The theme of this discussion was business case strategies for investing in employees. The Droste Group presented a summary of best practices HR leaders can use to sell an idea. These practices are based on the book The Art of Woo, by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa.

  1. Know and adjust to your audience
  2. Show estimated “Hard Return”, “Soft Return”, and “Value Captured”
  3. Gain support from other influential leaders
  4. Speak in business language – no “HR Speak”
  5. Sell the “idea” as much as the “ROI”
  6. Art of Woo model:
    1. Use evidence
    2. Make a plan to address the five barriers (unreceptive beliefs, conflicting interests, negative relationships, lack of credibility, and failing to adjust one’s communication mode to suit a particular audience or situation)
    3. Pitch your idea in a compelling way (define the problem, analyze the causes of the problem, present your answer, and argue the net benefits of your answer compared with alternatives)
    4. Secure both individual and organizational commitment
  7. Three common mistakes – egocentric bias, winging it, forgetting organizational politics

We then discussed best practices on how to sell an idea and the lessons learned. After 90 minutes of lively discussion and sharing, the major themes included:

Laying the foundation for change early

  • ‘Nip it in the bud’ – take the opportunity to lay out ideas and get constructive criticism, feedback, and gather information about any potential pushback prior to or early in the process
    • Introducing leadership development in one company we discussed took 6 months, just talking about concepts
  • ‘Rally your champions and supporters’ – the hard part is getting the initial audience but once you have the tipping point and leaders are bought in, you are able to gain support more easily
  • ‘Link it to operations’ – HR leaders should approach the change by asking, “What can we do to make your job easier?”
    • Focusing on activities that improve operations can make your recommendations more tempting
  • ‘Converts make the best champions!’ – Consider asking the biggest critic to be in charge of the project or to take on a critical role
    • Do everything you can to gain their support and others will follow
    • Make sure they feel valued and integral to the process but don’t let them take over

Create an ongoing process

  • Make key executives part of the decision-making process
    • When you involve leaders, they make the initiative their own.
  • We discussed a company that developed a Talent and Leader Development Advisory Board comprised of senior line leaders
    • By providing a shared partnership and a strong influence, the business case was developed in the room so HR didn’t need as much data to justify the program
  • Best practices help to draw a picture for leaders so they can visualize a result
  • Invite in external consultants and ask them to support your project
  • Create a process where HR is continuously asking executives what the “hot” HR issues are
    • Consider having a time at staff meetings dedicated to surfacing and discussing people issues

Use data wisely

  • Gather and use data
    • Benchmark data from the outside is important and best if we can tie the effort to a specific result
  • It is easy to get line leaders to agree if you have data that can connect the effort to improved customer experience
  • In one example, one of our partners used the HumanSigma model from Gallup
    • Based on benchmark data, they were able to apply this for a return that leaders viewed as a credible model
  • It can be very costly to collect data
    • It is important to understand what data you need and why you need it before starting the initiative
  • It is important to have an internal measurement system at launch
    • This system should be designed to measure and report the progress of the project throughout the process

The role of HR is changing

  • Over the last six months, ideas of investing in people have changed dramatically
    • What is important now are the initiatives that have immediate relevance for the business.
    • One example we discussed was to train employees in an emerging technology so they can up-sell a new product line
  • Using a participative process is much more effective but it requires a new leadership model
    • It is difficult to give up control over the decision and be open to criticism
    • When creating this model, HR still manages the process but uses multiple leaders to make the decision
    • It is important for HR executives to learn to govern without controlling ownership
  • HR’s strategic role is about defining the need, painting a vision for the end result, and creating the process used to get buy-in and decisions made
  • How the organization gets there should be a collaborative effort