-in, HR should forget about the business case.
“Instead, they should focus on the problem statement, answering why investment is important and outlining the problems that need to be solved, followed by the intended outcomes.
“Focusing on the ‘why’ demonstrates the vitality of investment before showing how tangible value-add will be brought to the organization.”
If data can support this, conversations can go smoother. Elizabeth Sandler, founder and CEO of Juliette Works, comments: “First, the proposals need to be heavily data-informed. That doesn’t mean the data is perfect, it needs to be supplemented with logic, anecdotal information and strategy.
“One example is when we showed a CEO that one of the company’s big drivers of their gender leadership gap was women leaving after their second maternity leave. Previously they had only looked at attrition by level, they didn’t line it up with the maternity records.
“Using the data we were able to get support for a maternity leave coaching program and phase-back to work policy.”
When it comes to collecting data Sarah Dowzell, co-founder and COO of Natural HR, comments: “The first thing to do is engage with your employees – the bedrock of creating reliable data and MI that can be used to inform effective decision making in the organization at the most senior level. If senior leaders have the right information, they’re able to make informed decisions that positively impact all stakeholders.”
“Once you’ve established you have accurate data, you can then create robust business cases. Whatever the initiative or idea a robust business case that outlines the plan, risks, and benefits to be gained is crucial to success.
“Talking the language of the executive team is helpful when getting buy-in for new initiatives and, as successful initiatives are delivered, trust builds – cementing HR’s place at the top table.”
Some of you may have data up to your eyeballs but feel that the stakeholder you’re communicating with just doesn’t fully-understand HR. At this point, it’s time to think outside the box.
Co-sponsors for initiatives
LACE Partner’s Alburey discusses the impact a sponsor outside of the HR department can have. “Finding sponsors or those who will champion initiatives is always beneficial. However, finding the right co-sponsors to backup a case for investment can double the strength of the argument.
“For example, a good co-sponsorship combination for buy-in around HR tech could be the CHRO and CIO, or the CHRO and CFO. Ideally, at least one individual here should be a key C-Suite representative, showing broad demand for investment from voices that carry a lot of weight in the business.”
This is a point that is supported by the founder of 3C Performance Management Consultants, Hedda Bird, who says: “Work from the numbers to the solutions. However, if you do this, make sure you are reading the accounts correctly, and are comfortable asking questions like ‘The income per employee has changed a lot in the last two years, what do you think is driving that?
“Choose questions that lead to the programs you think are needed. Hint: A lot of CFOs will be very supportive if you approach them first, and invite them to take you through the accounts, so that you are confident about your position. The CFO may then become HR’s strongest support.”
Juliette Works’ Sandler notes: “HR initiatives are most successful when they are co-sponsored by the business. Many HR departments create best-in-class initiatives behind closed doors without a deep enough understanding as to what the day-to-day business needs.
“It doesn’t mean the initiatives aren’t the right ones but HR isn’t equipped to pitch the ideas properly. One example is we had a company create a cross-divisional top talent program. But some of the divisions thought it was for developing their own people and others thought it was an opportunity to attract transfers.
“By not partnering with and aligning the business’s expectations, HR struggled to get the initiative approved.”
Presenting how HR can improve the company’s bottom lines with data is an essential part of shifting the views of leaders. However, buy-in from other teams or executives can also make you help a more compelling case.
What’s essential to remember is it’s not HR against the world. Although many of us have worked remotely, no organization should have an ‘us versus them’ mentality.
After all, if any team or department is disengaged, they need the help of HR to get back on track.
Equally, if HR believes a tool can solve a prevalent employee problem, having the CFO back the investment will make the initial discussions smoother.
Alper Yurder, managing director of UKI at Witco, explains: “Disengaged workers have 37% higher absenteeism, they make 49% more accidents and 60% more errors.
“This is a problem that affects everybody, but that can only be resolved with HR intervention. Leaders have much to gain from working with HR teams to experiment with better policies made for the modern workplace – in consultation with employees – that will improve the experience of work.”
So what are you waiting for? Let’s work together and make a change.
If you have an issue that you want to address (anonymously of course) send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up to our newsletter wait for our next ‘Dear UNLEASH’ survey.
Dan combines his first-hand experience alongside the latest news and opinions in the HR Technology space.