How HR can cut through ambiguity and make progress

make progress

HR is often a frustrating place to be these days. New initiatives that would take the business forward get stalled because another reorganisation is on the cards and no-one is quite sure what’s happening.

Technology that would help people work more efficiently doesn’t get signed off because budgets are tight and future business needs are uncertain. It can sometimes feel like you’re wading through treacle and that progress of any kind is practically impossible.

CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese acknowledged this challenge in his opening address to the recent annual conference, urging practitioners to find ways to avoid getting “paralysed by uncertainty.” This is perhaps easier said than done in an environment where ambiguity and complexity rule.

But there are some practical steps HR people can take to keep things moving in the right direction.

1. Work with what’s in your control

When change is happening all around you, it can be difficult to find ways of moving forward. Even though much of what’s happening may be outside your sphere of influence, there will be some elements of change that are within your control.

You may not be able to get the board’s agreement for a comprehensive employee engagement programme because they’re worried it will be in-congruent at a time when there’s some question over jobs. But maybe you could work with managers to help them understand how best to motivate their teams and keep people engaged at a time of uncertainty.

Focus on areas where you can have an influence rather than worrying about those where you can’t. Be ambitious about where you can make a difference – there is often more within our control than we might think.

2. Take small steps

Breaking projects down into small manageable chunks can sometimes help you to make progress.

The Finance Director may be resisting signing off on a new HR software system because the business hasn’t met its targets this quarter and the market is looking unstable for the year ahead. Getting an all-singing, all-dancing system may be a lost cause right now.

Instead, perhaps you could make the case for bringing in just a core module to track training and development and skills shortages. Be realistic about what you can achieve and accept that some progress is better than none.

Modern systems like Cezanne HR allow you to grow your system to fit your organisation’s needs as they change. You could add Absences or Performance to get more our of your core data-collecting system.

3. Get people on your side

The leadership team will come up with all sorts of reasons for blocking your initiatives. “There’s no budget,” “it’s not a business priority,” “it’s not worth it because we’re restructuring.”

Often, the real reason people are putting up barriers is because they don’t really understand the business benefits or ‘what’s in it for them.’

Put together a compelling story that explains the rationale for what you are trying to do. Back it up with a strong business case that shows clearly how the initiative will help the business navigate uncertainty while saving money at the same time. Dig deep to make sure you really understand the reasons why people are reluctant to commit.

4. Keep an open mind

If you’ve done everything you can and your pet project still isn’t getting through, it’s easy to just give up on the idea altogether. But take a step back for a moment and ask yourself if there might be another way.

If your training and development plan has been rejected as being too expensive and taking up too much valuable employee time, think about alternative options. Could you manage some of the training internally rather than using external providers? Are there free or low-cost learning resources online that could meet some of the company’s needs? Is there potential to hook up with other businesses so that you can share costs?

Make sure you have not become so wedded to one idea that you are failing to explore other options.

5. Work with resistance

It’s easy to get upset or offended if people reject our ideas. But if someone is pushing back on an initiative what they are actually doing is demonstrating an interest in what’s going to be best for the business.

Re-frame the situation and use people’s objections to starting a conversation about what might work. Senior management may be reluctant to introduce a new approach to performance management because they are planning a restructure and reporting lines may change.

An open and constructive conversation might help them see that a more consistent approach to appraisals could actually help them identify people who have the skills to play a key role in the new structure going forward. If you meet objections with curiosity rather than hostility, it can often help to overcome some of the barriers you are facing.

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