Working with Operations to Maximize the Benefits of HR

Operations and HR need each other

Working effectively with operations is perhaps one of a CHRO's most important priorities.

Working with operations is at the core of human resources effectiveness. In a high-performing organization, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) is typically responsible for everything the company does, while the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) is accountable for the human dimensions of all those activities across recruiting, staffing, performance, pay, benefits, rewards, cultural norms and more.

To get the most out of that relationship, the COO must be open to the often soft benefits that come from managing human capital well. Soft, in this case, means it's hard to assign a direct financial gain or loss to a given project. The CHRO must, in turn, be mindful to tie support function activity to the organization's bottom line.

In the course of introducing significant change to organizations, I have often seen a level of disconnect around efforts like new training related to compliance or soft skills, performance management, changes to titles or pay bands, and mission, vision and values rollouts. While a COO might initially greenlight these kinds of initiatives, a CHRO needs to look closely at the unfolding situation to ensure full alignment on the effort's value and the COO's commitment to it.

Getting on Track When Working With Operations

You will need the support of operations to define the metrics of success, much less to make any HR effort efficacious. Working effectively with operations is perhaps one of a CHRO's most important priorities. CHROs facing obstacles might consider the following tactics:

  • When pricing the value of HR efforts, engage the CFO and related resources early to credential your estimates. Their critical inputs will create potential allies in finance and give your estimates more authority.
  • If your operations group uses templates for proposing enterprise efforts, make sure you use the same templates. You want the organization to view you as integrated with the business.
  • Avoid branding HR or any support function separately from the business, which can trigger perceptions of empire building and silos. A good support function makes everyone else better. Setting yourself apart rarely helps your cause.
  • Demonstrate business sensitivity and acumen. Know when the organization's high volume work periods are. Make sure you and your direct reports have a deep understanding of, and appreciation for, how the organization generates profits.
  • If your COO (or CEO) show high levels of skepticism around HR's ability to affect the bottom line, pick a few early projects that are clearly defined in scope and focus on their execution to ensure success. This can create trust and build momentum for future efforts.

Half Solutions Are Too Often Non-Solutions

If, as CHRO, you find yourself reluctant to make assertions about initiatives' business impact, it may be time to reconsider. Half-hearted support from any C-Suite leaders — especially the COO — can lead to half-implemented solutions that can be worse than the status quo. Examples include:

  • If only half the organization adopts a new performance review process, you can create a fragmented environment that is even harder to administer.
  • If too many exceptions are created during your attempt to streamline titles, it can be an enormous consulting expense with greatly curtailed benefits.

Going on a Diet Without Losing Weight

In all cases, half-solutions tend to generate ambiguous results, which makes it hard to claim success and build momentum for the next major effort. Don't assume that the rest of the organization will "catch up." In my experience, an organization that skimps on these efforts will essentially revert to prior practices after a few years. When that happens, it's the equivalent of going on a diet and not losing weight. You have endured all the pain of change with little to show for it.

Working with operations is essential to the success of HR. Follow these broad guidelines and you should see increased opportunities to demonstrate the full value of HR.