There’s no doubt that HR’s influence within organizations has increased significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After years of debate and lobbying about the need for the profession to hold a strategic remit and a place in the boardroom, organizations have finally woken up and appreciated the critical role people professionals have to play.
As the pandemic recedes (or at least as we begin to learn to live with it) HR needs to make sure that old habits and assumptions don’t creep back in, and that the profession maintains its recently elevated status and profile.
So what can HR practitioners do to increase their influence, both in and outside the organization, and improve their presence and impact? The following tips, drawn from our executive education platform Leadership Live, provide some inspiration and practical advice:
Be patient: Patience is a real virtue where influencing is concerned. Most of us must influence people who we interact with on a day-to-day basis and therefore every interaction is part of the influencing process. Think of influencing as a process, not as an event. Your proposal to introduce a new HR software system may not land straight away – but over time, it may be possible to gradually persuade people of the benefits.
Use active listening: Active listening is about understanding where other people are coming from. It’s about gaining information from other people, so you can adapt and adjust to suit the other person’s needs. This technique could come in useful when dealing with a union or employee representative, for example. Make sure you listen carefully for what may be behind an objection or an issue. It’s about what is not being said, as much as what is being said.
Be flexible: We all have our own influencing style, and we all have a comfort zone. But not every style will suit every influencing situation. If you’re trying to win over board members to invest in expanding the employee well-being program, some may be persuaded by the facts and figures, while others will want to see the bigger picture.
Build, link and develop ideas with other people: This will help you link to other people more successfully and gain their commitment. People are much more likely to buy into what it is you are influencing about when they feel that they are contributing to your ideas. If you are planning to revamp the performance management system, for example, make sure you involve the managers and employees who will be implementing or on the receiving end of it.
Show you understand other’s ideas or feelings: Demonstrating that you understand other people’s ideas or emotional reactions to an issue can be beneficial and can help you engage more effectively. If you are trying to mediate between a manager and a direct report who has fallen out, for example, showing empathy and making it clear you understand the impact the disagreement is having can go a long way towards resolving the issue.
Test your understanding of other people’s perspectives: Showing individuals that you have understood their perspectives creates a psychological connection and reassures people that even though you may not agree, you have listened. If a manager is resisting the introduction of hybrid working, for example, and insisting their team come into the office every day, they are more likely to co-operate if they feel you have at least understood their objections or concerns.
Express yourself fluently: You must be able to get your ideas across in an effective and organised way. If you are presenting to the board, for example, prepare well and make sure you are fully conversant with the stats about headcount and the salary bill, and will be able to answer any questions. It’s about being fluent in the way you project your ideas, but also being fluent in the evidence you provide.
Energy and enthusiasm are vital: If you can’t show energy, enthusiasm, and passion for your idea, you cannot really expect other people to buy into it. This can be a challenge when you must influence people about things that you don’t wholly agree with (the extent of a restructuring or redundancy program for example). In these cases, try finding some benefit to the idea which allows you to demonstrate that energy.
Be aware of unextinguished fires: Unextinguished fires refer to situations where people are left doubting. When you are having to influence others, you may leave some people with slight doubts. Has the finance team fully bought into your proposed new bonus structure, for example? If people have doubts, they can start to sow seeds of doubt with others, which can reignite the fire or lead to more questions about your influencing issue.
Plan and prepare: Be forensic in the way you think about the people you influence. What is it that will make them want to buy into your ideas? How do they like to be influenced? What style will appeal to them? This is where having a strong internal network and deep knowledge about the operations of the organization can really pay dividends for HR. If you really understand how the business works, and what challenges managers are facing on the ground, it will be easier to step into their shoes and come up with ideas that will meet their needs.
For more information on Leadership Live, visit our webpage and sign up for a free trial.
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