Not another retention article: How to get stuff done in HR

Oliver JM, Head of Content · 19 Jul

“Whoops – I shouldn’t be saying that in front of HR!”

Those words, marinated in humour and suspicion, are ones any leader of a people function has heard so many times before. It’s frustrating. It's unfair. (Can we go as far as to say maddening? Yes, let’s.) It's maddening. But benevolent people leader, it’s not their fault.

There was a time when HR (or personnel, eurgh) was largely focussed on corporate admin, disciplinaries and the odd firing. So those perceptions are a hangover from that, kind of like how no sane person has worn a cloak since 1660, yet we have no choice but to use cloakrooms. For the same reasons, the other line we hear – ‘Whoop, that's an HR issue!’ – will probably continue to be bandied about when office banter is running dry for many years to come.

But that doesn't matter, courageous, magnanimous leader of people; we’re moving onto bigger and better things.

HR needs a rebrand

As Lucy Mack, People Director at Yieldify, recently said in a barnstorming presentation at Perkbox HQ: “People leaders need to change these internal perceptions." That’s why we believe HR needs a rebrand.

Popular search engine Google agrees:

Google HR


But Christ alive don’t worry. This doesn’t mean overhauling your role or wardrobe. It doesn’t mean giving up entirely on reducing absenteeism, retention – or whatever your Q3 goals are. It means showing your company that you are a strategic function with the power to get shit done.

HR is just so damn important right now

Ultimately you do your job to get by – to support a family, fund your hobbies, go on holiday, that kind of thing. But HR is pretty unique in that your role can be judged, roughly speaking, on the success of all the people keeping your business ticking over. In a world where tenures are shortening and worker rights are fraying, HR has probably never been so important. 

HR's scope goes so, so far beyond retention. Or attraction, or ‘engagement’, for that matter. It’s something deeper. More profound than a number (and the act of that number increasing or decreasing).

Forget about your employees

Just for a moment. To improve the employee experience, first you need to convince those with a seat at the table to forward your initiatives. You need to talk the language of the exec team. So let’s hone in on these reservoir dogs and examine their teeth. One by one.

Alongside you in this meeting are the VP of Sales, Marketing Director, IT director, Operations Lead, FD, and the CEO. It’s a real storm of acronyms and egos. While they’re all very important (they make the decisions and get paid lots of money) it’s only really the last two you need to appeal to.

Convince the CEO

All of the others are essentially trying to play to the FD and the CEO too. And what do these people care about? The bottom line. Profit and loss. That’s it. So how do you appeal to them?

You show them you can improve company performance.

“Hey, retention, wellbeing and engagement do affect the bottom line!” you so, so rightly and clearly point out. But they’re once removed. It's like our Marketing Director trying to get the CEO excited about lead generation, or the IT guy banging on about outdated systems. Before you know it there’s 12 really important problems on the table and all the CEO and FD can think is how to bring it back to the bottom line.

You need to cut through that noise and put your ideas forward in a context that they can relate to.

So when you want to buy some HR tech, or whatever it is you might want to do, don’t talk about its eventual effect on “voluntary attrition”, make the case for its effect on performance.

Okay, remember your employees again

Your next question: "But how, for God's sake?" (Again, fair point. Valid, exacting.)

This is where your people come into it: ask your employees. Ask them what they believe would make them perform better. Fill up their calendars with informal one-to-ones, follow them into the lift, pin them up against the wall. Alternatively launch a pulse survey.

Pulse survey

Cross reference what they say against more questions that will measure performance over time.

If your pulse survey demonstrates that a key driver of performance – say access to L&D budgets, for example – is holding your people up, then you’re already armed with evidence to get the CEO’s attention.

If you want to get things done, think less about retention and more about the bottom line. Use evidence to smack the budget-holder in the face with your idea, and then get your wellness initiative over the line. Create your initiative for your people, but present the plan in a way a numbers obsessive will understand.

That’s how you forge a strategic partnership.

And how you'll improve retention.

And create employee fulfilment.

And get a promotion.

And have nicer holidays. 

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