Stop Selling and Start Helping

As a profession, HR spends a fair time agonising over how to raise our profile as a strategic partner and add value to the business.

The accepted wisdom is that we need to “sell the benefit” of HR and the initiatives designed to get the best out of people.  But I am inclined to disagree.  I believe that mindset is what gets in the way and makes it difficult.

You see the terminology of “selling the benefit” comes straight out of product sales training.  It smacks of a scenario where the challenge is to persuade managers to buy whatever it is that HR wants to give them by pointing out all the benefits HR thinks they will get as a result.

The difficulty with this is that HR is looking at the challenge of introducing an idea only from their perspective.  As professionals, they know the “right” answer regarding people in the business and they see their job as persuading managers to do what is right.

I came across this situation the other day when speaking with a client.  The central Learning & Development team have developed an online Career Development Portal for employees.  It’s a good portal and the intention is a positive one in terms of retaining and developing employees.  They are now increasingly frustrated by what they make out to be the lack of buy-in from managers who need to have career conversations with employees to realise the benefit of the portal.

The difficulty here is that managers will only buy into something if they see it is going to solve a problem or meet a need or wish that they have.  And if they trust the solution they are buying in to is in line with their priorities and interests.

If HR is to be a true strategic partner they need to stop designing processes and initiatives that need “selling” to the business.  Instead, they need to start listening to what the business needs and designing the services that will address those needs efficiently and effectively.

One way of doing that is to use your critics as designers.  This is an approach that I’ve learnt and adapted from Mike Harris, founding CEO of telephone bank Firstdirect and Internet bank Egg.

In his book, Find Your Lightbulb, Mike Harris describes how First Direct brought the critics out in full force.  Even his own mother joined the masses of banking experts and strategy consultants in telling him what a bad idea it was.  “That’s never going to work,” she said.  “You are wasting your time with that telephone banking nonsense.  People hate using the telephone – they get passed from pillar to post, having to repeat the same story over and over again”

Her reaction inspired him to produce several statements of intent such as “We will answer the phone within three rings”.  These became the fundamental principles for Firstdirect and were at the heart of the exceptional service and customer loyalty for which it became famous.

I encourage you to take a similar approach to designing your HR initiatives by following these three steps:

  1. Write down all the reasons you think managers will give for why an HR idea or initiative won’t work for your organisation
  2. Get as many reasons “why not” in as much detail as possible
  3. Now go through the list using your judgement and intuition.  Pick the most valid and important insights and turn them into “statements of intent” that address the objections.

For example, taking my client’s example above, a frequent objection is that career conversations can take too much time.  So the statement of intent could be “provide a framework of 3 questions that can enable a career conversation in 10-15 minutes” or “no career conversation will take longer than 30 minutes”.

We know that HR has real value to add.  By looking through the eyes of our managers and designing services that meet their needs, they will start to see it too.  They won’t need selling.

2 thoughts on “Stop Selling and Start Helping”

  1. My favourite story, from the horse’s mouth, is a very very senior HRD (65k emps) who, at one stage in his career, was put in a senior operational role running the NY office. He said that all this HR stuff (designed and promoted by him in his former role, and bleeding edge etc) came across his desk. 50% was fantastic! And 50% was absolute crap and no use to him.
    Best learning ever.

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