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Here’s how strategic HR leaders get their pitches over the finish line

Adam Weber, 15Five
Adam Weberhttps://www.15five.com/
Adam Weber is chief evangelist at 15Five, a strategic performance management platform. He is the author of Amazon best-seller "Lead Like a Human,” host of the HR Superstars podcast and a nationally recognized author, speaker and commentator on strategic HR.

This is the third installment in a five-part series examining the secrets of the top 5% of HR leaders. Part one can be read here, and part two can be read here.  

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After having over 1,000 conversations with HR leaders over the past decade, I’ve heard the same story too many times: An HR leader is tasked with solving a problem. They come up with a solution and a plan they believe in. They pitch it to the very people who asked them to come up with a solution and yet are still blocked. It’s hard to quantify how many times I’ve heard this same struggle.

So, why does it happen?

There’s a formula for why HR gets blocked: It’s a combination of the function being viewed as a cost center and HR leaders presenting squishy ideas that aren’t backed by data. Combine that with little conviction and lack of preparedness for pushback, and you can see the dreaded “no” coming from a mile away.

Thankfully, there’s a better way—a new formula, if you will. With this approach, the HR leader is armed with three things before presenting an idea for executive buy-in:

  • Business context
  • Data to inform focus and action
  • Alignment with executives

But most importantly, when you get the chance to pitch your bold, innovative strategy …

Pitch like what you do matters—because it does

Have confidence and conviction in the ideas you put forth. To get there, do the prep, be ready for hard questions and get yourself into the right headspace so you’re ready to stand behind what you’re about to share.

For me, I do a light breathing exercise and a power pose in the mirror (don’t judge; it works!).

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And perhaps most importantly, be ready for that potential “no.”

Hear more from Weber about the secrets of the top 5% of strategic HR leaders in his session at HRE’s upcoming EPIC Conference, April 24-26 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

Executives scan for risk. If they sense a lack of confidence, they won’t buy in. In fact, many CFOs lead with a “no.” When that’s where your pitch lands, that is your moment to lean in and get clarity. Recommit to your idea. If, say, your company’s biggest HR issue is retention, for example, your retort could sound something like this:

“I’m very concerned that if we do nothing, we’re going to continue to bleed cash and have retention issues. Remember, retention is the biggest issue for the business. With the information and data I have, I believe this is the best decision for the company, and I ask you to trust me to execute. I will be quick to share back progress and metrics so we can iterate as a team. I’m confident this is worthwhile, and I’m strongly recommending we approve.”

This takes guts, but if you can back up your idea with data and if it’s rooted in the context of the broader business, executives will appreciate your persistence.

A formula for strategic HR success

Before accepting “no,” ask yourself:

  • Did I represent my idea fully?
  • Did I share my concerns about maintaining the status quo?
  • Did I try for a “yes” a second time?
  • Do I understand the business context for being rejected?

If you’re applying this approach consistently when you pitch new ideas and you continue to get blocked, perhaps this isn’t a place where your work and impact is valued. Assess your situation and make a judgment call. What you do matters, and you deserve to have your work valued.

So, give it a try. Show courage when pitching. Fight for a yes, or gain full context when receiving a no, and hopefully, you’ll be doing the bold, innovative people work you dreamed of when you first got into HR!

But even when you get that coveted “yes,” you can’t do it alone. In the fourth part of this series, I’ll talk about how to activate managers to operationalize your work.