“No you can’t”: 3 steps to changing HR perceptions

This time in two weeks, 2016’s HR Technology Conference and Expo will be well underway and for the first time in year’s, it’s being held in Chicago. It just so happens that we’ve also recently set up home in the Windy City and I think it’s safe to say we’re loving life by the lake so far.

Moving to a new city, you realize that you have pre-conceived perceptions and expectations – in the case of Chicago, for instance, can the pizza really be that good? and is the Willis Tower really that tall?

These pre-conceptions happen in the HR world too. In fact, in a recent article for Personnel Today, Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research at the Institute for Employee Studies, suggested that HR professionals are often perceived as “the people who tell you that you can’t do something”. While this is by no means the first time this accusation has been levelled, it does suggest businesses need to do more in order to transform the way their HR departments are perceived by the people who matter most.

So why does the perception of some HR professionals as “no” people, prove so difficult to dispel?  

The most probable cause is that they operate in a business hierarchy and are often trying to cater to differing stakeholder needs. Simply put, it’s difficult to please everyone all the time. At the end of the day, the VP of HR or HR Director likely reports to the President, CEO or CFO, and this is where their edict will come from.

Additionally, and like many of us, HR professionals are time and resource poor, which impedes their ability to spend time evaluating and improving workforce experiences by speaking to their people and acting on feedback. All too often, they are still languishing in ‘spreadsheet hell’ that sees them manually updating core employee information relating to payroll and vacation.

To us, changing perceptions of HR – and in turn, improving HR productivity whilst delivering a better employee experience – starts with a three step solution:

Step One: Secure C-suite buy-in 

Real business change starts at the top so building the HR business case amongst the C-suite needs to be the first focus. Encouragingly, we are seeing more and more CEOs acknowledging the value of HR in wider business terms, and as such, investing heavily in its optimization, often via the implementation of HR technology. That’s real progress.

The next step is ensuring investment is put to good use, and this means reducing process so that HR can focus their attention on delivering better workforce experiences. With mountains of employee records to process and manage, the ‘people’ element of the HR role can be too easily side-lined, and instead, this needs to be the number one priority. In doing this, employees are more likely to see HR as their advocate, rather than a group of professionals who are constantly saying ‘no’.

Step Two: Turn to technology

As we’ll no doubt hear from the many great speakers set to take the floor at HR Technology Conference & Expo, HR tech is delivering a new found freedom for HR – something that quickly converts to opportunity and bottom line benefit. Monotonous and lengthy tasks can be considerably shortened, or even eradicated altogether, leaving HR professionals with significantly more time to engage with the all-important employee and develop a more people-led HR strategy. This recent Forbes article gives a great overview of HR tech’s critical importance to businesses operating efficiently in the modern, multinational age.

Step Three: Be people oriented

When all is said and done, 99.9% of HR professionals are people-people. Their need for an image make-over is not universal because there are a lot of HR Directors and Chief People Officers already knocking it out of the park on the people front. But, some still have a way to go. Their need for an image overhaul is not derived from having misplaced priorities, it is simply a question of them needing greater support, better workforce tools, and ultimately, the extra time they need to make positive changes and steer their company leaders towards the greater goal of becoming a people company.

It’s a debate that is sure to be continued 4-7 October at McCormick Place in Chicago, and we’re certainly looking forward to joining the conversation and discussing the industry’s hot topics with a host of key influencers that include Chris Pang, Mark Smith, Meghan Biro, Melanie Lombardo and John Sumser.

Our team will be exhibiting our new technology features at the show, which are heavily people analytics and wellbeing led, and we’d love to pick up this conversation with you there. Feel free to visit us at booth 425 or book a meeting with a member of our team.

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