How to Advocate Your HR Strategy in the C-Suite | Phenom

Jess Elmquist

August 12, 2022

You know that feeling when you’re in a room with HR leaders and a message just clicks with the audience?
 

Such was the scene at the Atlanta SHRM’s annual conference, where I spoke to HR professionals about the importance of advocating for their strategy in the C-suite.
 

Human capital leaders are doing fantastic work in what is one of the toughest labor markets in a long time. And therein lies the challenge.
 

Often they are so time-starved in their current day-to-day must-dos that they don't have enough time to get up on the balcony, as I like to call it, and look at the broad patterns. They're getting bogged down in tactical, urgent, here-and-now responsibilities rather than the broader, strategic, higher-value work. They cannot pick up their head long enough to do it.
 

Yet the challenge isn’t the work. The work is always there. The power we discovered in my talk is mindset. Deciding that we as HR leaders must change our mindset and move from tactical to strategic, from HR-focused to business-focused leaders and build a strategy that is people-focused and business positive.
 

CEOs want their HR leaders to bring solutions to the table when issues arise that affect the bottom line. Take staffing. The latest economic data shows 10 million job openings nationwide as of the end of June. That’s almost two open jobs per available worker. This not only impacts big companies. Small family diners, factories, grocery stores – they’re all struggling to staff hours.
 

This is a crisis that human resources departments are going to have to solve.
 

Which is why I encourage HR professionals to create a dialogue and legitimacy inside their organizations so that when they present a solution, the folks in the corner offices who control investments are actively listening.
 

So someone in the Atlanta audience raised a hand and asked “So Jess, how do we do it? “How do we get buy-in?”
 

Healthy Paranoia


Savvy CEOs tend to have a healthy paranoia. They’re always thinking about and watching for the next challenge that’s lurking around the corner. Every HR department should be empowered to help CEOs understand the challenges and solutions, and build a business case using language that resonates with and helps CEOs.
 

True story: In Atlanta I heard of a CEO who wanted to be in a meeting with the chief people officer because the boss wanted to know about the weekly lost revenue based on understaffing.
 

What I’ve found in my conversations, though, is that talent professionals aren’t like that CPO. Many of them are too head-high in the HR weeds when they should be informing themselves, studying and diving into the business weeds.
 

So if you're thinking of having a similar conversation with your leadership, stop what you’re doing, change your mindset, and have a different conversation. I’d like to share a few tips to help you make the case before you walk into the C-suite office.
 

The 3 Ts


Make sure you understand: 
 

  • Trends in the marketplace
  • Traits of a proactive human capital division
  • Tactics that can help you transform from a reactive organization to a forward-thinking, dynamic team
     

1. Trends: Do you truly understand the power of artificial intelligence in the world of talent? Are you able to speak to it in the correct way? If you're not, then that's a trend you need to get behind.
 

Keep up on the latest developments in the business community, not solely the HR world. Read what your CEOs are reading – Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Fortune. These publications will help you understand where the business trends are. CEOs don’t think small – they’re thinking down the block and around the corner. They’re not reading HR trade magazines, so get up to speed by joining Mercer and Gartner studies. They have the insights that ignite solutions-based ideas. They publish some phenomenal online research that’s verified and validated, and you can bring that research to bear in your persuasive presentations.
 

2. Traits: Which traits differentiate winning companies in their ability to acquire and retain talent? Proactive HR divisions manage an employment brand, they’re data-driven problem-solvers and they use optimized HR tech systems to create great experiences for candidates and employees that are best in class. One trait that stands out as a must-have: culture development. Culture is everything.
 

Ask yourselves – is there an opportunity for reskilling? Are you building communities of support such as employee resource groups? Be very clear on who you are and what your organization stands for. If there’s one thing The Great Resignation has taught us is that people will leave toxic cultures at the drop of a hat. You may be losing great people because they don't see the company they started at. So you've got to do the work. Culture is neither fast, easy, or tactical work. Culture is a strategic long game.
 

3. Tactics: Which tactics can you incorporate into an HR strategy, propelling your organization from a reactive to proactive environment? By understanding that the new talent economy is real. Work from anywhere. Hybrid. In-person at the office. Adopting new mindsets, technologies, and the changing world of skills. New business processes and evolving ways of working. The new talent economy is compelling HR departments to fundamentally rethink the notion of work.
 

Time for Selfies


One thing I’d say about the Atlanta chapter of SHRM is that they’re an incredibly well-run organization full of impressive professionals. As hot as Hotlanta gets in July, it didn’t come close to matching the intensity when hundreds of driven HR leaders are gathered under the same roof. They know how to put on a conference.
 

I’ve delivered hundreds of presentations in front of countless thousands of people, but the energy in that room was off the charts. It’s an indication that HR leaders are looking for a road  into the C-suite, but aren’t quite sure what to say or how to get buy-in from the highest levels of their organizations.
 

To them I say challenge your mindset, get informed, build your strategy – walk with conviction into the CEO’s office and Make. The. Case. You now have the tools to do it.
 

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.