What next for the “Influential” HR Business Professional?

Currently there is huge excitement around an array of new and disruptive technologies impacting on the world of HR. During a recent client project, the HR team introduced a brilliant App based tool, that enables staff to get real time feedback on their corporate leadership competences. The mobile designed App allows employees to solicit feedback from their managers and the rest of the organisation and acts as a major support to other coaching and development processes. It’s the kind of development that follows on from other leading organisations like GE and Microsoft who have dropped the traditional “big-event” annual performance appraisals in favour of more ongoing feedback utilising smart software and mobile technologies.

The potential transformation of a HR profession

Indeed, with the use of high quality analytics and a more sophisticated use of social media and mobile many commentators argue that HR can now greatly increase its impact on employee development and engagement. Predictive analytics is set to have a huge influence in the management of employee selection, training, performance management, attrition, and even unplanned absences. Learning and development opportunities are rapidly shifting from the classroom to the virtual world of collaborative on-line forums and webinars. Gamification is another buzz word of the moment and many argue it will radically change the world of learning and development as it builds on the popularity of the current generation’s desire, to play and learn on the move and at a timing of their own choice. All together it makes for the potential transformation of a HR profession that has traditionally been hampered by weak, ineffective and poorly designed processes and systems.

HR's underlying business influence

Yet behind all this positive optimism and ambition the question of HR’s underlying business influence remains? Indeed, at the HR presentation I earlier mentioned, a key question from the HR team to their audience was, “If we invest in this system will you actually use it?” Rather surprisingly many people indicated a “cautious” approach to the idea. Many wanted to know more about the system and worried if it would be too complicated to use. Others expressed the usual concerns over who would be expected to give feedback and what would happen to the data. It again showed that clever technology alone, is not enough to guarantee an effective implementation. Yet again HR would have to be able to skilfully influence and “sell” the idea to secure “buy-in.”

When pitching new “technology” and “smart/intelligent systems” HR professionals must recognise that they must influence way beyond the features of, easy interfaces, intelligent design and powerful dashboard metrics. Too often in the past HR professionals have relied heavily on “product features” to sell their core processes and the results all too often proved sub-optimal. To succeed with the new generation of “smart products” HR professionals need to focus on the question of personal and business benefits; putting to one side the ‘hardware and software” features that characterise many new solutions.

What will the solution do to improve the business?

Being clear on the business challenges or opportunities that the product is addressing is the number one issue and challenge. This is critical when “selling” to senior managers and leaders. They want to know what the solution will do to improve the business; reducing wastage or costs, generating more sales, improving productivity, quality or service. Many HR professional fail to focus on the core outcomes of their services and products as they become fixated by the features of their offers. Traditionally they have talked about the details of their competency frameworks and evaluation processes including the design of assessment centres and their associated tools such as MBTI and 360 feedback processes. But most of this is irrelevant to the business leader who is simply concerned about securing better skilled, more commercially astute or customer focused employees. All too often HR professionals fail to speak the language of “increasing revenues, reducing costs, optimising working capital, increasing margin and reducing debtor days!” Yet these should be the ultimate targets of any HR process or system. Joining the two elements together is the essence of any HR professional’s ability to influence senior management

HR professionals need to be able to position their new and exciting set of products and services in a wider business context. They need to speak the language of the business and not just “HR speak.” Learning how to move from the language of “features to benefits” does not come easy. It requires real skill and discipline; but once learnt it allows HR to operate in a far more strategic and business focused manner.

Personal Benefits in shaping own skills and capabilities

At the same time, HR professionals need to address the question of personal benefits when pitching new technologies. Again, at the recent presentation I was involved with HR was not really addressing the benefit of people taking strong control of their own development and learning and career management. Instead the conversation as stated was largely centred around the “technology” and the possible adoption and utilisation rate questions. Yet there was ample scope to really excite the audience about the tool’s ability to “empower” individuals in shaping their own skills and capabilities by soliciting feedback on an ongoing basis. Identifying personal benefits such as control, access and availability, skill and capability enhancement, knowledge acquisition, network extension and enhancement all need to be positioned alongside any HR “systems’ selling. Again, such an approach requires HR professionals to step back from the immediate task of achieving a successful implementation and put themselves in the shoes of the individual consumer of the product or service. HR needs to be able to answer questions such as; “How will this new system directly benefit me as an individual?” “What will I get by investing my time in this new process?” “How will this new system help make me a better professional?”

Develop your influence and persuasion competence

At the PPI Network, we have spent years helping thousands of HR professionals develop their capabilities as high performance business partners. We equip them with the necessary insights, skills and behaviours to influence business leaders and managers with greater persuasion and impact. We help them meet the challenge of “speaking truth to power” and understand the critical difference of selling benefits rather than features when it comes to HR’s service and product offerings. We believe these influencing skills are critical if the optimism and benefits associated with today’s disruptive HR technologies are to be fully realised.

To find out more about how PPI can help your HR professionals step up to the challenges of successfully implementing disruptive technologies contact Gerry Buckley at the PPI Network at gbuckley@theppinetwork.com

About the Author

Mark Thomas: Leading International Expert on Business Partnering

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas is an international business consultant, author and speaker specialising in business planning, managing change, human resource management and executive development. Prior to working with PPI he worked for several years with Price Waterhouse in London where he advised on the business and organisational change issues arising out of strategic reviews in both private and public sector organisations.