How can service areas like HR increase their influence?

I know what it’s like to work in a service division (I spent 13 years in Human Resources or Personnel as it was sometimes called back then), rather than in the front line business functions of sales, manufacturing or product. Trying to get senior managers to address issues that seemed so obvious and so important from your perspective can be tremendously I moved into the front line and gained a different perspective.

As a GM or MD of a business you have an expansive range of issues and the issues and challenges come from a multitude of directions. The Board may be making rumblings about your latest acquisition or concern re sales growth so you need to spend time to provide information and comfort that their patience will be rewarded.

Major clients may be querying your pricing in relation to new competitors that have emerged and your high value premium pricing strategy may need revitalising. You need to identify if your sales team are selling the value proposition correctly and managing the client’s expectations for realisation of benefits.

The latest regulatory review has a range of opportunities but also some challenges regarding costs and pricing – can volumes rise fast enough to bring unit cost down or will staff reductions be needed?

You have appointments with the sales director to discuss the key clients approach, the CFO to review unit costs, the Chief Marketing officer regarding new segmentation and direct marketing approaches to increase sales leads and reduce costs per lead. The planning and strategy manager has analysed the regulatory review and has a draft agenda for the planing meeting next week. In the midst of this your PA has slotted in an hour with the Head of HR (is it performance reviews time already?) and you really need that time to think about the strategy and issues – you compromise by changing the HR appointment to 30 mins.

How can the HR manager make an impact in their meeting with the MD that will see HR as a critical part of the business and the MD willing to meet into the future? Consider these six keys to influence and think about the skills you can learn from other areas that are detailed below;


  1. Focus on outcomes that matter for the business
  2. Identify critical issues for the MD and offer solutions
  3. Identify the vital behaviours to achieve those outcomes
  4. Segment your targets (different style managers = different approaches)
  5. Wins drive change – start small, pilot, test, learn and use those small successes
  6. Use stories and examples – persuasive verbal logic is far less effective than you think

The Six Skills you need – some of which you could learn from, or get some help from, other support services;

  1. Segmentation – from marketing. What are the critical elements in differentiating the managers you work with – personality type, functional area, difficulty? Don’t try a one size fits all approach – tailor how, what and why elements to suit. For an insight into segmentation you may want to look at this video from Malcolm Gladwell
  2. Solution Selling – sales people are taught to build a relationship, actively listen to identify the clients needs and wants and to offer solutions that meet those needs – seems pretty relevant to what HR should be doing – you can call it consulting if you have an aversion to “sales”.
  3. Change Management – this is something I am sure HR people will have access to and should be able to identify relevant components. In particular you may want to look at “Positive Deviance” and how it has been used to have huge influence in changing behaviours. The most important aspect is gaining allies and getting evidence of how the change works for the better through the use of opinion leaders.
  4. Facilitation skills – again many HR people will have background as trainers and are well placed to use these great skills to assist with enhancing the effectiveness of business sessions  (planning, problem solving, decision analysis). In my experience well facilitated approaches using good process tools are huge improvements on what most line managers will do in a typical meeting. This skill is so important I had all my line managers trained in facilitation skills (it’s a great leadership tool as well)
  5. Negotiation skills – this is needed in almost all walks of life (actually can’t think of one where it is not!). A win-win approach is a must for long-term benefits and a bit of game theory knowledge would not go astray. The essentials are understanding what your negotiating opposite values most, what they are prepared to concede, and overcoming some of the more common tactics (no budget etc).  Equally you need to assess what you are prepared to concede and when you will walk away.
  6. Project Planning – unless you plan to do all you want in a day and it is easy then you will need to plan. What is the outcome I am seeking? What steps are required to achieve the outcome? What sequence do I need to follow? What contingencies should I have? You can get lots of information on project management from our IT department or web so enough said.

For some additional reading you may want to consider;

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan , Al Switzler

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems by Richard T. Pascale, Jerry Sternin, and Monique Sternin


About Curious and Interested

Former Leader and Manager now writer and coach. Enquiring, Curious, Buys more books than can ever read but still reads a lot. A sucker for gadgets...Ipad, Kindle, Chromecast, apple watch. I aim to improve understanding and cause reflection. Not claiming to be the expert.
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