Different department but still the same old problems to deal with

HR professionals and marketers have many things in common – one of them being a concern about how their profession is viewed. Both complain that their profession is undervalued. HR is too often seen as ‘the political correctness police’ that binds organisations with bureaucracy, and is fixated on issues such as employment law and holiday entitlements.

While support tasks such as payroll management are of crucial importance, HR – like marketing – must also concern itself with weightier matters, and must be seen to drive performance. Not only must it make a difference, it must prove it makes a difference.

Like HR, marketing has often been criticised for the intangibility of its results. Over the past decade, measurement and evaluation have become hot topics for the industry. The impact that marketing has on the value of a company is what really matters.

Marketing guru Malcolm McDonald recently said that if he were a chief executive, and his marketing director told him that all he received from the millions invested was a change in attitude or an increase in awareness, he would sack them on the spot. One of the reasons why so few companies have a marketer on the board could be the failure of the marketing community to demonstrate what marketing adds to shareholder value. If this is difficult with businesses, demonstrating value for the public sector is often doubly so.

The HR department faces a similar dilemma. Efficiency must be monitored – real and measurable results must be delivered. In training, for example, exam achievements, perhaps benchmarked against past years or the successes of a competitive company, can be persuasive. But it must also be demonstrated how these achievements have resulted in better business performance.

A board position is not awarded as a right; it is earned as a privilege. To increase boardroom clout, HR professionals, and indeed their co-workers in marketing, need to learn how to make the board sit up and take note of their achievements and recognise their importance. To do this, marketing and HR must demonstrate their success using facts and figures that will have real meaning to those from other disciplines.

Marketers speak of ‘selling the sizzle, not the sausage’. This is because customers do not buy features, they buy benefits. A customer will buy a particular brand of bathroom cleaner not because it contains a particular ingredient, but because it will give them a sparkling bathroom.

This rule also applies when it comes to raising the profile of a department. HR teams must focus not on what they can offer an organisation, but how the service they provide will benefit the organisation. They must not only talk about how they can engage employees, but also how that engagement will improve productivity.

Orson Welles once said that good breeding consists of concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of others. Perhaps both marketers and HR professionals are inclined to be a little too polite. Marketers, who after all spend their professional lives telling other people how good their brands are, are only just learning to shout about their own success and provide the evidence to prove their value. By following suit, the HR profession will also begin to achieve the recognition it deserves.

Christine Cryne
Chief executive,
Chartered Institute of Marketing

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