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How HR can leverage its reputation to co-create the new world of work

HR at the frontline of business leadership during the pandemic

What a rollercoaster the last few years has been for everyone. Human Resources has been at the front line. What has that done for HR’s reputation?

Operational heroes, certainly. But has the pandemic helped HR to rise up and grasp more firmly its vital role as a partner in business leadership?

The world of work is changing dramatically in ways that cannot yet be predicted. HR’s influence and credibility have never been more important.

New ways of working are everywhere – we’re experiencing a true transformation.  However, in practice organisations are making changes iteratively as we absorb the changes in technology, flexible working and attitudes that have been accelerated by the pandemic. Every organisation needs to explore options and try them out while leading and re-engaging employees in new ways. There are implications on every aspect of HR – reward, L&D, talent and more.  ‘The great resignation’ is evolved into ‘the great reconsideration.’

HR is uniquely placed to co-create solutions that are both imaginative and workable by building even stronger and more productive partnerships with stakeholders at all levels.

Reputation is crucial to winning a seat at that table and using it to create value for all its stakeholders. This is why we surveyed HR people at all levels to reveal their views on the impact of the pandemic on HR’s reputation.

Survey results reveal a mixed picture – and point to practical solutions

Overall, our respondents do feel that the reputation of HR has improved because of the pandemic – great news. Because we included open questions in our survey, we were able to dig deeper into the reasons behind their responses.

Those who are more positive feel that senior leaders have a clearer understanding of the contribution they can make, that HR has had a higher profile and that they’ve been seen to deliver and prove their value.

For others, it’s reinforced the reverse within company culture – the reactive cycle that comes with high workloads and low respect for HR and being seen as the rules police and even the hit squad.

So, there’s still work to do, and our survey revealed insights from those who have succeeded as well as from those who find themselves in a less favourable situation.

Enable HR is on an HR mission

Our mission is to enable all HR people to rise and take their rightful place at the heart, and top-level, of the organisation.

From the virtual workshops that we’ve run with HR people to share and debate the data, we’ve learned just how much impact the organisation’s context has. Clearly, the sector is a major factor – some current employees have been hit far harder than others, are struggling to survive, and HR people feel overwhelmed. There’s also the context of the existing company culture and leadership and their lack of support and respect for the human resource department. Some comments reveal just how tough that can be.

There’s a dilemma at the heart of HR

Stand-out learning from the data emerged when we drew comparisons between responses to three different questions:

  • When we asked our human resources respondents what they heard business leaders talk about, top of the list were themes such as building future success and surviving – not surprisingly, it’s about the tough commercial realities.
  • When we asked how they want HR as a function to be seen, they are clear that they want to be seen as partners in business success and strategic change makers crucial to results.
  • However, when our HR respondents are asked how they personally want to be seen, being business-focused drops to third on the list. The two themes mentioned more often are, first, attributes that relate to being values-led – e.g., team player, supportive – and second, being professionally competent.

When we drill down to how we, as people, want to be seen, we enter territory that is harder to change, even if we want to. So, what did we learn about how we can enable HR people to demonstrate both?

How can HR people be values-led AND business-credible?

Now more than ever, colleagues at every level have valued the caring and consideration that HR people have demonstrated. There is a business value in that if we can quantify it more persuasively to those who only speak in the language of numbers.  Check out our workshop ‘How to build a business-led business strategy’ for more on that.

On the other hand, how can we help HR people to see the intrinsic value and purpose in the more hard-nosed commercial territory that is less comfortable for them?

Clearly, there are some of our HR respondents who are very good at this, and we share in our report more of their insights. They reveal that their business edge has opened doors and enabled them to operate at the top level. It’s clear that credible behaviours, as well as intellect, are key ingredients in this package.

HR’s reputation deserves to be a priority in HR’s strategy and plans

Once you recognise that HR’s reputation is a key enabler of what HR can achieve, it becomes clear that it should be in HR’s strategy and planned into regular activities. Every conversation with every stakeholder with every member of the HR team offers an opportunity to build and consolidate HR’s reputation.

The data reveals little evidence of a planned approach to managing HR’s reputation.

Some practical suggestions for building your HR team’s reputation

  • Build clarity and alignment about how you want HR to be seen – build your strategic purpose around the business value you want HR to add, as well as culture.
  • Consider what work needs to be done to get buy-in and active support for this from senior leaders.
  • Work together as a team to build your business acumen: study and explore the numbers; invite yourselves to meetings; partner with your finance team; make explicit links that will demonstrate the ROI of HR.
  • Craft your key messages – what you want your stakeholders to hear from HR.
  • Reputation is built conversation by conversation. Once you have clarity about your priority messages and style, identify both the formal and informal opportunities you must get those across consistently and convincingly.
  • Plan for the opportunities that come up regularly, like weekly management meetings or regular one-to-ones with stakeholders. There are others that HR can create too.
  • Rehearse the message so that it reflects your true intent. For example, if you want to be seen as business-led, talk about the business first and HR’s agenda second.
  • When HR is strengthened by a clear strategic purpose as well as business acumen and feeds this into conversations with stakeholders with confidence, stakeholders sit up and notice.

The world of work is in uncharted waters. HR can be a powerful partner in navigating a stronger future.

To download the full report, click here.

Please contact deborah.wilkes@enable-hr.com to find out more about our consultancy, workshops and coaching, and our unique HR Profiling System.

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