Several disruptions in recent years have demonstrated how crucial alignment between HR and the business really is.
“How HR fits in with the business has never been more apparent,” says Ben Eubanks, chief research officer at Lighthouse Research and Advisory, a research firm dedicated to producing HR industry insights. From raising the alarm over the Great Resignation to asking HR to design a healthier culture, executives have never relied on HR more than they do today.
“In the last year, recruiting hasn’t just been an HR priority: It’s been a business-level priority,” Eubanks says. “It’s affecting the operations of the organization, it’s affecting the ability to actually meet business goals.” And recruiting is only one of many business-level priorities HR must guide the organization through.
But many companies are still struggling to align HR to the business. Here’s how to link your HR strategy to business results.
Turn Your Attention to Business Impact
The circumstances are favorable for your HR team to drive business value. That won’t happen automatically, though. Despite all the business-level priorities in your hands, and all the tools and technology at your disposal, you still have to pull the lever to make it happen.
We’ve all heard that implementing automation and HR technology can create strategic value. But the tools themselves mainly give time back by taking over transactional and repetitive tasks.
“That freed-up time doesn’t automatically create value,” Eubanks says. “It’s what we turn that time and attention to.” You still have to direct your energy to support the business.
Eubanks’s research demonstrates the actions that do make a difference. HR teams in high-performing businesses are devoting their extra time to getting informed about stakeholder needs from the CEO down to employees at the lowest levels. These HR teams spend time building relationships with stakeholders so they can understand and serve them better.
HR teams in high-performing businesses are also turning their attention to assessing the impact of HR programs. “There’s a lot of opportunity for us to link the things we’re doing in HR to things the business needs,” Eubanks says. Business leaders may not make these connections on their own, but you can help them get there.
Build Career Growth Into the Business Strategy
One of the programs with the biggest potential to drive business results is professional development. Eubanks’s research shows a correlation between high-performing organizations and how high-potential employees are recognized.
“They’re spending more time looking at how you recognize people who are doing quality work,” Eubanks says. “And it’s not just to recognize them in the moment, but to reinforce and encourage them to keep doing that behavior.”
It goes beyond simply setting transactional business goals for employees to achieve. These organizations are collaborating with employees to set career goals at the very beginning of the employee life cycle.
Many managers will set a far-off date for career conversations if they occur at all. But many employees want to know their options for career progression before they’re even hired. “They want to hear about other moves on the career ladder, other opportunities they can have inside the business,” Eubanks says.
High-performing organizations also amplify employee strengths over weaknesses and use their strengths to direct their growth. Most organizations focus on fixing performance problems rather than taking advantage of employees’ unique qualities. “They’re spending all their energy trying to shore up your weaknesses instead of leveraging and emphasizing your strengths,” Eubanks says.
Align Goals With Learning Opportunities
There’s a very clear line, Eubanks’s research shows, from leaders who spend time linking employees with the business to higher engagement, which leads to better business outcomes. “It comes down to having a leader who pays attention to you, who listens and works with you to plan whatever is next,” Eubanks says.
But helping managers — many of whom weren’t promoted for their people leadership skills — do this with their team members has proven challenging. Try giving managers future-oriented talking points to help guide their conversations with employees.
“It’s very easy for managers to get drawn into the task conversations,” Eubanks says. “Spend that time asking employees what they want to be, what they want to do, where they want to go — and how you can help them get there.”
Align what the employee wants with the work they’re already doing by finding learning opportunities within their daily tasks. When you ask an employee what they want to learn, it’s much easier for managers to spot better learning opportunities in the flow of work.
When HR turns its attention to strategic impact, you can make big things happen for the business.