Lost In Translation? Why HR Needs to Speak the Language of the C-Suite

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Yesterday, I wrote about why CEOs and CFOs should care about employee engagement. Yet, it’s still often up to HR Pros to help CEOs and CFOs understand why they should and, critically, what you’re going to do to make increased engagement a reality.

Strategic, social employee recognition done right is proven to increase employee engagement by double digits in less than a year. Indeed, recognition is the most powerful, positive way to increase engagement, retention and productivity in line with your organization’s strategic objectives and core values.

To make the case for strategic employee recognition, however, you must speak the language of the C-Suite. One of my fellow Compensation Café bloggers, Dan Walter, made an outstanding case around this, though he was speaking specifically to compensation:

As it turns out, CEOs want the same thing from their [HR] leaders that they want from finance, technology, marketing, engineering and other leaders. The things they find important are strategy, customers, investors and culture. If your solutions aren’t centered on at least three of these four topics, they aren’t really solutions that address the CEO’s needs.”

What the CEO wants when you make your case

The foundation for building a business case for strategic, social recognition lies in showing your C-Suite how your plans for employee recognition enable you to proactively manage your culture, far more effectively communicate strategy to all employees, and improve employee engagement (which directly impacts customer service and quality).

A couple more pieces of advice from Dan resonate well in this discussion, too. As Dan points out, this is what your CEO wants from you and your business case:

  • Please know our business and be able to speak to me in terms I use on a regular basis. I don’t want to learn your “language” of HR and compensation…  Please learn my language of success.
  • Explain EVERYTHING from the perspective of how it helps our business become more successful. It’s great if something is new, or trendy, or if you want to make employees happier, but all of that is useless if we aren’t growing and winning.”

Specific numbers are important

Language that matters to your CEO includes how strategic recognition will contribute to improved operating margin by reducing employee turnover and increasing engagement. Give specific numbers. It’s well documented that the cost of replacing an employee is 50-150 percent of his or her salary, depending on position.

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It’s easy to do the math based on your current turnover rates on how much you can save by reducing turnover by 10, 15 or 20 percent. Research from Towers Watson and Gallup also provides hard numbers on the bottom-line impact of increased engagement.

That bears much more weight with your CEO and CFO than saying something like, “our employees will be happier and more satisfied in their work.

Do you speak the language of your CEO?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


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