It goes without saying that HR understands the importance of gaining leadership buy-in for HR initiatives such as employee experience, development, and engagement. What is not always so clear – and can often be quite a challenge – is how to secure leadership backing and ensure they remain invested in their people.
According to LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning report, 82% of executives agree that people strategy is key to success – yet this doesn’t always translate to senior leaders proactively supporting and promoting people initiatives.
So, before we delve into how to get your executives to champion your HR initiative, first let’s look at why leadership buy-in is fundamental to a project’s success.
“For any workplace initiative to be a success it needs to have buy-in at every level,” remarks Katy Foster, senior HR consultant at Cream HR. “Whilst an initiative that has come from the top and enforced on the rest of the team, whether they like it or not, is damaging and doomed for failure, likewise so is a policy that has come from the main team that isn’t endorsed by the senior leadership team.”
When trying to get any new initiative off the ground, it’s vital that representatives of all aspects of the business are involved, she adds. “This means different departments, levels of seniority, internal and external stakeholders, those with different protected characteristics and so on, all working together to ensure, as much as possible, that every voice is heard. When people are involved in the purpose, delivery, and output of an initiative, they become stakeholders in the success. Without this, long term, effective change is nigh on impossible.”
It can also depend on the role and level of autonomy that HR has in an organisation, comments Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula. “In some businesses, there might be a HR director who can authorise certain initiatives so they may not always need sign off from senior management. In others, senior leadership may have to authorise any initiatives first, particularly where it involves additional expenditure. But even if senior leadership do not have to be involved in the detail of any such initiatives, for them to be really effective, you generally need buy-in from senior management and assistance with promoting them across their teams.”
How to gain leadership buy-in
Focus on the wider benefits
According to Liz Sebag‑Montefiore, executive coach and director of 10Eighty, getting buy-in from senior managers is about clearly illustrating the wider benefits of the initiative to the business, so that it appeals to your leadership team.
“Show how the initiative aligns with corporate mission, objectives, and strategy,” she advises. “Demonstrate how it will enhance culture and employee experience; illustrate the big picture. Show the anticipated results, gains, and improvements, as well as the ROI envisaged after successful implementation.”
She adds that research, data, evidence, and analysis will all help. “Getting leadership on board requires that HR teams show how investment in people will enhance the company's reputation, talent management, employee engagement, and long-term performance.”
Shine a spotlight on the ROI
Katy Foster agrees that demonstrating return on investment is especially important when seeking buy-in.
“Most leaders have a finite number of resources to work with – that may be finances, time, employees, or something else,” she says. “For them to support an initiative that involves tapping into that pool of resources, they need to know that there will be adequate ROI. This doesn’t necessarily have to be as straightforward as if I give you £100, I want £150 back. However, it does need to show some benefit and, where possible, measurable outcomes.”
She also accepts that this isn’t always possible to demonstrate perfectly, however “building a business case to explain what’s required and what the potential outcomes will be is a key starting point”.
Ensure the initiative aligns with company and employee values
Kate Palmer believes that ensuring the initiatives are right for the business and their employees is likely the best first step. “Any training or benefits that HR proposes need to be something that the employees will want and value, as well as being attractive to job applicants. But the business will need to get something out of it as well, so this will need to be fully thought through. Getting this right is key.”
It's also worth remembering – and demonstrating to executives – that employee development and engagement are not just HR initiatives but are strategic business imperatives and a core part of corporate talent strategy, says Liz Sebag‑Montefiore.
“HR professionals need to convince leadership that investing in employees is smart business and crucial in retaining top talent, boosting engagement, and improving organisational culture,” she comments. “HR should be promoting development initiatives, reward and recognition schemes, and fostering a culture that provides frequent feedback.”
Some other ways to gain leadership buy-in include organising a training session, suggests Katy Foster. “A half-day or full-day external training session with the management team can be a great way to kickstart planning a new initiative,” she says. “For example, a workshop on why diversity is important and how to begin composing a diversity strategy can be a great way to build and develop buy-in.”
You could also consider using case studies to illustrate your point. “[This could be] either internal ones from different departments, or examples of other companies that have successfully implemented new initiatives,” comments Katy Foster. “This can really help build confidence that new plans may have a positive outcome.”
Plus, she advises HR teams to ensure they don’t shy away from trial and error. “Measure the success of your new initiative at various stages and don’t be afraid to amend or even cancel a new initiative that isn’t achieving a desired outcome,” she remarks. “That way, next time managers will have the confidence that you are only going to continue with a project that actually works.”
What obstacles may HR face?
One of the biggest challenges for HR in gaining buy-in is getting management to look past the daily to-do list and be fully on board with these initiatives, comments Kate Palmer.
“When managers are busy focusing on their day-to-day tasks, it may be difficult to get time in their diary to propose such initiatives in the first place,” she says. “And they may need some persuading that proposals to take staff away from their day-to-day tasks for training and development is a plan that should be progressed. Some may see it as a distraction when there are deadlines to adhere to. If there is a cost involved, they could also have differing opinions about where this money should be spent.”
The key to overcoming these obstacles is helping leaders to recognise that investing in staff is vital for most businesses right now, at a time when many are facing difficulties with recruitment and retention.
“Ensuring senior leaders are aware of the impact that employee experience, development, and engagement initiatives could have on the whole organisation is likely to be key,” remarks Kate Palmer. “If an employee feels valued and motivated, they may be more likely to stay with the company, saving on recruitment costs in the longer term, and time that would otherwise have been spent interviewing and training new starters. Providing senior leaders with information about the effects it could have for the business, therefore, may help to convince them to invest more in their people.”