Human Resources as politically-savvy Business Partners

HR Development Framework

Every HR decision has a political dimension that demands care both intellectually and behaviourally.  In other words, to misquote Bananarama, it is what you say and the way that you say it – that’s what gets results.

Which of these scenarios do you recognise?
  • We’ve done the research and know we’ve proposed a great solution and yet we failed to make the right impact in a key meeting where the decisions were made.
  • We tried to implement a new intervention and couldn’t get the support we needed. We realised that we hadn’t paid due attention to the way power works in our organisation.
  • We had some really powerful arguments about something we needed to tackle, yet failed to get the hearing we deserve. Others don’t seem to realise that we need to take action.

These are the kind of challenges we’d love to help you with.  When we researched our enable-hr framework, we identified 7 Facets that work together.  When we think about the typical political challenges we face, two Facets that combine very effectively are Perspective and Connection.  They deliver a combination of practical insight – including what some call ‘context savvy’ and ‘business savvy’ – with building effective and productive relationships.

Reaching out to gain Perspective

Most of the HR people I’ve coached have thoroughly enjoyed getting out of the office.  It’s usually shortage of time that gets in the way and yet it reaps rich rewards that save time later. One of the most productive days I spent in my corporate HR career was a day out with one of our pharmaceutical sales reps.  The learning from that day gave me true insight into the front-line challenge of winning business against competitors, and did wonders for my credibility.  A true story has much more impact.   For example, ‘when I was with James at his meeting with the Consultant (a key influencer) he could have positioned our product better if he’d asked better questions.  We lost him’.  It beats hands down general arguments like ‘sales reps need better listening skills’ and helped me stand my ground (Push) when justifying measures to keep our best reps and train those with less confidence.

Building deep and productive Connection

What we care most about in HR is getting things done that improve performance and engagement, and thus profitability.  And yet we can’t do it on our own.  We rarely have control over the people who will be turning our ideas into reality.  There’s an invisible web of understanding and commitment that has to be in place when we’re out of the room.  Whether it’s a line manager handling a poor performance issue, or a Director giving clear and aligned messaging, we have no actual control over what comes out of their mouth.

Political intelligence is about navigating the human landscape

There’s an added human benefit that works both ways.  We can build the kind of relationships that sustain us as people and as professionals even when facing tough times.  We build trust in each other’s competence and understanding.  The business benefit comes from the straight conversations and robust discussions that deliver the most effective and implementable solutions.

Deborah Wilkes
Director, enable-hr

New way of making complex HR decisions?

When we gathered together our research for enable-hr, there was clear confirmation of something we knew already as Human Resources practitioners.  We get involved in some pretty tricky situations.  No other function has to balance quite so many considerations in just about every decision.  Resolving an alleged fondle during a staff Christmas party, and dealing with a Director fudging sales figures to enhance bonus, were just two of the many situations I faced in my corporate HR role.  Both issues became increasingly complex, involving multiple stakeholders and interests, and far more angles than ‘just’ right and wrong, especially as the wrongdoers were also high achievers.

This is why one of our facets in enable-hr is Balance – it’s about spinning plates, and keeping multiple perspectives and needs in view all the time when deciding what to do.

The two examples I gave above are both reactive situations, where we’re called upon to sort out a conflict that appears out of nowhere.  Added to this, more proactively we’re also required to develop initiatives, policies and procedures that balance the needs of varying interested parties, in situations where you can’t possibly imagine keeping everyone happy.  Then, we have to be the diplomat too in implementing them.

CIPD research on making HR decisions

So, we were interested to read about some recent research done by the CIPD, which is geared towards helping us scope out the complexity of our world – based on using principles. ‘Principles represent high-level judgements of value that practitioners make when considering alternative courses of action and the range of consequences resulting from their decision. This process of value judgement – or ethical choice – in a business goes beyond the questions of legality or adding to the organisational bottom line. Instead, it is founded on fundamental beliefs concerning the relative importance that the decision-maker attaches to the different types of value in a particular situation.’

