How to convince your CEO when you work in HR

October 9, 2019

How many times have you had a great idea, only for it to be shot down by senior management? If you work in HR, then this probably happens to you on a weekly basis. And unless you have your own seat at the executive table, you probably find yourself struggling to understand how to convince your CEO that something is a good idea.

But don’t be disheartened. You’re not alone. Even with a permanent boardroom position, most HR professionals have difficulty being taken seriously.

And that’s why I’m looking today at some of the reasons why HR sometimes struggles to be listened to – and some of the techniques HR professionals use to successfully get through to their CEO.

There are four reasons your CEO doesn’t take HR seriously

In my quest to understand why the CEO often doesn’t take HR seriously, I found an interesting angle from a person with the perspective of both sides of the coin. Steven Fies has huge career experience in HR, and is the CEO of ThinkPlanLaunch, a company dedicated to helping organisations make the most of their ‘human resource’.

According to Steven, there are four reasons your CEO might not take you seriously if you work in HR. These are:

  1. HR relies on outdated processes. There is a tendency in HR to “continue doing what we’ve always done” writes Steven, “despite all the evidence pointing to it being ineffective and outdated”. He says that until HR starts making decisions based on data-backed science, their ideas will continue to be brushed under the carpet by senior management.
  2. HR is terrible at communication. Ironically, Steven says that many people in HR lack the right people skills. “HR jobs revolve around communicating, coordinating, delivering feedback, and handling sensitive matters” he writes, “so it only makes sense that HR professionals should be deeply invested in improving these skills.”
  3. HR wastes time covering their butts. Steven says that many HR professionals often do not know what they are doing. However, instead of focusing on learning from mistakes, Steven says that many will instead spend time trying to deflect the responsibility, “for fear our heads will be on the chopping block”.
  4. HR does not know how to motivate. While Steven says that HR has the right intentions, he says that there is too much focus on “extrinsic motivation” factors. “HR professionals should be highly committed to understand what motivates people” he writes. And we know already from our interviews with business psychologist Simon Kilpatrick, that you need both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, to effectively motivate employees.

Steven’s article is not all doom and gloom. Nor is it disrespectful to the HR profession. And I recommend you read the full article to get the right context. But as Steven is a person who has spent a lot of time in the HR trenches, I thought it would be good to include this particular perspective, as it shines a very candid light on some of the biggest struggles HR professionals face.

You need more than just a great idea

For all the criticism the HR department gets, HR professionals are often actually quite good at coming up with ideas. And these ideas normally have the intention of a valuable business benefit.

Peter Poer, for example, who works for online education company Magoosh, wanted to give his employees a six-week sabbatical after five years of service.

“The goal was primarily to encourage retention” he explains. “My HR team and I wanted to help people who had been here a while, to take a break and come back with a fresh focus.”

As is often the case, Peter’s first hurdle came in the form of probing questions from the CEO. But luckily, Peter recommends four solid techniques on how to convince your CEO – which had very positive results for him.

Four techniques that your CEO is more likely to respond to

There’s no wonder Peter’s CEO was a little hesitant at first. The idea of letting an employee disappear for six weeks sounds very daunting. But Peter says that his success in selling the idea, was thanks to four techniques.

  1. Find successful companies that do the same. When you can show your CEO successful companies that have already rolled out your idea, it helps them to understand that this isn’t necessarily going to sink your entire business. In Peter’s case, he went the extra mile and researched successful companies that he already knew his CEO respected. The important part here, is showing evidence that your idea has worked before.
  2. Run the numbers. There’s one thing that almost any CEO will ask, whenever you propose a new idea: How much is this going to cost? In Peter’s case, he put together a quick financial model, which showed his CEO how much the sabbatical programme would cost in an average year. While the numbers might sound big, your CEO is much less likely to say yes to something that doesn’t have a clear cost attached.
  3. Put the change into context. Change is scary, and often, this is because we blow it out of proportion. Peter helped his CEO understand the idea better, by putting it into context – the sabbatical only actually accounted for 2.3% of the employee’s time during their first five years, and was the equivalent of giving away just six extra holiday days per year.
  4. Get the green light from legal. Big changes often bring with them big risks. But Peter ran his proposed policy past the company lawyers in advance – so that he could go to his CEO with the confidence of being able to show that it would be low-risk, and easy to implement.

Magoosh, was founded over 10 years ago. With this level of maturity, Peter is keen to consider strategies that will help him retain his longer-term employees. And in this case, Peter was successful – his idea was approved by the CEO, and they rolled it out in August.

“People who have been with our company for three years have already said how excited they are to stay on for sabbatical” says Peter.

More help pitching new ideas to senior managemnet

For further help pitching your ideas to your senior management team, you might be interested in reading my article: How to pitch an idea to your boss (when they think it sucks).

But remember, you don’t always need to try and instigate radical change with immediate effect. Big ideas like hiring a Chief Happiness Officer might seem like a good way forward in theory, but depending on where your company is at right now, these ideas might be too much, too soon – and you may instead end up achieving nothing.

Sometimes, it is better to affect change step by step – a small win here, and a slight nudge there. Over time, your senior management will grow to see that when they listen to you with the small things, it has small benefits. This puts you in a great position to start pushing for the big things!

For more about HR professionals who managed to influence big company growth, you might be interested in watching the following video of Jennifer Griffith.

How Circle IT cut employee turnover from 54% to 15%

Stay ahead with HR

Get free HR insights, expert tips and exclusive interviews, and start making more impact at work

Please enter a valid email address

See People HR in action

View our short video demo

Get started absolutely free

No credit card required

Talk with an expert to learn how People HR could help your organisation