How to be the HR professional your business wants: Five tips for success
Consider this – a quick search for ‘HR guides’ on one APS platform returned more than 10,000 results. Compare that to, for example, a search for ‘IT guides’, which returned well over 120,000 entries. There’s an abundance of ‘self-help’ and trouble-shooting instructions, crafted by our incredibly helpful and talented IT teams. HR has them too. But not as many as IT and with good reason. HR demands a more tailored, personable approach to their clients. Here’s why:
- They want to be treated like a person, not a process –
Processes have their place. They’re tried and tested and do provide a structure for the most complex of issues. The challenge for HR professionals though is to ensure that these templates aren’t applied with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Just going through the motions and sticking to the script won’t cut it in these situations.
While it’s HR’s job to explain and to talk through a process, it’s also important to listen, to ensure we aren’t too rigid in our approach in what can be emotionally charged environments and high-stakes situations. Think about how you can check yourself and ask questions. Is there anything about this situation that requires a bespoke approach? Is there something here that might need to be escalated? It’s right and proper to be a stickler, so long as you’re also sensitive to the needs of the business and the person.
- They want consistent advice, no matter who in your team they speak with –
We know how frustrating it can be when you’ve been briefed on something, only to learn that the information has changed, and not shared with you. And then, you’ve shared the outdated guidance with a client who got in touch with a question for HR. That same client calls the next day and speaks with another HR professional, only to be told something completely different. Imagine how the client might be feeling at this point?
As with most things, communication is key here. Take the time to share information with your colleagues and teams. Collaborate on the advice you provide and seek the feedback of your peers before you share the information with your clients. Think about the tools, systems, processes and habits you have in place to ensure you and your people always have the right advice.
- They want you to know how to leverage workforce and business data to inform decisions –
It can be soul destroying knowing how hard you’ve worked on a project, only for it to be put aside, filed away or worse still, trashed without your clients even reading it! The data and reports we provide aren’t always what our clients want or need. We know that because they’ve told us this themselves. Sometimes the data IS relevant, but clients don’t understand it because it’s complicated or difficult to understand.
The data you provide should be easily digestible. It must be set out in a user-friendly way. Ask yourself to consider the ‘So What?’ factor. Don’t just convey the information, explain it – answer the ‘So What?’ question before they ask it. Tell the business what the data is, how they can use it and why it’s important. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. And remember, if you don’t understand it, or get excited about it – there’s a good chance your clients won’t either. You can’t implement what you don’t understand.
- Provide tangible options –
Clients don’t want solutions from HR professionals that they can’t implement. Try being a little more sensitive to the needs of the business by identifying what the limitations are and what reasonable allowances can be made. For example, perhaps ask your client if they have any time constraints. By being informed, HR can be more confident of proposing a solution the client might be more open to trying.
Keeping an open mind works both ways. HR professionals in large, complex organisations must avoid the temptation to become blind to parts of the business that they don’t directly support. HR needs to have enough of an understanding of the wider business to be able to advise on corporate boundaries or limitations that might impact on the choice between strategic, tangible, alternatives. Action plans don’t need to be complicated. Often the simplest ideas deliver the most effective solutions and can be easily implemented. Limit the number of activities so they are achievable. Focus on the areas of most concern.
- Understand the future needs of the business –
It’s hard enough knowing what the client needs today, let alone what they might need in the future, right? However, anticipating the future needs of the business will make your client relationship a more effective one. This means researching and keeping abreast of not only external HR topics and trends but the business’ direction. Sometimes outside factors will force a strategic shift in the way we work, and forecasting the future needs of your client will help prepare them for change. Always consider the ‘big picture’.
The key here is to engage. Talk with leaders, learn about their team’s purpose and as always, ask questions. What will they be delivering? Is there any part of that delivery you might be able start on now? Don’t just know the business area – try to understand it. And you do this by engaging – having conversations that lead to a mutual understanding. This is equally important for the client. Through these conversations, you might learn a little more about them and they might learn a little more about you.
Okay, so you’ve come this far and perhaps you’re thinking, ‘I know this’. And you probably do. The challenge now is to take the theory away and apply it. Maybe start by trying one tip this week, and another next week. We know they work because the tips came from many of you working in HR teams in the APS!
There is no template or guide for empathy and understanding because every person, and situation, is different. Remember this, much like our IT systems we would cease to function without our people. But wouldn’t life be easier if we could remedy much of our HR client issues by simply ‘turning them off and on’ again.