As the pandemic recedes (or at least as we begin to learn to live with it), HR needs to make sure that old habits and assumptions don’t creep back in, and that the profession maintains its recently elevated status and profile.
So what can HR practitioners do to increase their influence and improve their presence and impact?
The following tips, drawn from Hult International Business School’s executive education platform Leadership Live, provide some inspiration and practical advice.
1. Be patient
Patience is a real virtue where influencing is concerned. Most of us must influence people who we interact with on a day-to-day basis and therefore every interaction is part of the influencing process. Think of influencing as a process, not as an event. Your proposal to introduce a new HR software system may not land straight away – but over time, you could gradually persuade people of the benefits.
2. Use active listening
Active listening is about understanding where other people are coming from. This technique could come in useful when dealing with a union or employee representative. Make sure you listen carefully for what may be behind an objection or an issue. It’s about both what
is being said and not said.
3. Be flexible
We all have our own influencing style, and we all have a comfort zone. But not every style will suit every influencing situation. If you’re trying to win over board members to invest in expanding the employee wellbeing programme, some may be persuaded by the facts and figures, while others will want to see the bigger picture.
4. Build, link and develop ideas with other people
This will help you link to other people more successfully and gain their commitment. People are much more likely to buy into what it is you are influencing about when they feel that they are contributing to your ideas. If you are planning to revamp the performance management system, for example, make sure you involve the managers and employees who will be implementing or on the receiving end of it.
5. Show you understand other’s ideas or feelings
Demonstrating that you understand other people’s ideas or emotional reactions to an issue can help you engage more effectively. If you are trying to mediate between a manager and a direct report who have fallen out, for example, showing empathy and making it clear you understand the impact of the disagreement can go a long way.
6. Test your understanding of other people’s perspectives
Showing individuals that you have understood their perspective creates a psychological connection and reassures people you have listened. If a manager is resisting hybrid working, for example, and insisting their team come into the office every day, they are more likely to co-operate if they feel you have at least understood their objections or concerns.
7. Express yourself fluently
You must be able to get your ideas across in an effective and organised way. If you are presenting to the board, prepare well and make sure you are fully comfortable with the stats about headcount and the salary bill, and able to answer any questions. It’s about being fluent in the way you project your ideas and the evidence you provide.
8. Energy and enthusiasm are vital
If you can’t show energy, enthusiasm and passion for your idea, you can’t expect other people to buy into it. This can be a challenge when you must influence people about things that you don’t wholly agree with (the extent of a restructuring or redundancy programme, for example). In these cases, find some benefit to the idea to demonstrate that energy.
9. Be aware of unextinguished fires Unextinguished fires refer to situations where people are left doubting. When you are having to influence others, you may leave some people with slight doubts. If people have doubts, they can start to sow seeds of doubt with others, which can reignite the fire or lead to more questions about your influencing issue.
10. Plan and prepare Be forensic in the way you think about the people you influence. What is it that will make them want to buy into your ideas? How do they like to be influenced? This is where having a strong internal network and deep knowledge about the operations of the organisation pays off for HR. If you really understand how the business works, and what challenges managers are facing on the ground, it will be easier to step into their shoes.
Nadine Page is associate dean of research & DBA at Hult International Business School