Jess ElmquistApril 14, 2023
Topics: HR Experience

Hey HR! Don’t Spend All of Your Time Planning Office Parties. Become a Strategic Force

We need to talk.

A CHRO once shared with me that every HR leader’s worst nightmare is to be known as the “party planner” or “people pleaser.” You and I know that to be true. And yet, what’s the first thing many people think of when they hear HR? “Birthday cake for Jim at 2 pm today in the staff kitchen, everybody.

Clearly our function has an image problem. Entire Reddit threads have been dedicated to topics such as: “Is HR a boring career?” or “Bored out of my mind.

For too long HR was “not where ambitious people went,” an HR practitioner told Fast Company.

I mean, we’re all adults here. We can handle the truth. We can agree that a good number of HR professionals got into this line of work because they just sort of ended up here. Nothing wrong with that.

But what did one HR practitioner come to realize once he got a foot in the door of a company? That most people in recruiting and HR “suck,” he told that same reporter.

It doesn’t have to be like that. It’s time to unsuck!

Speaking the Language of Business

One of the most impactful ways to differentiate your function is to make sure your teams are talking the language of the business. That means data and money. Let’s dig deeper into that.

Recent research identified four ways in which human capital management impacts profit and loss and margins.

  1. Revenue. Boost it by recruiting and developing the right talent to effectively sell a product or service, and provide world-class service to clients to drive repeat sales and referrals. Thought of another way: ask yourself how revenue can be increased by focusing more on employee skills. Instead of belaboring over an employee’s weakness, for example, how about creating a gig or mentorship role that capitalizes on that person’s strengths and invests in their long-term development to support critical needs of the business?

  2. Cost of Goods Sold. When companies have engaged employees for their direct labor force, they can increase productivity and quality, thus lowering COGS. Labor costs can account for as much as 70% of total business costs. This includes employee wages, benefits, and payroll. Yet, according to a survey, HR professionals only spend 15% of their time managing the cost of labor.

  3. Operating Expenses. Companies can reduce expenses when they use the most efficient, cost-effective methods of recruiting and retaining talent, and when they get those decisions right the first time. Technology is a force multiplier there. Everybody talks about innovation within the scope of engineering, but how many people have ever associated it with HR? Practically no one! Here’s where HR can gain a reputation for innovation across organizational boundaries by employing a technology platform that makes the hard easy.

    Start by reducing your “shadow IT” tool box inn technology. Flatten your HR tech stack by finding a reputable system of record and then find that AI powered Intelligent Talent Experience to layer across the top that give candidates and employees alike the same amazing experience that make your brand and job opportunities stand out to your best candidates.

  4. Non-operating Expenses. These include unpredictable costs such as the impact of hiring the wrong person. The average cost of a bad hiring decision is at least 30 percent of the individual’s first-year expected earnings, according to the U.S. Labor Department. So someone who makes $50,000 a year will cost the organization $15,000. That’s not an insignificant sum.

Finally, I love the words of Rebecca Schoepfer, the CHRO of TrueGreen. She's a big believer in speaking HR strategy in the language of business. “A talent acquisition funnel is no different than a customer acquisition funnel,” she said. “You may be counting dollars — I'm counting applicants.” That mindset is the best way to get buy-in to the talent strategy while also framing HR data in a way that the entire business can understand and value.

How does this thinking business-first work in the practical world of a CHRO?

Rebecca talked about this very topic in a candid and insightful webinar.

Hers is a finance-driven organization, so if she’s going to compete as an HR function for share of voice at the business table, she’s bringing data-driven facts and figures. You’ll need to do the same if you want to make a compelling investment case for say, new HR tech or platform.

There may be pushback from other functions, but that’s where facts can bolster your position. “It's really easy to get into an argument of emotion or gut; it's really hard to get into an argument about data,” Schoepfer said.

So true. There are other helpful ways that will change the perception of HR.

1. Make HR a People-First Organization

I don’t mean HR first, as in employee relations, comp, benefits, and so on. Those are critical, yes, but they’re table stakes. Don't lead with this. Focus instead on people-centric tasks like best-in-class talent acquisition (the hand that rocks the cradle sets the tone of the culture).

A person-first approach is an absolute must given that 82% of people want their organizations to see them as a person, not just an employee, according to a Gartner study.

“The human-to-human dynamic in the workplace pushes leaders to display human-centric leadership” such as authenticity, empathy and adaptivity, the study said. “Employees today demand them.”

(I’ve blogged before about viewing your talent as individuals. Here’s the link if you want to revisit that article: 2023 Talent Trends: The New Talent Economy is Real. Here’s How to Prepare for It)

2. Develop Employees With Everything You Got

Back in the day, people used to look to HR to manage every phase of their careers. In some cases, they accepted the status quo because they weren't aware of any career development possibilities at all. That’s so old school.

Make your people more valuable year over year by letting them guide their own careers. That’s how HR is done today. Wow talent with a smorgasbord of learning and development courses that leave them saying: “I feel invested in this company. They believe in me and I’m motivated to improve.”

Technology can alleviate the tedium of going through paper resumes and counting skills one by one. Let technology do the work for you. It can even suggest stretch roles based on skills and experience and pair people with mentor and gig opportunities.

Treat people like adults. Show them the path for growth, offer many on-ramps to that path, and use data and leadership to coach people along the way.

3. Let Go of the Status Quo

The future is uncertain, yet one thing is clear: continual transformation is critical for success. HR of the past was focused on maintaining the status quo and adhering to process and procedure. Today’s organizations need disruptors who advance change and know how to bring people along with them. Who better to lead these efforts than HR?

It’s time to put people at the center of change. People are naturally inclined to resist change, so focus on driving personal value, shifting mindsets, and building change capabilities. Use your systems-level view of the organization to break down silos, manage resistance, and influence people across the organization.

Why Did I Get into HR?

Most of you want to help others reach higher heights. That’s admirable. Many of you may not know this, but I grew up in a family where the mindset was “service to others.” I count my years as a high school teacher guiding young minds on their learning path as one of my proudest moments. A career pivot into an executive HR position is allowing me to continue that and more.

This is why I’m encouraging you to shatter stereotypes of our function once and for all. Let technology handle the routine stuff like setting up candidate interviews and free up your people to do more value-add strategic stuff. They’ll thank you for it in the end. And in turn, they’ll go from wondering “Why oh why did I ever get into HR?” to cheering “Hell, yeah, I work in HR”!

Organizational culture is hard. Mindset shifting is even harder. I can help make it easy. Let’s connect on LinkedIn and I’ll show you how.

Jess Elmquist

Jess Elmquist is the Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Evangelist at Phenom. In a previous career as the Chief Learning Officer at Life Time, the healthy way of life company, Jess hired more than 200,000 people and spoke to hundreds of his executive peers about talent trends.

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