HR professionals have never been better placed to contribute to top line growth, rather than simply cutting costs and reducing overheads. But to exert this influence on business performance, HR systems have to be embedded into the organisation’s strategy. This means more than alignment.

Becoming a strategic partner requires HR professionals to fully understand the skills and drivers required for success across the whole organisation – and how to influence them.

This article series explores how HR contributes to organisational strategy – and how to get buy-in to the initiatives that will drive the people agenda forward in 2018.


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Training and supporting line managers

Question: Line managers often talk about being overburdened, with time restraints among the biggest barriers to getting involved with new people initiatives. So how can HR train managers to deliver on things like talent and performance management?

Katy Downes, Senior Engagement Manager, Network Rail


Each stakeholder must be treated as an individual. Moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach will put HR in a better position to help managers with the delivery plan.

Start by mapping stakeholders. Work out what information is important to them and consider how to tailor your approach. This could be to the extent of saying: “Hello, Mr Manager. If you have five minutes, read this. If you have 10 minutes have a look at these slides. If you have half an hour, then here is some detailed information that will help you with the task we would like you to do, or that we think would help add value to your team, division or business.” We need to move away from the approach of handing over 50 slides and hoping for the best.

Paula Leach


A line manager’s job is difficult. Being all things to all people within a team in the same building is challenging enough, let alone playing the same role when the group is geographically dispersed. There are two key ways we can make their role simpler.

First, the systems and guidance we offer people must be intuitive, easy to digest and find. As great as our latest ‘How To’ document might look from our perspective, it might be difficult for a busy line manager to digest. For example, I was thrilled to discover where the IT department are located in office, as I was then able to physically take my computer and have a conversation with someone. This takes five minutes whereas before it would have taken an hour to work through the self-service system.

This also concerns the human touch. As HR professionals, we all understand this. We know that, when there is a really complex issue, a line manager needs some help and guidance – regardless how much training you have given them. The second way to support line managers is by upskilling them. When the Home Office changed its process around performance management last year, it packaged a huge amount of learning and engagement around it, on an ongoing basis. I see the need to continue to work with line managers as the long tail of the change. We have created a performance management intervention team. It’s a small team but it involves real people having conversations with line managers to help them work through some of the more complex issues.


Treat each stakeholder as an individual

Moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach will put HR in a better position to help managers with the delivery plan.

Support line managers by upskilling them

Make learning core to your performance management strategy, and continue working with line managers throughout the process.

Systems must be intuitive and accessible

As great as HR’s latest ‘How to guide’ might look, if it’s not in the right format, it’s useless to a busy line manager. Always produce materials with the consumer in mind.


Using analytics and measurement

Question: Are certain metrics – such as retention or revenue per employee – more important than others, or does it depend on the practitioner and business? 

Answer: Paula Leach, Chief People Officer, Home Office

This is a subject of continual dialogue among the HR community. The department has access to lots of data – as well as the aforementioned measures, there are engagement survey results, sickness absence and much more.

In some areas we can make a clear link between research data and productivity and outcomes. But people data alone lacks relevance. HR needs to create a story that connects the pieces of data to real business outcomes – whether it’s information on productivity, cost-cutting or investment. As HR continues to lean into the business agenda, one of the skill sets it needs is the ability to tell stories with data analytics.


Become a storyteller

Your metrics will fall on deaf ears if they don’t connect with business outcomes. Use the information to tell a story about the problem, with a start, middle and end.

Only measure the metrics that matter

HR is awash with data. If the information doesn’t link to business outcomes, it’s probably not worth your time.

How to demonstrate HR initiatives add value to business

Question: When attempting to secure buy-in for people initiatives, how can HR show the rest of the organisation that it will add real value to the business?

Answer: Katy Downes, Senior Engagement Manager, Network Rail

Quite often corporate initiatives are not as successful as they could be because they’re strung together with jargon and not communicated properly.

HR should work closely with the internal communications team to build strong relationships with colleagues across the organisation, ensuring the impact is felt from the start. This process involves greater collaboration and more input from a range of people – as opposed to a couple of people at the top thinking, “we are going to call it this”, and then choosing a word or phrase that doesn’t resonate with the whole organisation.

Answer: Paula Leach, Chief People Officer, Home Office

HR’s whole reason for being is about value creation. I use the model of HR work as a value chain, with the crux about being collective. It’s not about HR or line management doing something – it’s a collective and shared endeavour. And the department must use data and evidence to demonstrate value creation.

HR needs to show what problem it’s trying to solve or what outcome it’s trying to achieve. We can bring in professional expertise and design something that everyone is bought into, but we can’t go away alone and deliver something and then sell the value back in.

We have to baseline ourselves at the beginning from a data perspective. Then over a period of time we must be able to show how we’re progressing against our objectives and demonstrate the increased value. Some of that might be based on research evidence as well. Our hypothesis might be: “Based on research, we know this type of talent programme produces this kind of outcome. Therefore we are going to do this.”

When there is a need to grow people in their careers, HR often sets up a talent programme and assumes the work is done. But these schemes rarely show a measurable difference for their investment. HR professionals must rigorously push that agenda and understanding how to create and construct an ROI case for the business to buy into.


Avoid jargon

Work closely with the internal communications team, if possible. Otherwise, ensure your message is clear and understandable.

Be collaborative

It’s not about HR or line management – it’s a collective and shared endeavour.

Become evidence-based

Always start an initiative with data, and use research evidence where possible. This will enable you to clearly track your progress.


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Linking HR to overall business strategy

Question: How can HR ensure front line managers understand the importance of the people agenda to overall business strategy?

Answer: Paula Leach, Chief People Officer, Home Office

If there is a disconnect between frontline managers and the people agenda, then HR is not doing the right things. The value for us, as an HR community, is in making sure that what we are doing is meaningful in the context of every day delivery and the front line.

One of the interesting things I have experienced, both at the Home Office and in my previous role in manufacturing, is that success in this area means talking the language of line managers. Operational line managers have very clear deliverables and processes. Rather than having conversations about high level strategy, they essentially need to know how to enable every employee in their area to be as productive as possible. And there is a different level of conversation to be had at different levels of the organisation.

In the Home Office we have been discussing how we can think differently about the point of performance management. The whole point is that it’s about the performance of individuals in pursuit of productivity or efficiency or quality – or whatever the mix of objectives is. We need to remove as much of the process as possible, so that this becomes the output.

This is a good illustration of where some of our performance management processes have been over-burdensome for front line managers and have not increased productivity or performance.


Answer: Katy Downes, Senior Engagement Manager, Network Rail

Ultimately, when it comes to performance management, you want managers to feel confident about talking to people in their teams. You want them to pick up the conversations week in, week out, and as a result, there will be no surprises during the end-of-year review. If everyone is comfortable having these conversations, it will cease to be a scary, annual occurrence. Opening that dialogue is key.



Speak the line manager’s language

Learn their acronyms and share their problems. Once you demonstrate an understanding of the challenges, you’ll a) be better placed to address them and b) make the line manager listen.

Context is king

HR needs to make sure everything it’s doing is meaningful in the context of every day delivery and the front line.

Encourage feedback loops

In terms of performance management, if everyone is comfortable conversing on a regular basis, there will be no surprises during the end-of-year review.


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