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How HR can gain increased visibility and greater influence

Caroline Whaley, Co-Founder - Shine for Women

If the past year has taught us anything, it is the power of resilience, and HR leaders have been dealt an even more challenging hand than most. However, amid the chaos, HRDs need to see opportunity too. The impact of the pandemic has catapulted issues such as employee wellbeing to the forefront, and for many businesses, this has become a vital part of their recovery strategy.

Certainly, HR has strengthened its voice at the top of organisations. An HRD Pathfinder Club survey, conducted in October 2020, revealed an increase in female HRDs being promoted to more senior levels within their business. The results also showed that 47% of the HRDs who responded reported a better working relationship with their CEO, and 35% with their CFO.

Importantly, only 12% reported a worse relationship, and the majority stated this was due to bosses not adjusting to flexible working and insisting employees returned to the office.

The findings confirm Covid has been a catalyst for change in terms of how HRDs are viewed within businesses, and also by their CEOs. HR leaders tend to have a unique position with a 360-degree view of what’s happening inside the organisation. At a time of extreme disruption and uncertainty, employee morale, resilience and commitment come into sharp focus.

So now is your moment HR Leaders! It’s time to take your seat on the board with confidence and vigour, because as we will discuss below, there is arguably no one else more qualified – with such a broad insight and understanding of the business – than you.

It starts with you
There is a fundamental difference between a functional HR person and a brilliant HR leader. When businesses have a true HR partner, they naturally gravitate to be the CEO’s right hand person, which is not what you would always expect. They do this by utterly understanding the commercial aspects of the business, the employees’ wants and needs, and embracing all the opportunities and challenges of leading a business beyond a narrow HR focus.

Changing perceptions, the enablers
Sadly, HR professionals have all too often been perceived negatively, as blockers, people who stop employees from doing certain things or just slow down business transformation. The challenge is changing these perceptions because when they really get the business needs, they become allies and enablers to the transformation business most needs.

In this time of significant change, it has never been so important to be empathetic and provide a listening ear, across all levels of the business. Being a proper ally and really understanding people and the issues they’re facing is crucial but the most important aspect in this is acting as exceptional translators, and using the feedback and learnings to drive the shifts in ways of working that create successful businesses of the future.

This is actually a huge catalytic moment of opportunity for HR to reinvigorate itself and take a lead in creating new cultures and practices that have been previously lost in the busy-ness of business. With so much change going on, it’s a fantastic moment to make those much-needed shifts in practice once and for all. And if HR takes the lead, HR gets to reinvent itself for a new era.

A whole new, collective, kettle of fish
There is a much bigger game to play following the effects of the pandemic. HR is now a job that needs to be done and understood by everyone in the business.

You can no longer leave it just to the CEO or HR team. Everyone must now engage if they really want to have this inclusive culture where each individual feels they belong, where you bring your whole self to work and you don’t have to hide.

There is a real need for people to engage in a shared purpose. Confident, proactive HRDs will ensure the executive team understands that looking after your people is just as important as bringing in revenue. Post-Covid, we should enjoy a new era in which HRDs are fully appreciated and directly involved in board-level decision-making.

This won’t just happen though; HRDs will need to earn that place at the table and that means being fully conversant with the business, able to discuss the highest level strategy and have influence with the other board members. That will require investment in your own personal and professional development if you are not ready for the challenge.

Connecting the dots matters more than ever
The HR team members are the ones joining the dots in many organisations. They’re driving topics like diversity and inclusion with a business head on, which enables them to really help people understand that they’re not just doing it for corporate reputation. They’re doing it for business benefits.

HRDs need authority and HR needs to be seen less as an admin function and more as a culture-creating entity. Taking time to educate people, to help them understand that businesses are only as good as their people, is what builds a company culture. This is what takes HR beyond being a functional role.

The workforce agenda has broadened dramatically and organisations need to understand the complexity of it and how there’s not a one size fits all approach to building solutions.  For some it will be beneficial to seek help from external specialist suppliers. This will not only enable them to develop a specific people-first culture, but it will also ensure the business develops, in line with the times.

HRDs need to use this time of change to their advantage, to show CEOs and employees alike that they’re a valuable ally. This is how they’ll win support and confidence in the workplace, taking their rightful – and essential – place at the top table.

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