How to improve HR's reputation at your organization in 4 steps
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
Today, 48% of employees are indifferent about HR—and 18% believe the function actively detracts from their overall experience at work. That indifference (or outright dislike) impacts HR’s ability to be effective. But how do you change a reputation that’s likely been years or even decades in the making?
For Adriana Bokel Herde, this change is a core component of a successful HR transformation. Currently serving as Chief People Officer at Pegasystems, a software company specializing in customer engagement, Adriana has spent more than 20 years helping companies around the world—including PeopleDoc—to rethink their approach to HR. In that time, she’s learned a thing or two about how the function is perceived—and how to change that perception.
In a recent episode of the HR Leaders podcast, Adriana discussed ways that HR can improve HR’s reputation with the business and foster a more productive relationship with employees and leaders alike. Here are four steps she recommends.
1. Rebrand HR to shake off any negative perceptions
Unfortunately, the term HR carries a lot of baggage these days. People associate it with paperwork, processes, and rules—not their day-to-day experiences at work. In the minds of employees, the human has gone out of human resources.
That’s why Adriana is a huge advocate for scrapping the term HR altogether. When she was offered the job of CHRO at PeopleDoc, she pushed back—asking to be Chief People Officer instead. She requested a similar title change when she joined Pegasystems.
“I am a true believer that if you are trying to make a statement and change the status quo,” she says, “if you change the title—even if you don’t change every single thing you do—it helps the organization and the business see the role differently.”
By rebranding HR—especially by putting the emphasis back on people—you signal to employees that you’re committed to doing things differently. It’s a small step, but one that can pave the way for significant changes.
2. Lead the charge for innovation
Let’s face it: HR isn’t exactly known for innovation. In terms of progress, the function often lags behind the rest of the organization, relying on outdated systems and manual processes long after other departments have upgraded.
Adriana saw this firsthand when she joined Pegasystems in 2018. Despite joining a technology company, she was handed a paper contract to sign.
Luckily, she knew how to fix that: she’d already done so for another organization. Before joining the PeopleDoc team, Adriana worked at biotechnology firm Biogen, where she helmed the successful implementation of Workday and PeopleDoc, including our e-signature solution. In doing so, her team cut the acceptance time for job offers from 11-12 days to just 1.1—and saved the company $100,000 in FedEx costs.
This was a massive step forward for Biogen. Workday and PeopleDoc were not only the first software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to be used by the HR team—they were the first used within the company, period.
“It was a really innovative solution coming from an HR organization, which is usually not the first,” Adriana says.
By keeping an eye on emerging technology and turning HR into an early adopter, you can establish the function as a force for innovation and positive change at the organization. It can be scary to take that leap into the unknown, but Adriana recommends getting comfortable with being uncomfortable—because if you’re comfortable where you are, you’re probably not moving forward.
“Sometimes, you do have to put your hand up and say, ‘Okay, that’s what I think we need to do to modernize to upgrade the organization and be able to move HR to a different level,’” she says.
3. Sell a compelling vision of the future
To make the changes that matter, you first have to make a convincing business case. That can be challenging if HR doesn’t have a strong reputation at your company.
To get around this, focus on painting a clear before-and-after picture of the change you’re trying to make. At Biogen, for example, Adriana and her team outlined every step the company had to go through to get paper contracts signed, from printing and mailing the documents internationally to storing the paper files. Then, rather than getting bogged down describing the various features, they showed how the software solution would streamline this tedious process to a couple of clicks.
“You have to sell the vision,” Adriana says. “Make it very concrete so people can relate and understand.”
After securing buy-in from her leaders, Adriana timed the rollout of the e-signature solution to coincide with the company’s switch to a new credit card company. This allowed her to immediately bring the vision to life for employees, boosting credibility for the initiative—and her function as a whole.
“That improves what [employees] thought about HR,” Ariana says, “and at the end of the day, improves my reputation as an HR function.”
Related article: Securing Executive Buy-in: How to Make the Case for HR Technology
4. Be proactive about combatting internal frictions
Change will always be met with some resistance. In her experience, however, Adriana has found that the people who require the most convincing are not employees, but HR itself. When the function has done things a certain way since time immemorial, it’s all too easy for people to become set in their ways.
This is especially true among HR staff who have been with the organization for a long time. Those who’ve moved around different other organizations will have a wider variety of experiences to draw on. But when people haven’t seen a thing done before, it’s easy to assume it can’t be done.
“You need to make an assessment of your people,” Adriana says. “That will help with the change management.”
When you have an idea of who is likely to object, try to anticipate and get ahead of those objections. When Adriana decided to roll out PeopleDoc solutions across Biogen’s global workforce, for example, she predicted that some regional HR heads would say it couldn’t work in their country. But having spent time in organizations all around the world, Adriana knew this wasn’t true. Before announcing the initiative to the wider team, she met with the legal department and got them on board—so when people said “it can’t be done here,” she was ready.
Resistance to change is normal, but you shouldn’t buckle under it. Just keep reminding your team—and yourself—what’s at stake. HR could continue being a function that follows orders and garners distrust from employees, growing increasingly dusty as the pace of technological advancement accelerates. Or, it could take your organization to new heights.
“We have an opportunity as an HR function to challenge ourselves, to be bolder, and to be less risk-averse,” Adriana stresses. “The world is going in that direction, whether you want it or not. It’s better if we can lead that change and be part of that transformation for organizations.”
To learn more about how Adriana is transforming HR’s reputation using technology—and how you can do the same—listen to the full podcast today.