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The Key to a Seat at the Table? Transform HR from Cost Center to Profit Center
Samantha McLaren

By: Samantha McLaren on February 26th, 2020

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The Key to a Seat at the Table? Transform HR from Cost Center to Profit Center

Digital Transformation

Est. Read Time: 4 min.

Over the next decade, demand for skilled workers will far outpace supply, with the Korn Ferry Institute predicting a global talent shortage of more than 85.2 million people by 2030. That means companies will not only have to fight harder to attract the people they need, but will also have to battle it out to keep the ones they have. 

 

In an age where talent is everything, HR—the department responsible for finding and nurturing a company’s human capital—should be viewed as an invaluable resource. Today, however, many organizations don’t see the strategic potential of HR. They consider it a cost center—one they can’t live without, but a cost center nonetheless. 

 

This viewpoint makes it very difficult for HR to secure the buy-in it needs to make vital improvements or create meaningful change. To help you empower your department and gain the seat at the table you deserve, here are a few steps you can take to ensure HR is understood as a profit center—and as a profitable partner to the business. 

 

Swap admin for strategic tasks

Not so long ago, HR professionals were bogged down by administrative tasks, from handling payroll and maintaining employee records to answering questions about things like sick leave, expense reimbursement, and the company’s holiday schedule. 

 

This isn’t a great use of HR’s time—especially today, when the vast majority of repetitive administrative tasks can be automated using readily available technology. By giving employees access to a personalized knowledgebase, for example, you can empower them to quickly find answers to their basic questions, ensuring they only request to speak to an HR professional if the matter is more complex or delicate. This also ensures your team can get to those queries faster, since the employee won’t be stuck in a long line waiting for support. 

 

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Using process automation technology is an easy way to take time-consuming transactional tasks off your team’s plate. This can play a huge part in changing the way leadership views you. After all, if your leaders only ever see your department handling administrative work, it’s unlikely that they’ll think of it as anything more than an administrative function. 

 

This also frees up your team to focus on more strategic, value-added work, like workforce planning and people analytics. By showing that you’ve got an eye on the big picture and are invested in driving the company’s goals, you can set the table for a more collaborative relationship with leadership, built on mutual respect. 

 

Focus on employee experience

Today, only a third of U.S. employees are engaged at work. That’s a problem, resulting in lower productivity and morale and higher turnover. But low engagement is a symptom of a bigger problem—and HR can prove itself as a strategic resource by focusing not on the symptom, but on the root cause: employee experience. 

 

woman employee with glasses sitting at laptopWhen employees don’t feel like their experience at your organization has been positive, their engagement suffers. There’s no quick fix that HR can take to turn this around, but you can start by focusing on two core factors of employee experience: the company culture and the technology that employees interact with every day. 

 

One step is to gather more feedback from employees about what’s working and what isn’t. While even a simple survey can tell you a lot, by harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the sentiment behind employees’ responses, you can gain a more in-depth understanding of how they feel about aspects of their work. This can help you identify common frustrations and opportunities for improvement, allowing you to make visible changes that let employees know their voices are heard

 

Shifting your focus from keeping unmotivated, unengaged workers in check to actively improving employee experience can boost engagement and productivity across your workforce. This shows leaders that your department is a true profit center that delivers a high return on investment (ROI)—incentivizing them to invest in future HR initiatives. 

 

Lead with simplicity—and data

One trap that HR teams sometimes fall into as they try to earn their seat at the table is forgetting to speak their leaders’ language. “HR speak” can often fail to communicate the function’s potential to impact real business outcomes, from profit and revenue to helping the organization realize the ROI of a merger or acquisition. This can create a serious barrier to the strategic partnership you hope to create, so aim to speak in plain English, explaining any terms your leaders might not understand and tying everything back to what they care about the most—like your company’s competitive position in the talent marketplace and the bottom line. 

 

A great way to gain your leaders’ attention and respect is to back up your arguments with data. After all, numbers are a universal language—and a shocking statistic can make them sit up and take notice. 

 

Focus on gathering and analyzing the most relevant data about your own workforce and target talent pools, then present it in a way that’s easy to understand at a glance. An appealing visualization like a graph or a pie chart can say a lot more than an exhaustive table of numbers, especially to a layman, so don’t be afraid to keep things simple to prove your strategic prowess. 

 

Take your seat at the table

HR isn’t just an expense—it’s an investment in your company’s future. By helping your leaders to understand this and view your department as a profit center, you’ll find it easier to secure executive buy-in for your initiatives—and grow your own career within the business. 

 

Don’t leave your seat at the table unoccupied. To understand how your HR team can become more agile, streamlined, and strategic, check out our eBook, Less Time on Paper, More Time on People: 5 Steps to HR Transformation.

Button to download eBook on 5 steps to HR transformation
Button to download eBook on 5 steps to HR transformation

About Samantha McLaren

Scottish-born Samantha McLaren is a copywriter and editor with a specialty for the recruiting and HR space. She has written dozens of articles on topics ranging from employee retention and engagement to employer branding, company culture, and management strategies.