Dear Workforce How Do I Sell Human Resources as a Vital Contributor When Rolling Out a Retention Program

By Staff Report

Mar. 11, 2005

Dear In the Dark:

Although you report to corporate human resources, it sounds like the individual leading the retention initiative is your true customer or, at minimum, a very important influencer of your relationship with the company. Everything you need to begin a dialogue with her flows directly from that starting point. Once you accept that, you’re on the road to success. This is the first step on the journey to a great relationship with your “customer.”

Start by inviting her to lunch. Set the tone by being open with her and telling her you recognize that she’s not only a customer, but also a very important one. You might say something like: “I’d really like to better understand your perspective and priorities on how human resources can best support you during the initiative.” Also, let her know that you have ideas on how human resources can support business performance.

You’ll also want to determine why human resources was not included.

Three key habits will do more than anything else to open the dialogue.

1. Proactively bring your customer a steady stream of new ideas through human resources. Dig into your merger and acquisition files and search the Internet. Describe the situation (without mentioning names) to friends you trust and to colleagues in your firm. The best advice will come from people who have been directly involved in other situations like yours, and will be familiar with a range of best practices.

2. Speak the language of money. Prepare yourself to talk specifically and anecdotally about how every program and initiative you champion either cuts costs or increases revenue. Collect success stories. Develop return-on-investment models and business cases for your largest expenditures. Employees are the single largest expense for most businesses, and employee engagement (along with customer engagement) is one of the best indicators of future business performance, so it’s important to discuss how this workforce-management-related money is being spent. There’s a lot of research on the degree to which various expenditures (on training, rewards, workforce technology and more) affect business results.

3. Ask questions. Pay attention to the answers. Here are a few that ought to be very helpful in opening up a dialogue.

  • “Personal Connection” Questions. The intent of these is to help you find something in common with your customer by establishing a personal connection. Anything you genuinely care about and would be willing to answer is OK.
  • “Working Relationship” Questions. These questions–strategic as well as tactical–will help you learn how this individual prefers (or demands) to work with others inside or outside the company. On a strategic level, ask her to think of someone who provides services to her unit in a particularly effective way. If she’s willing, you can go to that person directly and get his or her input. If she doesn’t name the person, ask her to describe what behaviors, actions or approaches make that such a good working relationship.

Assume that going forward you’ll both share information and meet regularly. Ask questions to find out how she prefers to work, such as: “I’d like to touch base with you on a regular basis. If I need some time, can I just work with your administrator to get on your calendar?”

  • Questions to Identify Unmet Needs. Spend most of your time here to add real substance and energy to your relationship. Over time, you’ll develop your own questions, and your own style of asking them.

Here are some to consider:

“What worries you the most about this process you’re working on? Why?”

“Is there anything that human resources could be doing to free you up to run the business or make better use of your time?”

“What people-related tasks are the most time-consuming for you?”

“What are the two to three most time-consuming pieces of those tasks? Why does it take so much time?”

“Ignoring any constraints for the moment and doing a little bit of blue-sky thinking, what would the perfect retention/compensation/redeployment process look like if you could have anything you wanted? Why?”

SOURCE: Edwin “Buck” Baker, principal, Capital H Group, Detroit, April 7, 2004.

LEARN MORE:Seven Steps Before Strategy.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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