Many a business initiative is doomed to failure because those leading it have failed to engage support at the highest level; the CEO, the board, the NEDs, the investors… According to experts, including Forbes and the Harvard Business Review, as many as 70 percent of projects will cease to exist before achieving all that they set out to do.
When it comes to people strategy, while there are no official figures, I would bet that even more fall flat before they even reach the door of the boardroom. Because, if you don’t have a people-centric CEO / MD / Owner then you only really have one shot at engaging them in your journey.
And this you simply cannot afford to mess up by being ill prepared, unclear or fluffy. Which unfortunately has been the downfall of too many HR directors, who now find themselves up to their eyeballs in operational HR, while their inspirational and transformational people strategy gathers dust in a corner.
Always start with the ‘why’
In my experience, and not only with HR professionals, the starting point in the presentation tends to be the ‘What’ (strategy) and the ‘How’ (tactics) without clearly setting out the context. As a result, colleagues become excited in the short-term, yet that enthusiasm soon peters out, people move on and before you know it, your strategy has lost the support of the board.
Instead, the start point should always be the ‘why’, which of course is aligned with your culture and values, which any good business proposition should be based upon. Ensuring culture and values are clear and embedded is essential for delivering everything you do. It impacts customer service, productivity, profitability…
So ask yourself – do you have a clear set of values? Do you, and your fellow leaders, know and fully embrace what your organisation stands for? Are your colleagues sure about what they need to deliver, how they’ll do that and what it looks like when they’re achieving it?
If the answer to any of these points is no, then there is groundwork to do before putting your people strategy to the board for approval (unless, of course, your strategy is about building a strong culture and values…)
Embedding values across the organisation
Do you remember when the lengthy mission statement took pride of place on a shiny plaque in reception? There for all to see though very few could actually remember it, let alone tell you what it meant to them.
While pride of the mission statement is a positive, the communication around it has become more important. Long mission and vision statements that no one, not even the CEO, can remember are a really bad idea.
In a world of fast and furious information flow, it’s about short, clear and simple messages. I like to recommend a 140-character tweet-sized limit because missions and values should be simple enough to remember so they can be properly and easily embedded. This exercise isn’t easy, and nor should it be, so bring in some expertise to help you work through the options. Though give them a word limit too because sometimes even the experts overcomplicate the process too!
There is a school of thought which encourages you to involve people at all levels to help define your mission and values. I get that inclusivity is key, though consulting everyone is going to take a really long time and the strong ‘essence’ of what you are will become diluted. If you want to move fast (and in today’s business, you need to) you can’t afford to make every decision by consensus. Therefore, let the board determine these (facilitated by you as the people lead), factoring in any aspects you’ve felt the need to pre-gather opinion on. Then communicate really well; involving people in the execution by working with them to understand how they’ll personally deliver. This gains real buy-in.
Presenting to the board
So now you have the context to your strategy; it’s time to engage the leadership team. Remember money talks. So before even walking into the boardroom do the numbers; you have to be able to prove your business case as you would any other discipline within an organisation. Your sales director didn’t get sign off for that expensive new database without illustrating the business benefits it will bring.
Always, always keep it simple – your goal it to excite, engage and enthuse your fellow directors / colleagues / boss / board in a strategic discussion; not bore them to death with all of the detail. You need to keep this in the background so you can answer their questions and compellingly handle their objections though.
Use their language. That doesn’t mean you need to avoid being authentic to who you are, but engaging at their level. If they’re goal-focused; talk about the outcomes and leave the detail to later. If it’s visuals that float their boats, use images to create a picture, use stories, case studies and examples.
Finally, be business-savvy in your approach. Know your stuff not just from an HR perspective but from a wider business context. Be confident and to the point. If you’ve done your homework, then the only potential weak links are your own confidence and self-belief…
Following a successful corporate career, Jane spent a number of years as Managing Director of a specialist recruitment company, which she co-founded. Having realised that if someone could help companies to become a great place to work, there wouldn’t be such a crisis over ‘the talent war’. In September 2001, she formed learnpurple which, in line with expansion, rebranded as Purple Cubed, early in 2013.
Jane is a published, best-selling author having written 'Purple your People: the secrets to inspired, happy, more profitable people' (Crimson) in 2001, following up with ‘It's Never OK to Kiss The Interviewer - and other secrets to surviving, thriving and high-fiving at work' (LID) in 2013. In 2014 she was chosen from over 1600 authors to contribute to '20/20 – 20 great lists by 20 outstanding business thinkers’. Her latest book ‘The People Formula: 12 steps to productive, profitable, performing business’ (Humm Publishing) was release in April 2016; answering Deloitte’s calls for a new HR playbook. Jane’s writing is practical and common sense with stories and examples that clearly show how various tools and techniques can be applied to achieve results.
In addition to writing and acting as Purple Cubed’s chairman, Jane is a non-executive director and has been instrumental in the success of several high profile employment projects. She is the current president of HR in Hospitality, a panel member of the Economist Intelligence Unit, a visiting fellow at two UK Universities and is listed as one of the top 100 most influential women in the hospitality, travel, tourism and transport sectors.