C-suite and HR disconnect: can L&D redress the balance?

Walking on a tightrope

HR is often undervalued by the C-suite. Stan Massueras shows how to demonstrate the link between people programmes and business outcomes

As workplace trends continue to evolve and businesses drive for greater productivity, performance and profitability, HR and L&D leaders are feeling increased pressure and scrutiny to show the value of their work. In the midst of that, however, it appears that a growing disconnect between the C-suite and HR strategy is developing.  

L&D has a vital role to play in paving the way to a culture of alignment. When people thrive, the business thrives 

According to HR leaders in Lattice’s recent global State of People Strategy Report, there are critical gaps in alignment, with the C-suite often failing to recognise the importance of prioritising HR and L&D programmes and initiatives, plus a lack of understanding of the value HR provides the business.  

A staggering 83% of the HR leaders surveyed report that although they have a significant impact on overall company productivity, they don’t believe company leadership recognises the link.  

This comes at a time when 44% of HR leaders feel increased pressure from the C-suite to justify investment, due to prolonged economic uncertainty and the challenging business landscape. 

HR teams know the work they’re doing is meaningful and impactful across a range of strategic business outcomes – customer satisfaction, cost reduction, revenue, productivity and product/service quality.  

Conversely, only 27% believe the C-suite sees the connection between HR (including L&D) programmes and revenue growth; just 28% say executive leadership recognises the link with product/service quality; and just 30% believe their C-suite sees the link between people strategy and customer satisfaction. 

So, what’s missing when it comes to demonstrating this connection to the C-suite? How can learning and development professionals play a role in redressing the balance? 

The repercussions of HR and C-suite misalignment 

In today’s environment, the critical value of people programmes in driving business success must not be overlooked. When HR and the C-suite are out of alignment, it constrains performance and agility, damages wellbeing and inhibits the potential to build engaged, high-performing teams. This creates a negative feedback loop that trickles down to employees. 

The results speak for themselves. Successful HR teams, who consistently exceed goals, feel confident in their ability to connect their work to strategic business outcomes (82%) and receive sufficient support from their C-suite (67%). 

Just as the repercussions of misalignment reverberate around a business, so too do the benefits of collaboration. The survey shows companies with high levels of alignment are twice as likely to recognise that a positive culture leads to better business outcomes (65% vs 32%) and more than twice as likely to have increasing HR budgets for next year (62% vs 24%).  

This is supported by a recent Gallup poll, which found a statistical correlation between engagement and business results. Organisations with high levels of engagement have 27% higher profitability, 20% higher sales, 17% higher productivity, a 10% uptick in customer metrics, and a huge 59% reduction in staff turnover. 

It’s time to realign. 

Five ways L&D can help to redress the balance: 

  1. Invest in manager enablement 
    Performance management ranks higher in terms of HR priorities than ever before. But paradoxically, HR professionals have low confidence in managers’ performance-based skills and knowledge. Managers are a vital link between C-suite vision and employee output. Investing in the development of core management skills through functional training, as well as the provision of tools, frameworks and guides, delivers big alignment-boosting results. 
  1. Harmonise performance, engagement and growth  
    Performance, engagement and growth have a symbiotic relationship. Investing in employee growth and development boosts engagement; engagement fuels great performance; and high-performing teams who see a clear growth path are more likely to stay with the business. Successfully integrating them can deliver big C-suite-visible wins. An actionable framework that utilises a range of tools to make growth conversations part of the day-to-day business, coupled with a focus on regular quantitative and qualitative feedback and processes for goal setting, will pay huge dividends with measurable business outcomes.  
  1. Activate your talent 
    A 360-degree view of talent across an entire organisation helps identify areas of strength, as well as opportunities for improvement. This can be used to help recruit, develop and retain higher-performing teams. Performance reviews, 1:1’s and the building of a continuous feedback culture are essential. But layering in upskilling initiatives can be a gamechanger. CEOs of companies with defined upskilling programmes credit these with improving productivity and creating a strong culture. 
  1. Get creative with goals and OKRs 
    Successful HR teams exceeding goals are 82% more confident in connecting their work to business outcomes – 42% higher than those who are not. Goals and objectives and key results (OKRs) support the C-suite agenda by connecting individual achievement to organisational success, as well as ensuring alignment across the entire organisation. 
  1. Use ‘aha’ observations to shape company culture 
    A great company culture isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ – it has a major impact on bottom-line success. Metrics that speak to how people and L&D strategies can impact talent acquisition and retention, strengthen employee engagement, drive performance and foster innovation and creativity help improve C-suite alignment. Data-driven intelligence as well as actionable insights from growth and development conversations, upskilling programmes and pulse/engagement surveys help secure future buy-in for programmes and initiatives that, in turn, drive high-performing cultures to deliver tangible business outcomes.  

And one more… 

The right HR technology makes it easier to gather insight, prioritise and communicate impact  

Today’s boardroom is tech-savvy. Building out a technology stack with specialised software is therefore key to boosting alignment with the C-suite. 

The same global State of People Strategy report highlighted that the highest-performing teams are 2.6 times more likely to utilise performance management software; those that don’t report falling short of many of their goals. Some 65% are still stuck in basic tools like spreadsheets, and only 11% are using people analytics software. Meanwhile, 24% of high-performing teams are using people analytics software and 48% have performance management software in play. 

Investment in the right HR tools supports objective decision making, builds high performance and fosters a culture of excellence. It can also help demonstrate a clear link between people programmes and business outcomes to the C-suite, driving greater alignment and support.  

L&D has a vital role to play in navigating discord with the C-suite and paving the way forward to a culture of alignment. After all, when people thrive, the business thrives.  

Stan Massueras is General Manager EMEA at Lattice  

Stan Massueras

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