This week I’m in Atlanta for the Microsoft Ignite event. Yes, I see the puzzled expressions. Microsoft? IT? What am I thinking?

conferenceNo, I’m not making a career change. I’m perfectly happy where I am.

Here’s the deal. I have been to tons of events over the years, and what always surprises me is the fact that I get something out of the most unlikely places. A stray comment from a 7:00am 401k administration session at SHRM 2013 still rings in my ears when I talk about workplace retirement plans. Yes, there is something of value in pretty much every interaction, and getting outside of the normal routine is a valuable practice in general.

This week I’m going to be talking with some of the team at Microsoft, but I’m also going to be seeing sessions and exploring concepts that relate to the HR world. I’m looking for the perspective from IT leaders and one of the world’s biggest technology firms around concepts such as collaboration, productivity, and delivering business results. Hopefully all three of those ring a bell for you, since they are key pieces of creating a valuable HR function.

Now, I’m not saying you need to pack up and join me, but this ties in with a valuable concept that I’ve been advocating for quite some time. HR needs allies in the workplace. Here’s a tip for you if you’re new:

If it’s only an HR initiative, it will die.

It might seem a bit cynical, but it’s true. People have had enough of the HR programs and fads. The needs of the business rule. And HR is often seen as a blockade. A problem without a solution. A challenge or hurdle to progress.

What to Do

So you need to find some allies. Create some influence. Network a little within your organization’s walls.

One great way to get started is to find some time together with other key people in the company, and that includes people leading your technology team, your accounting/finance team, etc. Those individuals can be your most vocal detractors or your most staunch allies, depending on the time and effort you have taken to understand their needs, support their goals, and deliver high value service.

Take these people to lunch. Find out what their challenges are. Learn about their best plans and their worst fears.

This is an investment in your own influence within the organization as well. Just to clarify, this isn’t sleazy-car-salesman influence. It’s the ability to speak in a language that matters to the audience you’re with. It’s the knowledge of key issues going on that currently or will eventually have an impact on the people side of the business. It’s in your best interests to be on top of these relationships and to make them a priority.

Now, as I said, I don’t expect you to head to an IT conference or jump on a plane for the next whatever-the-heck-it-is that accounting folks go to. But you can walk down the hall and start a conversation today. Here are a few quick and easy ones:

  • I’m facing some challenges with xyz. What sort of things are keeping you up at night?
  • How are you handling xyz? It seems like it would be challenging and I want to understand your strategy.
  • What is the biggest people-related challenge you see in the next 12 months? Hiring? Development? Retention?

Everyone’s situation, company, and relationships are different, but these are just as blunt as I would put them in a forthright conversation with a peer. In fact, I’ve used several of these to create those conversational opportunities to understand the other functions within the business, what their priorities were, and how I could align the HR practices to support them.

Funny enough, that’s what we call strategic HR. I wrote a while back about one of the best leaders I ever worked for and how that relationship helped to truly clarify what the HR strategy had to look like in that organization. Remember, if it’s an HR initiative, it will die.

What relationships are valuable to you in the workplace? What do you do to offer value in return? 

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