Getting leadership buy-in for talent investment

When getting buy-in for its proposals, it is crucial that HR develops solid relationships with all its stakeholders.

One of the key conundrums of the role of an HR professional is the ability to work with your leadership team to invest in planning for the future of their people. Whilst this may seem like “common sense” to many who read this, the actual practice is extremely dependent on factors such as the prevailing organisational culture.

If you have a good relationship with your leadership team, then this makes securing the buy-in from your management team a whole lot easier, and subsequent dissemination and execution of your strategy smooth. But how does one begin this process? Here are some suggested ideas which have worked for me in the years I have been in the industry.

Understand the business and spend time with your client:

Understand their key performance indicators (KPIs), build relationships with your stakeholders, create value for your clients, and speak in their language (not HR “lingo”). In our increasingly digital world where the ease of electronic communication has sometimes overtaken the importance of the “relationship” building aspect of any good partnership -- the above can often be overlooked. We need to be able to create value whenever we can, and this can come back to help us when we come forth with the “big” ideas that require their backing!

Furthermore, not every decision is a purely factual one – the emotional currency you have accumulated will assist to either accelerate the decision to a “Yes”, or at least any objection you may face will come back to you more as a “suggestion” as opposed to an outright no!

In previous roles that I worked in, I made the effort to really spend time with the sales and marketing people (collectively and individually) to understand the nuances of what really works and the challenges they faced. This came back to me in a positive manner when the clients came directly to me whenever they had an issue to solve, and also provided potential solutions themselves for their issues. The relationship also allowed a more collaborative approach toward a solution!

Deliver the key outcomes, and quantify them:

Investment in people is a fine balancing act between business results, taking time off from work to ensure the talents get invested in, and thinking long-term. The results of any people investment needs to be clearly identified at the beginning of the solicitation process – is it skill development? Or is it talent engagement? Is it about building a pipeline? Or is it all of the above?

While this makes good and clear sense for you, your clients may need this presented to them in a different manner.  Some more forward-thinking leaders will easily agree with you. Others may need to see a financial equation to this. Knowing your clients’ main focus areas would help provide you with a potential avenue in to pitch your initiative.

I recall working with a senior leader who was really only interested in data (and by data I do not mean people data) in the early part of my career. I had to learn that speaking in the people language was not going to cut it for this client, and I just had to focus on the potential improvement/ efficiency data that the people development initiative was going to bring. I also had to ensure that the people who worked with him understood their collective role in making this happen, and in the end we came to a mutual agreement!

About the author

Mark Leong, APAC Head of the Leadership Academy at UBS University

Measuring return-on-investment (ROI):

What potentially could be the holy grail of development-related investment is quantifying them. And a lot of times, quantifiable outcomes would consist of a myriad of conditions, of which two critical components are line manager involvement/ support, as well as defining the outcomes to be measured.

In this sense, measuring ROI can be an extremely challenging process to undertake. To get any of the above to succeed – clarity of role (the business/ line manager/ HR), and clearly defined actions and outcomes before one begins is key to a mutually successful outcome.

Not all things can or need to have an ROI. If it does have to be measured, then perhaps you are working in the wrong organisation!

In our executive coaching assignments, we clearly define roles (coachee/ line manager/ executive coach/ HR) and outcomes and timeframes before we begin. We also track outcomes and post-coaching mitigation actions if required. In some of our other key talent offerings, we quantify outcomes financially where the participants work on a business-related project as part of their development. And in some other offerings, we measure ROI by a combination of level one feedback, business impact results, and retention rates of the key talent participant.

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