As HR professionals, we’ve heard the phrase “find your seat at the table” ad nauseam. To take it a step further, we’ve rallied not only to sit at the table with our organizations’ leadership, but to stand and model what we want to see – and rightly so (#HROnPurpose shout-out)! But for many HR team members, especially those on both ends of the spectrum in departments of one or the more oversaturated teams, often HR is left out of the collaborative party altogether. Not only do we not know that a change or update is about to occur, but we didn’t know that a roundtable discussion happened in the first place. So, what now? How do you get to the table when you aren’t even asked to be in the room? How do you support a united front if other members of your company’s leadership team don’t share the information or access you need to succeed and drive results? What if it isn’t intentional, but stems from a lack of organizational cohesion? & finally, how can you fix something that nobody else thinks is broken, or trusts you to “fix?”
It isn’t easy, and it requires patience. But in many cases, it can be done if you take a step back, temper your ego, identify your allies, and assess the situation. If this is new territory for you, or if you’re going through it now, you can start with the below!
When you need to earn trust and show your value add:
- First, identify the true problems, not just the symptoms. If we’re honest with ourselves, HR has a reputation for not being business-savvy. Whether it’s true or not, we’re seen as policy pushers, and haven’t always been as analytical or business-driven as we are today. To bust past stereotypes and to show your skills to your current leaders, start with a fresh perspective. Take a few days or weeks, depending on the scenario, to see where the company’s pain points are actually coming from. Is it hard to access information due to system or software restrictions? Are the gaps limited to a specific department, or departments, not sharing information? Are you in the middle of a cultural shift and unable to navigate the winds of change? Whatever is going on, you can’t fix anything until you have your problem statement, so take some time to observe and chat with trusted stakeholders to understand 2-3 opportunities you really need to address, and why you need to address them.
- Next, figure out what your solutions look like. Assuming you’ve pinpointed a few key areas for improvement, pretend the status quo and your current limitations don’t exist. If you could wave a magic wand and emerge in a productive, engaging environment where you’re able to thrive, what would that look like in these key areas? Is it simply attending a weekly meeting or getting copied into emails a few days before fresh content goes to constituents? Is it a more elaborate removal of silos across teams? Can you create a collaborative communication plan and flow for future updates or program implementations? Whatever it is, figure out what success looks like, why you don’t have it, and work backwards from there to identify at least 2 proposed “fixes” for every challenge. Jot them down into crisp notes or a couple of slides, as these will become the basis for a proposal you can share with the right people, at the right time. (The rationale behind more than 1 “fix” and this proposal will be elaborated upon below!)
- Run your initial thoughts by a trusted advisor. Whether it’s an external mentor or your go-to within your company, it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes and ears on your proposed challenges and solutions. Can they help you? Can they provide more information or networking know-how that will eliminate or support some of your ideas? Take some time to hear from them, gain valuable context, and adjust your proposal as necessary.
- Polish your thoughts into a proposal to share with your leadership team. Rule of thumb when presenting to people with limited time and a lot on their plates: keep it crisp and relevant to the bigger picture. Pop your concerns and solutions into a few slides or an executive summary. Stick to a synopsis of the challenges and their cost/people/morale/efficiency impact, varying ways they can be resolved, the potential positive impact of their resolution, and recommended next steps + collaborators. This illustrates thoughtfulness in your problem-solving and connects the dots for them, which removes the burden that they have to think through “your” problem for you.
- Follow through with what you say you’re going to do, and track the results. Your results should speak for themselves, and in healthy environments, or environments that are on their way to a healthier state, data and transparency earn trust among leaders. Moving forward, you should find yourself better equipped to strategically engage in your role, and to collaborate with leadership and others in your organization.
“. . .Sure,” you say. “The above is all well and good if the people we partner with are pragmatic and open to change. What if my office just isn’t ready?”
Here’s where it can get tricky, but it’s still salveageable – for you, at least.
- If you don’t have another HR pro or leader to lean on, seek external support. You can do this through professional organizations like SHRM, mentors or previous managers and leaders from your past, and even HRNet and LinkedIn connections, where countless, passionate experts volunteer their time to provide on-the-fly guidance and ideas to those who seek it. Your growth doesn’t ALL have to come from within your own organization; in fact, it’s beneficial to shake it up!
- Identify your allies. Should HR be “friends” with non-HR coworkers? The short answer is: yes. Just be selective. You are a person and can seek sanity and solace with other people, as long as you don’t violate your responsibilities of course. If you find a peer or person willing to support you, hear you out, and help you remove obstacles, it’s more than OK to let them in!
- Pick your battles. The important stuff involves integrity, our people, and our business. When you’re trying to build trust, it’s important not to “culture shock” everyone by unleashing your ideas like a firehose. Sit back, observe what small steps will make the largest impact for the most people, and start there. It can start to give you motivation and confidence as you cultivate relationships. Those little wins are important!
- Assess what you’re up against and whether or not it’s a fit for you. If you reflect and you find you’re consistently people and business-driven, and are simultaneously going nowhere despite your most logical and earnest efforts over appropriate lengths of time, ask yourself, “Do I want to be here?” An environment that wants nothing to do with HR, or intentionally disregards any functional department, could be a symptom of toxicity issues that are out of your hands. Organizations are made of people, and people – as we all know – can’t change unless they really want to. Don’t forget that you can thrive in or out of your current organization, and if you need help updating your resume, many of us are here for you! Myself, @HRJazzy, and @_strclaire will be happy to start you off on the right foot, for starters 🙂
Obviously the scenarios and environments are endless, and there are many more solutions than what were summarized above! On that note, what are your thoughts, fellow #HR pros and #HRTribe? How have you earned trust and your place among leadership, if you weren’t in a leadership position? What worked, what crashed and burned? When did you decide it was time to leave, if it got to that point?
Until next time, stay true to yourself and you can’t go wrong! Can’t wait to hear from you!