Getting senior management buy-in to HR software can be a challenge. There’s often the perception that HR technology will be expensive and complicated to implement – and won’t make enough of a difference to justify the investment in time and money. Practitioners who need to get the business on board will have to make full use of their influencing skills.

So if an HR system with employee self-service is top of your wish list this year, what can you do to improve your chances of getting the go-ahead?

Recognise that it’s your responsibility to sell – and not their responsibility to buy

It’s easy to assume that just because we know that an HR system will help the company achieve its objectives in a myriad of different ways, everyone will agree. They won’t, especially if they’ve experienced painful or unsuccessful IT projects in the past. You need to spell out exactly what the system will help the business achieve, why you are confident it will be successful (and how you might measure that success), and be prepared to answer objections. Think beforehand about the questions you may be asked and how you will answer them. Get support ahead of time from influential line managers and the IT team.

Aim for win-win

In an ideal world, the senior management team would be fully convinced of the benefits of a new HR system, and would give you their full and enthusiastic support. The reality, however, can often be rather different. Try and aim for a win-win situation by linking your objectives with the business objectives. If the board has expressed a need for more accurate data on headcount and skills gaps, for example, explain how the system will produce that information while also giving you time to support a more strategic approach to talent management. Know where you are able or prepared to compromise. If you can get sign off for an HR system that helps you manage core people processes like absence and annual leave now, you can update to a more sophisticated version later on when everyone has had a chance to see the benefits.

Consider how the decision “feels” to them

Emotion has a major role to play in buying decisions – even when it’s for the business. A study from The Fortune Knowledge Group and gyro found that while the majority of senior business executives believed that data is an important tool when making business decisions, it is subjective factors that truly play the pivotal role.  A recent Star Consultancy survey reached a similar conclusion – and found that trusting your gut when it comes to making business decisions led to a successful outcome three quarters of the time.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t need to make the business case; every organisation has limited resources, time and energy, and logic has an important role to play. However you do need to find a way to connect at an emotional and trust level too. One means of doing this could be to include third party white papers or case studies as part of your pitch – or even involve the vendor in helping you showcase the software. That way senior managers can connect directly with the supplier, and ask the kind of questions they need to establish trust.

Listen – and learn!

Research suggests that most of us listen at less than 30 per cent efficiency. Make sure you give the person you are talking to your full attention and avoid interrupting in your enthusiasm to get your point across. Listen for what is not being said as well as what is being said – often non-verbal clues can help you tune in to what the other person is really thinking and feeling. Clarify and reflect back to make sure you have understood correctly if any questions or objections to your plans are raised. Ensure you practice what Mark Goulston and John Ullmen refer to in their Harvard Business Review piece as “connective listening” – listening into what other people are really thinking. This includes resisting the urge to defend or explain yourself, or offer quick fixes, as well as asking questions that seek to probe what they’re thinking, such as “what’s the best thing about that?”

Build rapport

You may already know the person you are trying to win over well – but if you are dealing with someone you don’t work with regularly, you need to find ways to quickly build rapport and establish trust. Try and find out how the other person likes to communicate and make decisions. Do they want the facts, figures and full detail, or will their eyes glaze over if you launch into a formal presentation? What are their challenges and where might you be able to find areas of common ground? Ensure you explain yourself clearly and simply and avoid IT ‘jargon’. It’s no good talking about dashboards and portals if the person on the receiving end is not familiar with technology speak and has no idea what you mean.

Watch your body language

Most of us are aware of the basics of good body language (maintain eye contact, avoid crossing your arms defensively across your body and don’t fidget!). But research has shown that if we are to deliver a message effectively, there has to be congruence between what was said, how it was said and what was seen. In other words, if you are not confident in what you are saying, it will show through in your tone of voice, body language and facial expression and your message will lose credibility. For the best chance of success, make sure you demonstrate enthusiasm for your proposals well as having your argument straight.

However, this is easier said than done, and it’s all too easy to forget about posture when you have a lot of other things to think about – as you inevitably will with any important pitch. But, as social psychologist and business professor Amy Cuddy points out in her popular TED talk, getting your body language right is just as important, if not more, than your verbal language. An excellent example of this is the research that Cuddy refers to in her talk, which found that 70% of U.S. Senate race outcomes can be predicted by a one second judgement of the candidates’ faces.


One action to take this week: Read  up on influencing skills. Try ‘The Leaders Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’ by Fiona Brent and Mike Dent.

You may be interested in reading about how technology can make you a better HR business partner

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