Recently, I presented at an HR association and a number of participants spoke to me after the presentation about their workplace situations. A few HR leaders mentioned that they were having a hard time helping senior leadership to understand the needs of their diverse generational workforce. As leaders, they wanted to implement effective HR strategies such as engagement surveys and flexible work arrangements; however, they were encountering resistance from the senior leaders. More often than not, the answer to ‘why is the senior leadership resistant?’ can’t be ‘just because’. Leaders are not going to resist a suggested change for improvement ‘just because’ they think that new entrants or the other generations should have the same experiences that they did. Should an HR leader ever truly find that is the sole reason, then s/he needs to accept it and move on. However, more than likely, the HR leader has not built a strong enough of a rational and emotional case.
What’s behind the resistance?
Those might be emotional responses, but usually do not prevail over some kind rational – though misguided – justification. Depending on industry or sector, the leaders might believe that employees are easy to find – if one doesn’t work out, you’ll just find another. Or they might not have read or heard about the link to engagement and productivity. Or they might still fall into the category of ‘if I don’t see you, you are not working’. Or they might fear that if they create a HR policy that some employees might want that everyone will want to take advantage of it right away. Whatever the rational reason is, they believe the organization/business will be affected negatively.
Building the Case
So after figuring out the rational reason, you have to build your business case to that. As much as possible, the business case needs to have quantitative as well as qualitative case studies. What is the turn-over rate in the probation period, first year, across different generations? What is data from your engagement survey (sliced by generations)? How much does it cost to hire an employee (placing an ad, salary costs to interview, onboard etc)? Exit interview data – why are employees leaving? What are the labour market conditions for the position that you are hiring? How easy is it to find qualified employees? What are your retirement rates, operational changes such that you can future forecast your workforce needs. Also, research and find business cases from other organizations or experts to support your proposition.
Preparation Is Key
If you know your senior leaders well, prepare for what barriers that might be raised during your presentation of the case. If you have an ally on the senior team, you could do a practice run with him/her first to see gauge reaction and receive feedback on your proposal. The trick is to find the right rational key to open the ‘yes’ door. Then you also have to think what is emotionally driving those leaders – are they looking to build a legacy, put their stamp on things, get results, create life and work that has meaning? Positioning everything to also tap into their emotional drivers will help the case. Remember though that the least likely reason that a senior leader is saying no is ‘just because’.