Helpful hint: how HR should lead the way

During tough times it is often HR who are ‘cut’, that is unless they have particular skills in redundancy. This is particularly true in the ‘interesting’ end of HR – leadership development, OD – the areas in which I predominantly work.

Here are 4 ways in which L&D, OD and HR more generally can make ourselves indispensible whilst adding real value to the business.

1. Speak language of CEO and FD – talk strategy and cost

A major criticism of HR is that it is seen to be too soft and wishy washy and fails to understand hard business issues.

Change people’s perceptions of you by speaking the language of the CEO and Finance Director. Start talking in hard numbers – talk about costs – hidden costs, capital costs, and ROI. Initiate and lead top team workshops to revisit the business goals in response to recession or hard times. If you’re not on the Board, offer to facilitate the workshop or meeting to understand the issues and get closer to the decision makers.

2. Be proactive in cutting your own costs

Play the good corporate citizen and revisit your own budget before anyone else does. Identify areas of saving – for instance, support internal facilitators such as senior managers when delivering training courses. This not only saves costs but it means the courses are usually more relevant and specific to the business. Encourage and facilitate online training and distribute free resources and material readily available. For instance, subscribe to McKinsey quarterly and provide weekly or monthly synopses on each article. Better still, send targeted articles to the relevant departments – for instance, an article on how to reshape a customer department to the Customer Services Director.

3. Focus on the longer term

During times of economic uncertainty it is typical for individuals and organisations to focus on the short term – getting cash in the door is critical. This short termism means that it is easy to forget the deep skills and know how that has developed over the years and is critical to day to day delivery of the business. Highlight those individuals with these deep skills and ensure they are not the first ones to be made redundant. Ask how long it will take the business to replace an engineer with 15 years experience in a particular expertise area as opposed to a new graduate with 6 months experience? Take a strategic approach to redundancy by focusing on the longer term and speaking in business terms.

4. Get close(r) to your customers

HR is rightly criticized for developing and maintaining closer associations and networks with other HR folk than with their own customers. Getting close and personal with customers is critical in difficult times. Customers don’t stop buying during a recession, they just buy more cleverly. HR needs to understand what service/info/skills they are looking for, get these in writing and develop a business case for why HR still has a relevant role to play.