Where does the notion of employee engagement come from? What’s the motivation?
For HR leaders looking to elevate their status and overall value, making those kinds of connections can be the portal to a C-suite. It’s all about how you connect something like attraction and retention to corporate culture, and that culture to employer/employee branding, and that branding to senior leadership, and leadership to the function and fit of HR, and HR’s people initiative links to leader-led organizational goals.
In companies like Google or Microsoft, they invest huge amounts of money in engagement. What’s their motivation? Their luxurious campuses have everything. Is that because these organizations care about their people? Or because they want to maximize productivity and provide the accoutrements to make it easier for people to work long hours?
Pull Up a Seat at the Boardroom Table
HR leaders sell. They sell ideas. They sell concepts. They earn a seat at the executive table by hooking into something that resonates with the CEO. If the underlying motivation for a company like Microsoft or Google is to keep people productive for as long as possible, on-site, then the people proposition may very well be to create a work environment they don’t ever need or want to leave.
Unless you’re able to connect to company values, strategies, employee/employer brand proposition, or competitive landscape – there are few organizations that do employee engagement, or anything, just because it’s the right thing to do.
General Electric’s legendary CEO, Jack Welch, was an early anomaly. He believed in human capital. He believed that talent, and leadership, and having successors was important. The head of HR was his partner in those decisions. He valued HR leadership; it was equally represented at the C-suite level along with finance, sales, marketing and operations.
Unfortunately, in a lot of less progressive organizations, HR reports to another functional space, often the chief financial officer or vice president of operations. While HR may be performing a bunch of activities under this kind of structure, it isn’t serving as the right hand to the president or CEO.
Build HR’S Leadership Value
HR is about building business cases. Everything you do involves spending money. You need to be able to build a business case and demonstrate how it fits into corporate strategies, corporate goals.
There’s huge competition for talent and it’s expected to worsen in the years ahead. If you want your organization to be a great employer. If you believe employee engagement survey insights can help shape the kind of culture and branding that will attract and keep talent, you need to know what the trends are. You need to be able to market and sell internally to your leaders. You need to speak business language. If you only speak people language, it won’t take you too far.
Jessie Drew, Associate Vice President, People & Institutional Strategy for Northern Lights College, believes business acumen makes all the difference when it comes to influencing decision makers.
How does HR make inroads at the executive level? “You solve a problem,” says Drew. “You point out where the organization isn’t getting the results it needs. You talk about how disengaged employees are affecting the bottom line, the huge dollars it costs in terms of productivity. It’s about economics and convincing the CEO to try something different. “
Factor Change into Your Selling Proposition
Businesses are changing so rapidly lately, thanks to the pace of innovation, technology, and the complexities of society itself. Take the Canadian government’s Employment Equity Act as a case in point. Introduced decades ago, the Act covers just four categories: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginals and visible minorities. There are a whole lot more categories today. More genders than male and female. More societal and cultural diversity. More generations active in the workforce. Throw all of that in a pot and work environments are more complicated than ever. Laying out all that complexity in front of executives preoccupied with their own niche responsibilities is one of HR’s ongoing challenges. And when you have all these different populations, you’re not always going to get employee engagement right.
One step in the right direction is to encourage those in your organization’s highest offices to pay attention to diversity and inclusion factors behind product and service offerings. Think of how PBS uses different characters on its beloved Sesame Street to bridge cultural gaps – broaden their viewing audience – and in turn, increase revenue streams from sponsorships, advertising and merchandising.
As HR professionals your role is to provide guidance and support by constantly educating yourself, your senior management team and the broader organization about unconscious biases and building relationships with all the different populations out there.
- Do African-North American women or Aboriginal young men see themselves when they come through the doors of your post-secondary institution looking for courses that speak to their heritage?
- Are your insurance or financial products appropriate for the different family compositions out there?
- How are ageing LGBTQ couples accommodated in your retirement facilities and healthcare centers?
- Are internal guidelines in place to ensure there are no blinders?
Savvy HR professionals pay attention to internal strategies and external trends. Are the communities your organization serves and the people buying your products mirrored in your workplace? Does your candidate slate reflect society? Maybe you need to look at where you post your positions. It might involve hiring interns and fostering summer job opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds; their input will help guide and shape inclusive strategies and open new revenue streams now and into the future. That’s how HR hooks into a business need and gets itself invited to the executive table.