People are central to the success of every company. But HR departments often have a hard time selling people-focused initiatives to leadership, who think more in concrete terms of profits and losses than the intangible concepts of employee satisfaction and workplace happiness.
And unfortunately, many business leaders mainly associate their HR departments with hiring, firing, payroll and compliance issues — not as a source of transformational ideas that increase profitability.
Yet, HR initiatives play an increasingly critical role in business. Think workforce recruitment, succession planning, cultural alignment and employee training. All these efforts help attract and retain the talented workers companies need to thrive in today’s competitive market.
So how can HR leaders deliver a persuasive presentation to the C-suite? They need to learn to speak the language of leadership, and back it up with a compelling business case. Here’s how.
1. Get inside the executive mind
HR departments talk about people. Business leaders think in terms of human capital. And more often than not, human capital is the most expensive line item in their budget. Maximizing their return on investment is key. Goal achievement, profitability, investor goals and, in some cases, increasing shareholder value are top of mind for executives.
2. Link to company goals
For an HR initiative to have any chance at success, it must tie directly to the company’s business goals. For example, if you want support for an employee satisfaction initiative, don’t talk about the need for increasing happiness. Instead, tell them about how unhappy employees can lead to the high cost of turnover and loss of business productivity.
3. Keep money in mind
Every successful HR project proposal has a dollar sign attached to it. When building your business case, include the risk of not implementing the initiative, the cost of implementation, and how you will offset that cost. A common HR mistake is not accounting for the time employees will need to devote to the initiative. Offer a good estimate, and explain how the time commitment will be a good investment.
4. Avoid HR jargon
C-level executives support people-focused initiatives when they can see how they will translate into growth and success for their companies. But HR jargon doesn’t always resonate with business leadership.
Here are some common terms to avoid:
- Professional development makes business leaders think of how their employees can use the professional skills they gained to get hired at another company.
- Enrichment is usually essential to increased employee satisfaction — a valid objective, but not one that directly links to a business goal.
- Engagement describes the emotional attachment employees feel toward their job and workplace. It’s an important aspect of retaining employees, but it shouldn’t be the focal point of your business case.
5. Do your research
Do some digging to find out your company’s top priorities, and align your initiative to them. Survey others in your company and colleagues in similar industries for their input.
What obstacles may be in the way of the initiative? Have projects like this been tried before? Did they work? Why or why not? There’s nothing worse than making your pitch only to have them say, “Oh we tried that back in ’03. It didn’t work then; it’s not going to work now.”
6. Be succinct
Time is money for busy business leaders, so keep your business case short and to the point. The problem, solution and a few supportive bullet points making your case, is generally all you need. Be sure to include the following:
- A few relevant data points to support your case — If they want more detail, you can provide them with more information. Don’t overwhelm them with data, inform them with analysis
- Details on how the initiative will make or save them money — For example, an initiative that helps ease the culture transition involved in a merger will save money in lost productivity.
7. Know your audience
Take some time to learn the personalities and communication styles of the people sitting in on your presentation. Some leaders love a good conversation and plenty of details, while others just want facts. Target your presentation accordingly.
8. Make your case
Again, short and sweet is best. State the problem, introduce your initiative, and then give a concrete example of how it will impact the business. That’s it! If you present your HR initiative clearly, and directly link it to your company’s goals, you have a good shot at success. And in the process, you’ll establish yourself as an essential contributor to company strategy.
Find out more HR dos and don’ts in our free e-book, 7 most frequent HR mistakes and how to avoid them.