While working with clients, those of us at Harmonic Systems Consulting (HSC) frequently hear HR professionals express concern over their inability to get leadership to “buy in” on HR sponsored ideas. When hearing this, we respond by asking the HR professional to think a bit differently about their approach. Instead of trying to promote a Human Resource Department idea, we recommend that the HR professional think in terms of crafting and presenting a proposal clearly supporting a component of organizational strategy.

Promoting new ideas, regardless of where (or who) they come from is difficult for most of us. We may be supremely competent in our area of expertise, but, when attempting to convince others of the value of a new idea, particularly when that new idea may be perceived as personally threatening by others, we struggle to overcome obstacles our daily responsibilities have not adequately prepared us for. To be effective in such cases we need to learn and apply new skills; skills related to both the “technical” side and “social” side of business.

HSC partners recommend HR professionals concentrate on four skill sets to improve their ability to promote their ideas. These are defined as:

1. Craftsmanship
2. Valuation
3. Alliance Building
4. Presentation

Skill #1 – Craftsmanship: Artfully design the idea to align with the strategic direction defined by leadership. The closer your idea matches organizational strategy, the more likely the value will be apparent to leadership, and the better it will fare against other ideas competing for resources.

Strategic initiatives may be quite technical in nature, focusing on specialized areas of expertise and/or mechanical processes. Many of these initiatives, however, will involve areas of the business directly related to the HR professional’s role and responsibilities, for example:
-The hiring, development and retention of people possessing competencies complementary to organizational strategy
-The development of compensation plans designed to improve organizational and personal engagement
-The design of both a physical and social organizational structure to facilitate process efficiency, the coordination of activity and harmonious cooperation between individuals
-The development of communication tools to monitor and convey progress towards achieving strategic goals

The point is to avoid pushing an idea

Don't be this guy....

Don’t be this guy….

—instead, let it be pulled by a strategic business objective. “Pushing” an idea usually doesn’t work.
Be like THIS guy....

Be like THIS guy….

You will want to use the “pull” method by attaching your idea to an organizational goal already established. If your idea does not match very well with an organizational goal, there is little reason to promote it.

Skill #2 – Valuation: Orchestrate the effort to “dollar-ize” your proposal. The commonly accepted business standard for evaluating an idea is its economic benefit. If you can quantify a benefit in dollars, (even if that benefit is simply an estimate) you are more likely to strengthen your case.

Estimating the benefit of a new idea in terms of dollars is difficult. It requires a clear understanding of current circumstances, judgments, probability analysis (sometimes guesses) and financial tools.

The actions you take when “dollarizing” your idea will almost certainly be subject to challenge. An unfriendly audience can undercut your efforts from the start by challenging your approach. The key to success is a clearly defined set of assumptions and a generally accepted approach to quantification. When attempting to assign a dollar value, therefore, don’t try to keep your idea a secret; get help from a financial professional in your organization. Financial people have experience doing this sort of modeling, and generally have earned a reputation for caution and prudence. When you deliver a proposal that includes a cost-benefit analysis supported by Finance, you will have gained credibility, and probably an ally.

Skill #3 – Alliance Building: Build a harmonious team to evaluate the merits of your idea before presenting it to leadership. Many times an HR professional will feel too strongly about an idea being prompted to be truly objective. Organizational resistance or skepticism may be taken personally, damaging both the HR professional’s sense of self-esteem and the idea’s chance for acceptance.

If your idea has merit, other people will be able to see it. If others can’t see it, maybe your idea is not fully consistent with organizational strategy and should be revised or abandoned. Assuming you have a compelling idea that others can accept, perhaps with some tweaking, use their help. Decisions are usually made in organizations by an evolving informal consensus, coupled with the assent of the senior leadership. It is important for the HR professional to understand how this works and what can do to increase the odds of your idea being accepted:

First, become project manager of your idea and its acceptance. Accept personal responsibility for all of the planning, promotion, education, communication, politicking and other activities required for an idea to gain acceptance in an organization.

Second, make alliances with key managers and peers:
-Ask for help. Approach them by articulating how your proposal will help them personally. Ask for help in planning to get appropriate approvals. Who needs to consent to this? How can we approach them? If we need to give a formal presentation, who should we invite? What are their needs and concerns?
-Seek a management sponsor, someone who will agree to provide resources to open doors to other managers once your idea is sufficiently developed.
With your allies, build or strengthen the business case and the financial return on investment.

Skill #4 – Presentation: Stage a performance to present the idea as an execution step towards realizing the goals defined in the organizational strategy. A successful presentation of your idea in the form of a proposal to leadership will be similar to a stage performance in many ways. You will need a carefully composed script, probably edited many times by you and your alliance partners. You will have rehearsed your presentation thoroughly, anticipating and preparing for the critics’ response. You will clearly develop the character of your proposal as financially supporting organizational strategy. Finally, as you deliver your performance, you will see heads in the audience starting to nod in a positive fashion.

Generally speaking, the effort to “push” a new idea through an organization all too often ends in failure because of the natural human resistance to forced change. It is almost always better to have a new idea pulled through the organizational approval process by attaching it to a component of defined organizational strategy.

In order to successfully promote new ideas to leadership, HR professionals sometimes need to develop skills different from, but complimentary to, their core personal competencies; skills related to both the “technical” and “social” sides of business. As defined by HSC, these skills include the crafting of the idea into a message supporting organizational strategy; proficiency in defining the financial value of the idea; the capability to build an alliance to critique, support and translate the idea into a proposal and the ability to deliver the proposal to leadership in a thorough and convincing manner.

The development of such a skill set is an act worth clapping for.

This Blog is based upon observations originally recorded by Brien Palmer, a founding partner in Harmonic Systems Consulting.