Q and A Exclusive Interview with Chris Courneen, MSI’s Global Head of HR

June 29, 2022 by Verified First

In a study conducted by Cornell University’s ILR School, researchers surveyed 44 HR leaders and 59 executives from 14 different companies on HR’s effectiveness within their respective organizations. Through detailed questions that required both the HR leaders and the executives to rate how HR contributed to the success of the company, both sides agreed that having a strong HR department gave their company an advantage over their competitors. However, when it came to identifying HR’s effectiveness within the company, executives ranked HR’s effectiveness significantly lower than the ratings from HR professionals. 

This misalignment of viewpoints on HR’s effectiveness pinpoints the core of our discussion with Chris Courneen, MSI’s Global Head of HR, during Season 2 Episode 6 of our HR at the Table webinar series. Proving Value: How HR Wins Corporate Buy-In

detailed how executive buy-in is the key to a flourishing HR department. Chris answered three questions on how HR leaders can prove their department’s value to their organization’s executives.

  • How Important is aligning HR with company executives?
  • What can companies do today to build a business case for HR initiatives?
  • How can you measure the ROI on people-centric initiatives?

How important is aligning HR with company executives?

As exemplified by Cornell University’s ILR School’s study, a large percentage of executives don’t fully understand the extent of how HR provides value to their company. Chris hypothesized that a disconnect between the goals of the HR department and the goals of the company could be at play here. He said, “HR’s role or function should be no different than any part of the organization. We’re all working toward the same goal — to maximize the profit of the company.” 

When HR departments function independently from other departments, the perception of how HR departments fit into the day-to-day becomes muddled. HR grows to exist on an island in the minds of the employees and the executives as opposed to in sync with the rest of the organization. The misconception of “us versus them” creates the false notion that HR exists to only further its own initiatives.

In turn, when executives aren’t in line with HR leaders, employees notice. “You know when mom and dad are fighting,” Chris said, referring to the perceived differences and misconceptions of HR’s contributions to the company’s goals. This tension hurts how employees view the company, lowering morale and employee buy-in. It creates a domino effect that eventually leads to negative company culture. 

What can companies do today to speak with execs to create a business case for HR?

Fixing the broken communication cycle of HR and execs is easier said than done. Typically, the strain can be attributed to each side speaking a different “language.” Chris mentioned that HR professionals should speak the language of the business, focusing on how HR initiatives are helping the business and not limiting it. 

Learning the language of executives doesn’t come naturally to all. In order to start the conversation, Indeed supplied a list of tactics to communicate effectively to those in high power positions.

  • Observe - Learning to speak any language starts by listening. Observe how executives communicate within their inner circles to learn what’s important to them.
  • Shift your focus - Instead of limiting conversation topics to how initiatives affect HR, frame the conversation to include how they impact the organization as a whole. 
  • Present the facts - Preparing metrics on how initiatives have performed in the past will help you present new ideas on how they will be an asset in the future.
  • Ask questions - Giving a list of demands is never effective. Breakdowns in communication stem from misunderstandings, so ask them about their concerns on the subject matter. 

How can one measure the ROI of people-centric initiatives?

For many HR professionals, it can be uncomfortable to talk about people as if they are profits. However, to align initiatives with executives, Chris states that transferring your people-centric initiatives into dollars is exactly what will garner executives’ attention. 

He recommended the best way to communicate concerns to executives is by justifying your needs through dollars. HR initiatives boil down to time - time to hire, length of onboarding, etc. If you can determine how much time wasted is costing the company, you’re more likely to bring about change or improvement. “Some of these things are going to be gray, and that’s okay,” Chris said. Boiling down time to money isn’t exact math, but the most important element is for HR professionals to measure success in the language of executives and to show your work to back up your claims. 

In conclusion:

For more insight from Chris Courneen, watch Proving Value: How HR Wins Corporate Buy-In now on-demand. You can find more information on our HR at the Table webinar series, including a calendar of future events, under the ‘resources’ tab on our website. Next month, we’re hosting Regina Johnson, CHRO of MarketCast for a conversation titled Elevating Your Talent Lifecycle.

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