HR departments aren’t usually painted in a positive light. Although HR helps create a solid talent management foundation that companies can use to grow and scale, this effort often gets overlooked and undervalued. After the infamous Meghan and Harry interview in March, Jimmy Kimmel joked that HR in the United Kingdom was as poor as in the United States.
Professional certification for HR jobs tends to focus on compliance and risk mitigation. As an HR executive, you likely view these certifications as important—and that’s understandable. But this focus often results in overly restrictive employment policies. These policies are driven by attorneys whose jobs are to prevent workplace problems, and they frequently feel somewhat insulting to responsible adults.
This leads to HR being viewed as an “obstacle” to removing the occasional bad apple who is a poor fit for the organization. Even if you don’t have or want the power to approve terminations, you might still find yourself in more of an administrative role. You probably have a good reputation with your company, but you may feel undervalued or unheard at the C-suite level.
To gain a seat at the table, you need to demonstrate real value to your organization and gain a respected reputation across the company. Before that can happen, you need to redefine your role. It’s hard to change how a company has operated for decades, but it is necessary for future success.
Alignment must occur through expectations and accountability rather than structure and authority. This will require significant knowledge about creating a high-performance culture and the courage to facilitate major change, but you can do it. Here are four ways to foster substantial company shifts and make your voice heard:
1. Become an authority on high-performance cultures.
There will always be a need for employment-related administrative tasks, but your company’s future success depends on development. Learn work design, executive coaching, and facilitation. Ensure that your company’s culture is focused on helping people thrive, and remember that one size does not fit all.
The more you can develop your expertise in a way that ensures organizational success, the more respect and relevancy you’ll gain. As a bonus, you might find more purpose in your work as you expand your knowledge. One study shows that people who find a sense of purpose in their jobs are 15% more likely to be satisfied at work.
2. Network with like-minded, high-performance professionals.
As you strive to make an impact, it’s essential to learn from and connect with other forward-thinking professionals. Too often, HR professionals are scared of change. Most people won’t understand why you’re attempting this radical transformation. You have to break away from the crowd and find others who recognize your mission.
Seek out new groups and conferences that allow HR professionals to learn from each other, finding other professionals who are equally committed to redefining HR’s role. It’s hard to be courageous alone, but you can grow and inspire action together.
3. Reframe policies to focus on ‘the 95%.’
While 95% of a company’s employees are typically responsible people who want to do a good job, HR executives often end up dealing with what some refer to as “the 5%.” These employees come to work planning to do the bare minimum and nothing more; their motives and loyalty to the company generally can’t be trusted.
Supervisors spend about 17% of their time—nearly 1 day a week—dealing with poorly performing employees. That’s why you might make decisions as though every employee is part of the 5%. Unfortunately, this makes the “good” 95% of the workforce feel like they aren’t trusted. Restructure company policies to assume the best in people instead of the worst, and eliminate unnecessary conduct rules, dress code policies, probationary periods, and disciplinary steps.
4. Go where you’re valued.
Once you’ve developed your expertise and know your value, don’t waste time at an organization that fails to show interest in your vision. Ideally, your current company will hear what you have to say and approve your plan. But if your concerns aren’t heard, there are plenty of other opportunities available.
Although you might not have much of a voice in your company, it’s possible to gain recognition from the C-suite. The key is demonstrating your value as a forward-thinking individual. By redefining your role and inspiring lasting, positive change in your department, you can influence your company’s success well into the future.
Sue Bingham, founder and principal of HPWP Group, has been at the forefront of the positive business movement for 35 years and is driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value the contributions of team members.