Three reasons HR reports get ignored

January 17, 2018

Three reasons HR reports get ignored

Employee turnover. Paid leave analysis. Years of service. Gender pay gap. Cost of absence. The list of common HR reports goes on and on. Yet despite how important this information is for your business, getting HR reports noticed can be a challenge.

Companies still see HR as a paper-pushing role

Over the years, I have read so many stories of HR being ignored. For example, the story of Luke Robinson – an experienced HR consultant who quit his position as partner with successful HR consultancy Powell Group, to take on a new challenge as Head of HR at Loft Securities.

Unfortunately for Luke, he learned the hard way that no matter how hard he tried, after 12 months in his role, he was still no closer to getting senior management to take HR seriously. It was still seen as a paper-pushing role, with the sole responsibility being administration. His challenge was well described by Harvard Business Review: “The people at Loft were not accustomed to anyone from the HR department asking probing questions.”

There is no magic wand that will magically make people in power take HR seriously. If they fail to see the importance of their people operations, then they might never change their mind. Having said this, I’ve identified three of the biggest reasons why HR reports often get ignored – along with some helpful tips on getting HR information taken more seriously, by the people with the power to act on your recommendations.

1. HR is still reporting to finance

According to HR expert Susan M. Heathfield writing for The Balance, HR should not be reporting directly to Finance. Susan has worked in HR since 1987, and says that the skillset of even a highly experienced finance director will rarely give them a meaningful understanding of effective people operations.

“Issuing pay checks is dramatically different from understanding what goes into calculating an appropriate pay rate” she writes. “When HR reports to finance, policy decisions are often not employee friendly. They need to consider people for your organisation to succeed.”

In an ideal world, Susan says that HR should report directly to the CEO. She adds that while finance serves a critical role in any company, having the best people, treating them well, and paying a competitive salary, is the way to do this.

2. HR is not communicating information effectively

If you’re still delivering important information via generic pie charts and bar graphs – or worse, black and white balance sheets – then your HR reports are probably being ignored because, frankly, they are boring and unmemorable. You can’t rely on information being important to make sure it gets noticed – if you want to deliver more compelling organisational insights, then you should put effort into how you communicate your information.

According to Column Five, there are seven important elements to consider when creating a compelling annual report:

  1. Streamline your story. Yes, your reports should do more than just provide hard, cold facts. They should tell a story.
  2. Demonstrate impact. Don’t leave the reader to make their own conclusions. Connect the dots, and explain why this information has a real impact on business!
  3. Humanise your work. People respond better to stories they can connect with. You might be reporting on numbers, but remember to include the human element.
  4. Visualise your numbers. Black and white figures don’t stand out. Presenting them visually helps the reader understand them faster.
  5. Use visual language. Relevant graphics and photographs will help to hold the attention of readers for longer, and stop them falling asleep.
  6. Introduce interactivity. If your reports are digital, you can introduce an element of interactivity. Whether this is as little as a responsive table of contents that allows readers to jump to a particular page, or as much as allowing them to input their own numbers and see the results materialise – give them something to do, and an easier way to navigate.
  7. Surprise your readers. Nothing snaps a person to attention like the element of surprise. Deliver something your readers do not expect, and they may just pay attention for long enough to consider the rest of your report.

Now, I know that HR reports are not the same as a company’s Annual Report to stakeholders. But the concept remains the same. And while you might not manage to include every element of this checklist into each of your HR reports, if you follow at least some of this advice, then you are more likely to make HR stand out in the minds of senior executives.

3. Your culture ignores the value of people

If the senior management team in your company doesn’t understand the value of people, then they aren’t going to give much of a thought to HR reports.

Now, most companies claim to value their people. And most companies claim to have a people-focused culture. But unfortunately, this is often nothing more than lip service. Actions speak louder than words. Let’s look at two examples of companies, within the retail industry, who claim to have a people-focused culture:

  • Kmart (Sears Holdings Corporation): “From the competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits we offer, to the engaging and enriching culture we promote, we want your career at Sears Holdings Corporation to be a career that works your way.” (source)
  • Costco: “Costco is often noted for being much more employee-focused than other Fortune 500 companies. By offering fair wages and top-notch benefits, the company has created a workplace culture that attracts positive, high-energy, talented employees.” (source)

As you can see, both companies offer lip service to having a people-focused culture. However, the reality is very different. Each company has over 4,000 employee reviews on Glassdoor, and a quick glance can show you:

  • Kmart: 2.7 average rating. Only 24% of employees approve of the CEO. Only 34% would recommend to a friend.
  • Costco: 3.9 average rating. 90% of employees approve of the CEO. 78% would recommend to a friend.

It’s pretty easy to see which company is actively valuing their employees. It is also interesting to note that each company’s financial statements for the last five years show hugely different trends: While Kmart’s profits have steadily declined year on year, Costco’s profits have done the exact opposite.

Of course, this is a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Are employees happier because the company is doing well? Or is the company doing well because the employees are happier? I know which way around I think it is. You don’t need me to preach the value of a people-focused culture, though – you already know. But the bottom line is that your company should have a people-focused culture, and it should go beyond words.

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