Prove Your Worth: Why HR Needs to Think More Like a Business

If being too nice is the biggest challenge facing the HR industry, not being business-minded enough about its own role is a close second. Along with attracting kind, helpful, conflict-avoidant mediator types, HR has a tendency to deliver a “be helpful, serve others, and don’t seek the spotlight” message as its core tenet. And once again, as with the attitude issue, it’s hard to point a finger and say anything negative. But the fact is, no matter how beneficial you are as an HR admin, you’ll end up sitting on the sidelines if you remain incapable of promoting the true value HR brings to your organization.

Awareness isn’t the issue; it’s obvious to those of us in HR that a successful Human Resources department provides clear bottom-line value. After all, if your organization can efficiently attract, hire, and retain top talent while minimizing overhead with a perfectly tailored benefits package, how could that be seen as anything other than valuable? Unfortunately, for an executive who may have spent most of his or her career working in the prehistoric, paper-form-dependent HR era, things aren’t as clear-cut. To them, culture is something that happens when you get the right people together and you buy a ping-pong table for the breakroom. Benefits are just programs you pick from a list. And successful talent acquisition and retention are the results of a good reputation, steady profitability, and a competitive—but not too generous—paycheck that keeps employees “hungry.” Notice: HR doesn’t show up anywhere in those reasons, and it never will until the industry and its people stand up and take credit where it’s due.

In order to take that credit, you have to be able to show and tell the great numbers that come from great HR practice. In the past, that would have meant spending countless hours compiling and analyzing your own research, then presenting it to a committee of stakeholders. It’s likely that cost/benefit analysis wasn’t a major element of your job description in the first place, not to mention drafting proposals or presenting to a boardroom full of executives. So on top of becoming an expert in finance, you would have had to brush up on your presentation skills—in your free time, of course.

But that was the past, and this is the future.

If we can look beyond increased efficiency and take a higher-level business perspective, the benefits of great HR software become even more obvious. A truly complete HRIS should offer you more than information storage and automation on the front end of your day-to-day task list. It should be able to track, analyze, and display the results of your work in a way that’s not only easy for an administrator to understand, but easy for anyone—whether that’s an executive or an entry-level employee—to comprehend as well.

At the same time, even the best HR software can’t deliver a proposal, read a room, or present an argument. We of all people should realize there is a critical human component, and it can only come from an awakening across the HR industry to the idea that, no matter how internally focused and human-centric the image of HR might be, it is still subject to the same rules for success as any other department. Nobody is going to give HR the tools, budget, and support it needs until HR is able to provide a clear reason for doing so. If that means rethinking HR from the ground up, so be it—because the result will change the perception of HR from “necessary expenditure” to “critical component” in the minds of outsiders. With more recognition comes more support, and that means you’ll be able to better serve your people.