26 Jul How successful HR influencers work
Jan Hills looks at how the most persuasive HR functions get their own way
A recent article prompted me to revisit two pieces of research I did on successful HR leaders and HR business partners.
I wanted to see what they revealed about how the most successful professionals organise themselves, especially as HR’s ability to influence leaders and policy determines the function’s success in meeting business goals.
After analysing the data, I found four methods (or personas) that successful HR people use to gain maximum influence:
Idea leader. HR uses its expertise and data to suggest strategy and ideas which will progress the business goals.
For both leaders and HR business partners the research showed data was used to position strategic ideas and new initiatives. The best influencers were able to sort data to demonstrate the link to key business goals. Great strategists used a combination of understanding the business, professional expertise and understanding the degree of change the organisation could handle. For example, one function provided data on the cost of time line managers spent hiring graduates to bring about a change in the selection process. Another provided data on leadership 360, employee engagement and customer satisfaction to predict store profitability. The most successful professionals avoided ‘best practice’ or ‘fashionable’ initiatives and would resist such suggestions from other members of the leadership team. Initiatives had to have a clearly defined business outcome, just an HR outcome was insufficient.
Tool creator: Professionals develop tools and policy to drive business goals.
The research found HR professionals developed tools and policy that helped move the business, through its people, towards its goals. Policy bound the organisation together and reflected the values and culture rather than a rule book. The most successful tools were simple and clearly demonstrated how they helped to achieve business outcomes. Poor practice tended to be complex with HR having to police, rather than enable, the business.
Strategic relationship builder: HR creates deep trusting relationships to progress goals and implement strategy.
Many HR professionals believe they are in the business of forming relationships but the most successful ones built relationships for the purpose of executing strategy rather than for its own sake. However, it was recognised that good relationships meant ideas were given a hearing while delivery of business goals kept the relationship strong. The combination was the key. Somewhat counter-intuitively the strongest relationships were formed by those who held an independent point of view and had the courage to voice their opinion even in the face of opposition. One line manager said to us ‘ if my business partner is willing to argue with me on an issue it must be something they feel strongly about and it is therefore worth hearing what they have to say’.
Educator: Coach and educate the client to drive strategy and the client’s personal success.
Many of the professionals interviewed for the research said they saw their role as helping managers to achieve new insight and in some cases new skills. Those with good skills in asking powerful or coaching type questions were the most successful.
The interviewees did not see themselves as coaches but had skills in holding coaching conversations for the purpose of helping managers to develop deeper understanding, get unstuck on an issue, be clear about goals or the impact of their actions. Holding up the mirror was a core skill. Many told us they took a long term view, positioning ideas and using data to educate colleagues in the business. For example one bank gave quarterly updates on key performance metrics across divisions some of whom had adopted a more rigorous performance management approach and others who had not. The resulting improvement in business performance in the divisions that adopted the performance management system meant the reluctant divisions came on board of their own accord.
And finally, those interviewed for this research were clear that they planned their influence tactics both as individuals and amongst HR leaders as a function. They also took a long term approach. The different roles were more important at some points in the business cycle than at others but failing to keep a balance over any extended period always led to sub optimal results.
About Jan Hills
Jan Hills is the founding partner of the Head Heart + Brain consultancy