Are your people processes enabling employees to work to their potential? Are HR initiatives making a measurable difference to the bottom line?

These are some of the questions that will be tackled by speakers at next week’s CIPD conference, where the overall theme is ‘high impact HR’.

We will be sharing some of the thoughts and ideas that come out of the conference over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you’re an HR professional (or the person in the business with responsibility for HR) here are five steps you can take to improve your impact:

Get your business head on

According to Henley Business School’s Centre for HR Excellence, effective HR professionals should see themselves “primarily as business people who happen to work in HR”. Henley’s research indicates that CEOs want HR people who understand the business’ challenges and can operate at strategic level as part of the leadership team. Lack of commercial nous is a criticism that’s frequently levelled – fairly or unfairly – at HR people. If they are to improve their influence at senior level, they need to demonstrate a deep understanding of the market the business is operating in, the direction it’s heading in, and the future challenges it will face. Only then can they come up with the people strategies that will make a real impact.

Be part of the team

In the latest issue of People Management magazine, Esther O’Halloran reveals how when she first stepped into the HR Director role at patisserie and coffee chain Paul, she donned her white safety shoes and ventured into the kitchen, even though it meant visiting bakers working shifts that finished at 3am. HR people can only really make a difference if they understand what’s happening on the front-line of the business. It’s about talking to line managers, finding out what their real challenges are, and how HR can support them in getting the best out of their teams; it’s about getting a sense of what it’s really like for employees at sharp end, and using their input and ideas to organise work in the best possible way and engage people more effectively. The people who are out there doing the work are often the ones who know how the job can be done more effectively.

Be an enabler not a gatekeeper

HR is often seen as the department that stops people doing things rather than the department that helps them do things better. Policies and procedures are of course important, but HR people need to make sure the ‘rules’ are helping the company achieve its objectives, and not getting in the way. Taking a balanced approach is important, and that’s often best achieved by talking to others in the business. Is a social media policy necessary, or can you work on trust? Do employees really understand what’s driving your health and safety policy, or is there a better way of articulating it? Good relationships with line managers across the business can also help nip niggling problems in the bud before they become big issues that can cause the company untold trouble and expense.

Get to grips with technology

Technology can support an increased strategic role for HR in two ways: first by automating many routine activities, like calculating absence entitlements, or chasing up overdue holiday approvals or performance reviews, therefore reducing the administrative burden on HR practitioners (and often line managers and employees too) and freeing time to focus on more value-added activities; and second by providing the data needed for accurate and reliable HR decision-making.

I was taken by a visual that turned up on LinkedIn this week. Big data, it said, is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, and everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it. Unless you’ve a large number of employees, many of the tools and techniques available are going to have limited relevance – for statistical reasons if nothing else. However, many of today’s modern HR system include built-in analytics that make it easier to see data that can be used to drive key business decisions.

Ramp up HR communication

I was at an event last week where the subject of HR communications was hotly debated. The consensus was that HR people are often doing great things, but not communicating them to people effectively. So the business may have a great flexible working policy, for example, but line managers don’t really understand how to put it into the practice or how they can use it to create a win-win situation for the employee and the organisation; or they may offer a fantastic range of benefits, but because employees don’t fully understand what’s on offer or appreciate the value of it, they moan that they are not appropriately rewarded, get itchy feet and start to look elsewhere. If HR people want to make sure their initiatives really land with people, they need to work much more closely with marketing and communications teams to make sure they are getting the message out there and communicating with people in a way that resonates.

You may be interested in reading: Key questions HR should be asking

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.