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What HR Can Learn from Marketing When It Comes to a Seat at the Table

Janine Milne

Guest Contributor

If human resources professionals want a seat in the boardroom, they need to think strategically. It's a simple lesson in theory, but there's a deep, entrenched "non-strategic" history holding HR leaders back—even when they make the right moves and say the right things, they face questioning about the value of "fluffy" HR from other business leaders that they have to overcome.

Yes—the HR profession has made huge strides in its quest to be seen as a strategic force rather than a backroom support function, but there is still room for improvement. In 2012, a survey by Ortus found that out of 595 board members at FTSE 50 companies, just five came from an HR background.

What's the solution? Thinking holistically and dealing with the cool hard facts rather than intuition (though intuition is still incredibly important) can help alleviate the "fluffy" perception of HR, and give talent management leaders equal footing with finance, IT and marketing—marketing in particular. While the CFO and CIO have rarely had to fight for their place at the table, marketing only recently became a strategic arm of the business.

Here, two major lessons HR can learn from the journey of marketers to the table:

Think Big with Brand Strategy

While marketing has always been about the "brand" of the company, this part of their role has become increasingly important in the age of social media and radical transparency. Consumers want to interact with companies they like, not just products they like.

By the same token, HR's success is increasingly attached to the public perception of the company. People don't just get a job for a steady paycheck—they want to make an impact and find a purpose. If HR leaders view their day-to-day through the lens of building an innovative, people-focused brand, they are much more likely to attract top talent, as well as retain and engage current star employees. More engaged employees leads to better business results.

Understand the Facts of Human Behavior

Human behavior is at the center of both marketing and HR's success. For marketing, successfully messaging a product leads to someone purchasing that product. For HR, successfully creating an engaging and respectful workplace leads to more productive, thoughtful employees.

The key difference is that marketing has long recognized and capitalized on its ability to analyze human behavior and linked it to business performance. Marketers increasingly understand who the ideal customer is, and how to reach them. It's time for HR to do the same.

HR records are ripe with data that can predict performance, increase engagement, improve retention and more. An analytical talent management strategy not only directly impacts the bottom line—a Deloitte study found that companies using sophisticated data analytics see 30 percent higher stock market returns than the S&P 500—but HR teams are four times more likely to be respected by their counterparts for data-driven decision-making.

The Central Role of HR

In an employee-driven market landscape, people are a company's greatest asset. The determiner of "people" success, HR, is thus far more than the service and compliance department it has been painted as for decades. But HR needs to prove its value.

By taking a couple pages from the marketer's book, HR leaders will earn themselves a well-deserved seat at the executive table.

Photo: Creative Commons

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