Engaging Business People in Your HR Project

Definition of a dreadful day for an HR professional: “The day I had to recruit 20 business people to work with me on implementing a new benefit system.” Sound familiar?
Every business person is very busy. We in HR are fully convinced that business insight and support is critical for our successful project rollouts. We are ready and willing to be a strategic business partner. Unfortunately, our blinding insight doesn’t automatically create interest in our projects. How can you engage others and have them willingly give you precious work time? Here are some tips based on my own experiences as a project leader, and what professional project managers had to say.

 Create trusting relationships before you need them. The word stakeholder comes from the practice of letting someone who was trustworthy hold the bets (the stakes) when a wager was laid. The stakeholder was respected and trusted to deliver the winnings safely to the winner. Similarly, you need to trust your stakeholders, and they trust you. Trust is built over time, through positive experiences with others. Be a person who the business can trust. Show that you listen. Make it clear that you have their interest in mind.
 Show interest in learning about the business. Every one expects you’ll be an HR professional. What is often not expected – but always welcomed – is your interest in the business. Learn about the products and services, about the manufacturing and distribution, about marketing and sales. Be curious and ask questions. Others will be interested in what you are doing when you are interested in what they are doing. Business acumen increases your credibility as well. People will relax when they know you aren’t going to wreck havoc with the business.
 Be open to requests for change. When you ask people to get involved in a project they may push on your boundaries. Be prepared for getting more than you asked for. Increasing the amount of interaction and dialogue invites change. Bright people stimulate new thinking. Declare how input is evaluated. You are also responsible for managing the scope of the project. It’s best to be honest upfront about what can and can’t be changed. And implement a formal “change process” if your deadlines and budget are tight.
 Don’t misjudge people’s level of influence. People can influence from any layer in the organization. The obvious decision-makers are influenced by interested others all the time. When you are looking for people to help imbed a process, or launch a program, look beyond the obvious participants. Ask informal leaders, experienced staff and those who are close to the customer. Find people who are articulate and would be good champions.
 Excite people with your passion. Positive energy is contagious. Relate what you are doing to what people care about. Use your knowledge of the business to draw connections. Give tangible examples of why change is good. Be creative. Get other people excited enough to risk involvement. In your excitement, don’t over-promise or embellish the truth, or you’ll risk your integrity and your ability to get participants for the next project.

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