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HR, what language are you speaking, and how do you ensure that you are heard?

coaching hr leadership Aug 13, 2023

One of the biggest frustrations I hear from my HR clients is that they don’t feel heard. At Board meetings, they feel that whenever they speak, their colleagues turn into nodding dogs, agreeing that things need to change, but not actually taking any steps outside of the Boardroom to action or implement anything differently.

HR feel that they are banging their heads against a brick wall trying to get their Exec colleagues to pay attention to any of the People stuff, whilst everyone else remains so fixated on the money and the numbers.

A question I find myself asking often is ‘Have you explained your frustration?’ and the answer is usually no. The reasoning behind this is that they think it will be a waste of time, particularly given that their colleagues have made comments before about:

·     You do the people stuff

·     Tell us what you want us to do and we’ll just do it

·     I don’t really care about the people stuff, that’s your domain

·     I’m not comfortable with the people stuff

·     I don’t have time for the people stuff

·     I don’t do fluff

·     HR isn’t really my strong point, that’s why we have you

Yet often, when they do speak to the CEO, the CEO is shocked that they feel so frustrated, wishes they had spoken up sooner, and offers help and support in any way to boost the morale of the HR Leader. The same isn’t always true for the rest of the Exec.

Where I think we so often have a disconnect between the ‘People stuff’ and the ‘business stuff’ is right here. Often Exec teams see the People stuff as the fluffy, non-commercial, time-wasting, confusing side of the business, and yet without the people, is there actually a business? Of course not.

Add to this that so many Exec teams think they don’t have to do any of the People stuff because ‘surely that what we have an HR Director for’ and chaos ensues.

In 2008 when I scrapped annual performance appraisals, managers and leaders told me that already struggled to speak to their people once a year, I was asking them to now make it an ongoing conversation, and they told me it would never work. 

Within a year, employee and customer satisfaction and engagement were almost at 100% and we had created a very different language across the organisation of continual growth and development.

Putting your people first improves performance, it doesn’t take away from it, and yet leaders focus so much with their heads on the data and in trying to make improvements with systems, or profit, that they miss the most important shift that needs to take place.

I encourage my one-to-one clients, when faced with this situation, to speak to their Exec colleagues, individually and then as a team, to close the gap between what they see the role of HR to be, and what HR sees the role of HR to be.

For decades, HR was the personnel, teeth and tissues, soft and fluffy, hiring and firing, picking up the pieces where managers and leaders had failed, always there to mop up the pieces. HR was the policy police, handholding managers every step of the way.

And then it changed. 

HR was told that their role was to partner with the business, to be more strategic, more data-driven, and more commercial, and yet nobody seemed to highlight this shift to leaders, including HR.

So, HR set about looking at engagement, experience, data (often on broken and outdated HRIS systems), trying to influence, trying to partner, trying to turn a corner, prove their worth, and make a difference, but the leaders in the organisation still just wanted handholding, policy police, and administrators.

And the headbutting and confusion, along with the disconnect, began.

Leaders wanted things to stay the same, and a new generation of HR was stampeding through workplaces talking about putting People First, culture, behaviours, equality, equity, anti-racism, diversity, inclusion, belonging, turnover, retention, cost centres, budgets, and people development, and the leaders just wanted the fluffy stuff to carry on whilst the rest of the business stayed focused on the ‘proper business stuff’ making money, being creative, and serving customers.

Leaders don’t have time to recruit, train, develop, listen, support, to help, they have ‘real work to do’ and so the people suffer, which means the business suffers.

And at every Board meeting, and each time HR want to gain agreement on a new way of working a different approach, investment in new tech, recruitment to be taken seriously, the bullying to stop, the people to come first, they are faced again with nodding dogs, and so the cycle continues.

So how do you, as an HR leader, start to really implement change?

Just as you would do if you were coaching a new coachee, you need to agree on the parameters in which you will work together with your Exec colleagues. What you agree to do, what you need to not do, how you will communicate, how you will listen, how you will support each other, how you will escalate any issues, and how you will work together to find a resolution.

If you can, start this in your selection process, to be sure that this really is a place where you want to work as a high-performing, people-focused HR Pro. Because, not uncommon, is for the HRD/CPO to be recruited, sold on the fact that ‘people are our most important asset/part of our business’ only to realise that nobody has the time, or the skills to lead people effectively, and you find yourself, as the People administrator and policy police, like you’ve stepped back 10 years in your profession and career. 

Get really clear on:

·     Who is HR in this organisation?

·     What is the remit of HR?

·     What are the aims of your role? Your responsibilities?

·     What budgets do you control? 

·     What decision-making capability do you have?

·     What data is important?

·     What does the organisation need from HR?

·     What does the organisation want from HR?

·     Is there a gap between what HR is delivering and what the business expects?

·     If so, how do you close it?

These questions will help you to understand the language that you need to be speaking to gain buy-in and create change in your organisations, through your leaders, and for your people. They will help you create solutions, experiences, engagement, and data, based on what is right for your business, not what you’ve been told you need to be doing as HR.

Your role, as the People experts, is to educate, support, and transform the workplace, so that people really can come first, because it’s from here that performance and profit will grow. But you’ll continue to be met by nodding dogs if you can’t speak the language that your colleagues need, for you to gain their buy-in and really change the world of work for the better.

Are you ready for the change?


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