A Road Map To Help HR Truly Become a Trusted Advisor

Jan 5, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

There is nothing better than a great speaking engagement where I learn from the attendees.

I recently had the opportunity to share the story of my book, Repurposing HR: From a Cost Center to a Business Accelerator, with a group of experienced HR leaders. When I give presentations such as this, I hope I can provide something of value to the audience.

But, I always take something of value away and learn from the dialog as well.

A problem-solving tool

In the presentation, I introduced the RoadMap. It’s a disciplined process that can help HR think collectively about the customer and add value to the organization through focus on what is important to customers – in this case, operational leaders.  The RoadMap consists of eight (8) StopOvers, each of which provides a series of questions for HR leaders to ask and answer, leading to a deeper understanding the business, discovery of pain points or opportunity, getting to the root cause, and helping to shape human behavior to improve performance.

My premise is that you can start anywhere along the RoadMap depending upon the problem you are helping to solve.

For example, you could start with Strategy, if indeed you need to define your customers and core products and services, the resources needed, the outcomes expected and the cost of this work. Or, if there is a risk issue, you could start with Risk Manager, asking good questions about how well the organization is mitigating the risk associated with leadership and the workforce. Perhaps, you consider first how to Sell and Market your work, understanding customer needs, and helping them to understand how your products and services can help.

The StopOver I called Trusted Advisor, I saw more as the destination than a start. I saw it as that place to which we aspire. Yesterday’s group dialogue changed my way of thinking. It started with a question.

The question

“How do you use this RoadMap to start the conversation with an operational leader when you have an HR issue to discuss with him?”

It’s a great question that brings the theoretical back to the practical. The RoadMap is all about working toward a business outcome by shaping behaviors at the leadership and employee level to improve performance. And yes, it is theoretical. It is based on the premise that operational leaders care about four things only – revenue, income, expenses and market share.

All the other metrics used in organizations have to feed these four buckets or the organization will not thrive, and may not survive. HR’s challenge is to start with the business issue, confidently claiming that they can positively impact one of these four business drivers.

The RoadMap is designed to create a “pause button” in  the frenzied pace of today’s workplace and take the time to really understand why the business is underperforming (or missing an opportunity) and the bottom line impact, then building a plan to shape human behavior toward improved performance.  It is intentionally proactive.

OK, back to the question: When the HR leader is sitting with a recalcitrant operational leader who wants a fast fix without having to dabble in “people stuff,” how can you invoke this RoadMap?

My answer

I  suggested the HR leader spend time with the operational leader to figure out the problem (what he is saying) and what you suspect is really the root cause of the problem, and, tie their question back to one of the four business issues (revenue, income, expense and market share).

For an example, the operational leader has an upward trend in turnover. Take a look at the metrics for that leader’s department and get a sense of whether or not turnover has impacted the business. If you see correlated trending, start by pointing out the business issue, and offering that the turnover may be impacting the trend. Be prepared to explain why, based on the nature of the department, employees and their work.

In short, always bring it back to the business. If turnover hasn’t impacted the business, you have an uphill battle to get the operational leader to care.

A better answer

My “AHA” moment was when one of the folks suggested HR should build their relationships with operational leaders before they have to address an HR issue. Don’t make the only time human resources shows up in their office is the time when there is an HR issue to discuss.

Yes! That is really THE answer. By having a trusted professional relationship with operational leaders – particularly those who are not HR’s biggest fan – you have one foot in the door prior to difficult conversations.

What was great about this conversation is that we went on to discuss how important it is for HR to be outside their office, building relationships across the organization, listening and observing the culture and climate, and looking for ways to help rather than demand.

An afterthought

One other thing hit me as I reflected on this conversation. Those “HR issues” really are business issues. By accepting them as “HR issues,” we let the business leader off the hook; they look to HR to fix things and that’s not HR’s role.

Fixing leadership issues is leadership’s role.

As we, in HR, build our professional relationship with those leaders, we need to be sure to help them see people issues as business issues. We need to let them know we have tools and resources that can help them lead, but that the responsibility for the performance and productivity of their people is their responsibility, clearly tied to revenue, income, expense or market share.

HR as a trusted advisor

So I always saw Trusted Advisor – one of the eight StopOvers in the RoadMap – as a destination. After you build your strategy, mitigate risk, use data wisely, market and sell your services, protect resources and balance the advocacy role, you become a Trusted Advisor.

Perhaps it may indeed be a starting point. In order to help the organization increase revenue, income, market share and reduce expense, they have to trust that you are there to help their business perform better.  How does HR build that trust? A few thoughts:

  • Keep it positive. You don’t have a problem to discuss, you have an opportunity to present.
  • Focus on the business. The opportunity is to drive revenue, income, market share or reduce expense.
  • Make it clear you can help. Your confidence in presenting the opportunity will go a long way to building trust.
  • Help them develop a reasonable outcome that can be measured. This is your opportunity to market. Help them analyze progress, tweak the plan, and celebrate when the outcome is achieved.

The shift from cost center to business accelerator does not happen overnight, and it is likely that not every operational leader will become a raving fan of HR.

But remember: The focus on positive impact on the business demonstrates that you are a business person first, and have tools and resources to drive the right behavior that will drive business.

This originally appeared on Carol Anderson’s blog @the intersection of learning & performance. Her new book is Repurposing HR: From a Cost Center to a Business Accelerator.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.