Making the case for human resource management and leadership development is a constant challenge for HR managers. Here are two techniques that I have found helpful with both senior executives and line managers.
The first is a brief explanation of how, why, and where HR is important—why HR is an important business issue—and why all managers need to be fully engaged in HR management. The second item is a discussion I like to facilitate, and it works by letting leaders make the case for themselves in the most powerful way and in less than 15 minutes. Both techniques are useful for educating leaders.
HR is an Important Business Issue
Human resource and talent management are crucial for:
- Workforce planning: Enough bodies in the right places at the right time
- Executing strategy: We need the right talent for our unique mission, vision, strategy, and core values, and the best talent where it counts most
- Retention & Engagement: Employees are more likely to stay and be engaged in their work when they have great colleagues and good opportunities for development
- Sustainability & succession: Investment in our human assets and intellectual capital, and in attracting and developing the future leaders of our company, is crucial to the long term viability/sustainability of your organization. This is especially true today, given the massive upcoming retirement of the baby boomers
- Legacy: Talent management is also crucial to your legacy as a professional and as a leader—leaving a legacy of strength, success, and preparedness on your team
There are two important conclusions here:
- For Business Managers: All managers today are HR managers in that they are responsible for employee performance and are expected to grow and leverage the value of their talent.
- For HR Managers: All major people & talent issues are also business issues. Make sure you understand the business implications of your HR decisions and services. Manage the HR function in a way that helps your organization achieve its most ambitious objectives—not as an end in itself, but as a means to the end of making your organization more competitive.
Helping Leaders Make the Case for Themselves
Research data and good arguments about the value of HR will only get you so far with business managers. Helping them make the case for themselves, and from their own wisdom and business experience, can be very useful for enhancing their understanding, buy-in, and commitment to talent management and leadership development.
Here is a simple and powerful technique I use for doing just that.
Ask leaders to draw a line down the middle of a page (or do this on a white board or flip chart at the front of the room). At the top of one column write “benefits” and at the top of the other write “risks & costs.”
Then pose your questions:
- If your issue is leadership development: (i) what are the biggest possible benefits of having great leaders and leadership throughout our organization and (ii) what are the biggest possible costs, risks, and consequences of having poor or no leadership across the organization?
- If your issue is an investment in performance management: (i) what are the biggest possible benefits of doing a great job of performance management and coaching across our organization and (ii) what are the biggest possible costs, risks, and consequences of our supervisors and managers doing a poor job of performance management and coaching?
I break them up into small groups and let them brainstorm it on their own for 5 or 10 minutes, and then bring all the groups back together to share their answers. Record the answers on the white board at the front of the room and allow for some discussion of the items.
Remind them that there are several important reasons for having this discussion:
- Leaders can use this technique when making a business case for something complex or qualitative; knowing how to make a business case is an important leadership responsibility.
- It helps us map out the potential value of doing a good job in this area, and the risks of doing a bad job, and it provides a variety of metrics that we can now use to measure our success and progress in this area.
- It gives leaders better information on how important this issue is so that they can make more informed decisions about how hard to work on it, i.e., how much of their time and energy they should devote to this leadership practice.
As the HR guy, I can tell you it is important. I know because I have done the research, that’s my job, but you are the ones who have to decide for yourself each day how much time you want to invest in your team’s talent.
A bit of advice: come prepared with some good answers just in case your group is slow off the mark and you need to help them get started. Here are some answers that I got from a group of middle managers in Houston this summer (just one group).
The value of good performance management and coaching practices:
- Greater direction & focus
- Improved performance/productivity and quality of work (fewer errors)
- Enhanced employee motivation, effort, engagement, and retention
- Growth, learning, development
- Succession planning and business continuity
- Solid deployment: people in the right jobs
- Belonging, loyalty, mutual trust & respect (with colleagues and boss)
- No negative surprises, less stress
- Better communication and teamwork
The risks of poor performance management and coaching practices:
- More absenteeism & turnover
- Losing talent, ideas, expertise, relationships…
- Not having goals, unclear goals, vague performance expectations
- Working on the wrong things (mixed up priorities)
- Employees / teams not meeting their goals
- No direction or support
- Opportunity costs
Many of the items in the risks column are simply opposites of items in the benefits column; nevertheless, this repetition does not damage the brainstorming and gives important ideas even more play.
If there is time and need for it, you can then facilitate a discussion around priorities, i.e., identify which of those benefits are most important to the company right now.
I leave participants with these questions to reflect on individually: How important is this; what difference does it make? What precisely do you most want coaching to do for you, and how much time and effort are you going to invest in this leadership practice to get what you want?
This approach treats leaders like adults in that it challenges them to do a better job, empowers them to make their own decisions and hold themselves accountable, and take more ownership in talent management.
It also provides HR managers with crucial information about what the management team wants and what the company needs. HR managers can use that information to prioritize their efforts, add more value where the executive team sees the greatest need, and use the executives’ own words to help make the case for investment in important HR programs and practices.
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