We’re continually called upon in HR to be more business-savvy, and yet the organization still tends to expect us to be its conscience.  At first glance these two seem to be in conflict, and yet we need to create alignment – and and, rather than either or.  This is exactly where we started with enable-hr – we wanted to help HR practitioners find their way through this complexity by reviewing how they operate.  This work by CIPD on Principles looks really useful – not least in helping us to explain to others just how complex the considerations are in any particular judgement.

The 8 Lenses of the CIPD Principles for the Profession

In their report CIPD have developed the following 8 Lenses. I’d love to hear what you think: please email me on

‘1 Well-being Lens: workplaces should promote well-being in its broad sense, not because it increases employee engagement or productivity, but as an outcome in itself. Work should provide individuals with autonomy and happiness. When there is a choice of providing bad and providing good (for example, when the interests of different stakeholders conflict), the decision should provide as much good and as little bad overall as possible (even though some might be worse off as a result of this).

2 Rights Lens: the rights of people should not be violated just to improve the outcomes for someone else, so individuals shouldn’t be treated simply as means to an end. People have a right to be protected from harm and to have a choice over what happens to them. In the workplace, this means the right to be treated with dignity and respect, to exercise autonomy and control.

3 Merit Lens: workplaces should be designed to guarantee equal opportunities based on individual talent and hard work, rather than irrelevant characteristics such as gender, race, sexuality and social class.

4 Fairness as Justice Lens: in practice not every individual is able to compete based on their merit – people have unequal access to education and development, for example, and don’t have the same ‘power’ to argue their cause independently. Workplaces should be designed with an eye to those who might end up being the worst off as a result of the decision.

5 Markets Lens: rather than distributing benefits based on ability and need, people should get what they can freely negotiate. Some people are lucky enough to have scarce qualities and ability to negotiate freely to command higher wages, for example. Others are unfortunate to end up with less, even though they might be no less worthy.

6 Democracy Lens: people should be able to influence the decisions that affect them. Workplaces should give a right of voice to everyone whose interests are at stake and implement procedures for agreeing decisions collectively.

7 Character Lens: decision-makers should demonstrate integrity, despite circumstances that might require compromising the principles. Making choices in a difficult situation is about not about following a rule, but doing the ‘right’ thing, something a ‘decent person’ would do.

8 Handing Down Lens: the long-term interests of people, organisations and society are more important than short-term gains. Workplace decisions should look to preserve the past and support the future interests of the people, the business and the communities.’

Download the full report from best to good practice HR: developing principles for the profession’ Published October 2015

Wider than just HR

Recently news that was all about a sector that one of my clients works within was splashed across the press and media in a high profile way. Yet when I spoke to them they knew nothing about it! It was pretty significant, it charts changes in the way their sector will work, impacts in working models that could herald a significant change and impact on them, indeed one they really need to start considering now.

When I brought it to their attention they were surprised and immediately wanted to know more. As a HR professional it felt good to be able to signpost them to information so critical to their future strategy and business. Now isn’t that adding value!

Reflecting on this I thought about all these current debates around analytics, data and information trawling. For me it is a bit more than just that. It isn’t only the dry data, it is what we do with it, what connections we make with it and what challenges it might throw up for the wider business and how we raise their awareness to that. It can all be so easy to focus on all the things we are doing now and forget to put our heads up and scan wider now and again.

That is what as a HR professional we can do when we are connected, have perspective and remain focused. Add value to the whole of the business in a way that is truly wider than just the people dimension.

Where will you gain perspective this week and take those connections and focus.

The cobbler’s new boots

It’s an old adage that says a cobbler is often the worst shod…

If you search for “Development Tools for HR Professionals”, not surprisingly, your web browser will fill up with offers of help with training and development kits, HR Software and Apps for online training. All things aimed at helping you to develop your organisation’s people.

It’s refreshing then to find something that is aiming squarely at making sure you, ‘the Cobbler’, have the very best footwear for the challenging terrain ahead. Focusing on your career progress, you may find you just need to tighten up your laces… or, you may need to change your comfy trainers for a stronger, board water proof pair of hiking boots!

Shoehorning this analogy to one side, Enable HR starts with a self-evaluation tool which takes just 30 minutes to complete. It will reveal options for your development in a personalised report. This tiny investment of your time is amazing value and we know it will really open the door for you.

Get outside your comfort zone and into the fresh air.

Where will you go in your new boots?