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Campaigning for HR

How to get recognized for the value you bring to an organization

By Elaine Varelas, 11/05/2007

It's election month, and the question you're most likely to hear from friends, pundits, and pollsters is, "Who are you voting for?" But when it comes to your career in HR, a more appropriate question may be, "Who at your organization is voting for you?"

As with any campaign, it helps to have a base of support. Do you have colleagues within your organization who believe in you and the expertise you bring to your position? In many areas, including politics, image is everything. What is your image at the company? People's view of human resources is often tied to their experiences. If they associate HR with paperwork, attendance records, and benefits packages, they will not think of an HR manager as having a strategic business role in the company. How does your leadership team view human resources? Does leadership view you as a key contributor?

It's possible that your colleagues or the management team has an outdated perception of human resources. They think of an HR manager as "nice" or "soft" or "easy to talk to." While these are admirable qualities, they aren't typically associated with a business person who is concerned with strategy and the bottom line. Not only does this perception short-change an HR manager, it deprives an organization access to a business partner dealing with the most important resource a company has: its people.

What can HR managers do to change these perceptions? How can they move the role of HR manager out of the personnel office and into the C-suite to gain a spot at the leadership table?

One way is to address the company's business issues from an HR perspective. What are the organization's biggest challenges in the short- and long-term? A company's leadership team often asks three big questions when developing a business strategy, "Where are we?" "Where do we want to go?" and "How do we get there?" The HR manager can help tackle these questions by addressing the talent implications. What will the organization need in terms of employees going forward? What are the strategies for recruiting these people, and how can we retain the staff we have? How can talent management strategies help the organization achieve its business goals?

HR managers might also want to think about asking themselves the three big questions as they apply to their role in the organization. "Where am I?" "Where do I want to be?" and "How do I get there?" In other words, what is the perception of my role now? What do I want it to be? How do I get there? Answering these questions will help HR managers devise a plan to position themselves as a strategic business partner. Here are some ways to achieve this goal:

  • Hang with the "in crowd" – It's difficult to change people's opinion of you if they don't know you. Think like a political candidate and schedule "meet and greets." Make yourself known to the decision-makers in the company. Ask for meetings with chief officers to see how you can partner to address their business challenges. Expose leadership and other managers to your abilities by applying your expertise to help them with an issue in their department. Change perceptions by exposing them to your business savvy.
  • Recruit influential people to join your campaign – Endorsements from high-profile people are a coup in any campaign. Prove your value to prominent company leaders; most often they will suggest others look to you for solutions.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff – You don't often see candidates stuffing envelopes or making cold calls, but HR managers can often be found doing menial tasks. Human resources can often be broken down into two distinct categories: operational/tactical and strategy/planning. Differentiate between HR roles and distance yourself from the operational tasks. You'll still be a team player if you stay involved in planning and strategy and delegate the rest.
  • Show them the money – Candidates for office often soar in popularity when they talk about saving taxpayers money. The most definitive way to show the value of HR is to quantify results-numbers don't lie. Unfortunately, HR functions are often difficult to measure because they can be arbitrary. But there are ways to show value that aren't expensive or time-consuming.

For instance, take a look at the entire organization's performance plan. Is it successful? If so, how does HR support it? Part of showing your value may be in articulating your role in the company's success. Many times we take for granted that leadership recognizes what we do for the company. Don't make that mistake. Be able to capture the part you played in accomplishing the business goals, and be able to communicate that value - ideally, quantitatively as well as qualitatively - to leadership.

If you are a candidate running for office, you are always campaigning, building support, and making connections - which is an ideal way to advance your career. During this election season, think about approaching your job like a candidate and you just may win the "job" election.

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