by Laurie Ruettimann
28 Jan 2021
Work isn't what it used to be, especially for HR professionals.
Before the global pandemic, human resources teams operated from a reliable calendar of events aligned with organizational milestones and priorities. In the beforetime (B.P., before pandemic), people widely believed that the world of work was broken, but that never stopped us from remaining optimistic. It was a simpler time when HR wasn't preparing for future threats and protecting workers from external dangers and internal biases. Remember that? It was just running compensation-calibration meetings and preparing for open enrollment.
This new world has created what I call the "Great Reset," where HR leaders now spend their day entirely in service to others. Yes, they are still responsible for the necessary administrative work to run a business. But they're also championing employee well-being, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and partnering with leaders to create physically and psychologically safe work environments in the age of COVID-19.
It's a lot to ask of one department. And for growing businesses, it’s a lot to ask of (potentially) one person. How can HR continue to oversee plans and programs while also preparing the workforce for future business challenges and opportunities?
The answer is that HR needs to develop skills focused on recognizing industry trends, calculating the real return on investment for 21st-century workplace programs, and becoming persuasive and influential. Here's how you do it.
Recognize industry trends.
The digital transformation promised to HR teams long ago is finally here. More practitioners now have tools to analyze the changing business climate, respond to the workforce's shifting demographics, and highlight how unconscious biases might be hindering companies during the hiring process.
While the adoption of talent management solutions is growing, unfortunately, some HR teams still don't have access to anything more than brute strength and chewing gum — and they're all out of gum. Those HR leaders would love to make a case for change to their chief financial officers and CEOs. How do they know what's real and what's hype when it comes to technology and industry trends?
Lars Schmidt, a Virginia-based HR executive and author of "Redefining HR: Transforming People Teams to Drive Business Performance," recommends building a list. Find people plugged into the latest trends who can sort the hype from substance. "Read their stuff once a week, he said. “Engage with them on social media. They will keep you informed, answer your questions, and allow you to stay ahead of the curve."
Another recommendation is to make friends with sales professionals at an HR technology company you admire. Jason Lauritsen, an author, and consultant in Omaha, Neb., used this strategy many times in his corporate HR career. "This may seem counterintuitive, but I used my relationships with HR technology vendors to help me stay ahead on trends,” he said. “HR tech firms stake their survival on creating tools to solve the biggest workplace challenges. So, they are typically several steps ahead. Don't be afraid of your HR technology salespeople. Instead, tap into them for insight and resources to help you think better about what's coming."
Finally, trends are everywhere. One final idea is to diversify your media diet and read articles and magazines about anything other than HR. Ask the most respected person on your team for their top three media sources unrelated to work. What do they read when they want to learn something new? I've personally done this exercise and discovered new sites like the World Economic Forum, McKinsey Quarterly, and The Root.
When you bring intelligent people and fresh ideas into your life, you are bound to learn something new. Soak up that knowledge like a sponge, and share what you've learned with your team. You'll be an industry trend-spotter in no time.
Calculate the true ROI of workplace programs.
For years, HR leaders dreamed of walking into the CFO’s office and saying, " Check it out, we're moving the needle on the financials with our HR policies and programs!"
More than ever, this is possible. HR departments can evaluate feedback almost immediately and provide customized answers and solutions faster. They can also assess real-world threats quicker and communicate to the total workforce with clarity in real-time. And HR can focus on aspects of the business that require intervention while supporting and enabling areas that are thriving.
But what if you're starting from scratch — with nothing more than big ideas for workplace programs, limited technology, and no executive buy-in?
Mollie Lombardi is the chief research officer at Aspect43, an HR consulting company with a Boston-based office. She loves technology but believes you can't calculate the real ROI of programs or technology without conversation.
"The best way to understand if your efforts could work, or are working, is to talk to the people in your organization you want to keep — the ones delivering business value,” she said. “Ask them why they stay. Do more of that. You need to know what drives business value and understand the people who make that happen. That happens through good, old-fashioned conversation."
Lauritsen agreed and added, "To understand the true ROI of programs and technology, I also talk to people inside and outside of the organization who monitor and predict trends (i4cp, Gartner, PwC, Edelman)."
Nothing good is ever accomplished in a vacuum. Get outside of your HR bubble. Ask genuine, open-ended questions about how work gets done in your organization. Be curious about how HR programs can enable them to do more. Then cross-check what you're hearing with industry professionals who can give you the scoop on what works and what doesn't.
Become persuasive and influential.
The future of work sits squarely on HR professionals who can dream up big ideas, create a road map for change, and convince internal stakeholders to invest in a modern vision of the enterprise.
Can you do that?
Joey Price is a Baltimore-based founder and CEO of Jumpstart: HR, a consulting and advisory service. He believes that HR practitioners can be confident and persuasive communicators. But Rome wasn't built in a day. He said, "Everyday scenarios give you the chance to start small, practice your communication skills, and collect big wins."
Joey added: "You do important work every day. Whether it's an HR software rollout, making the most of resource constraints, or handling personnel issues with people who see a different perspective -- [these] are all avenues to sharpen these critical skills. These are opportunities to overcome objections and reach a consensus. Get good in the trenches and work your way up to more challenging communication scenarios."
But what if you fail? Mike Sipple Jr., CEO of Talent Magnet Institute, a global leadership development platform, and President of Centennial, an executive search firm, believes that failure is in the eye of the beholder. "Each of us must learn that failure is critical to foster change within HR. Without it, we go nowhere. You'll know you've reached a new step of your career path when you communicate a big idea and actively ask for people to poke holes in it. Proactively asking for and receiving constructive feedback demonstrates maturity and growth."
HR: Moving forward in the Great Reset.
How is it possible that some HR departments are poised for success in 2021 while others are still wondering how to get it all done? The answer lies in the skills and priorities of the individual practitioners. How can you make sure you’re poised for success in 2021 and beyond? The answer lies in your skills and tenacity to go after the priorities you know will make a difference.
The future of work requires HR leaders to follow a dual path: maintaining business continuity while also preparing for what's next and protecting the workforce from future threats. How do you do this? Get good at spotting industry trends, and dig deeper to calculate the ROI of workforce initiatives. And improve your communication skills to make a case for change to executive leaders, workers, and even your HR colleagues.
If you do those things, you'll do more than improve your HR department’s effectiveness. You will finally fix the broken aspects of work, once and for all.
Laurie Ruettimann is a speaker, author, podcaster, and all-around badass helping companies, leaders, and HR departments fix work by creating policies, processes, and programs that value the inherent worth of people. Her new book, "Betting on You" is now available wherever books are sold.