Sheri Caldwell, Ph.D., SPHR, is Director of Human Resources for the Grain Group, a division of The Andersons, Inc., a 67 year-old American agricultural business. She is also coauthor of three books: Got a Solution? HR Approaches to 5 Common and Persistent Business Problems; Got a Minute? The 9 Lessons Every HR Professional Must Learn to be Successful;and Using Your Emotional Intelligence to Develop Others. In this interview, Sheri shares some steps the human resources (HR) department can take to enhance its value to management.

JATHAN JANOVE: What’s an important-yet-often-overlooked way HR professionals can make themselves valuable to management?

SHERI CALDWELL: It’s critically important for HR to align its efforts with the business’s overarching objectives.

JJ: Can you give me an example of that principle drawn from your own experience?

SC: At a previous employer, my HR job was to support the retail division of our company. My annual bonus wasn’t just tied to fulfilling my HR responsibilities—It was tied to how well the retail division did.

JJ: How so?

SC: Our kiosks were primarily in shopping malls. Hiring was seasonal and turnover was high. My bonus was related to reducing turnover rates and the job time-to-fill period.

JJ: What, specifically, did you do to improve those business metrics?

SC: Three things—First, I conducted research and found that we paid higher wages and offered better employee discounts than our competitors. We developed a marketing plan to disseminate this information to prospective hires.

Second, to reduce hiring mistakes that contributed to high turnover, I worked with retail managers to develop a profile of the ideal employee and use it to make smarter hiring decisions.

Third, we developed a social media strategy and identified candidate pools that might fit our needs, but not otherwise apply. For example, “workampers” are retired people who drive around the country while living in mobile homes. They often park in mall parking lots. We developed a way to reach them for temporary work around the holidays. This initiative proved highly successful: our newly-found temporary workforce was highly reliable, and we successfully reduced both turnover and the time-to-fill period.

JJ: What advice do you give for how HR can demonstrate its value to company leadership?

SC: I tell HR professionals, “CEOs care about three things: (1) revenue; (2) profit, and (3) See numbers (1) and (2).”

HR should explain its work in relation to what CEOs care about. For example, show how retaining a trained and productive workforce increases revenue and reduces costs associated with rehiring, which analysts have estimated range from 50 percent up to 150 percent of the departing employee’s annual pay.

To some degree, HR needs to “toot its own horn.” Communicate HR successes and show how they contribute to the organization’s success.

JJ: These sound like great “starts.” Are there any “stops”?

SC: Definitely! One of the most important is to eliminate the word “no” from the HR vocabulary. Nothing turns management off more than hearing HR say the word “no.”

JJ: What do you replace “no” with, particularly when what management wants is problematic?

SC: Substitute “yes . . . and.” For example: “Yes, I understand this is what you want to do for the business, and let’s examine how that will look in terms of potential legal consequences.”

JJ: Any other advice or suggestions for enhancing the HR value proposition in the eyes of management?

SC: Critical organizational problems must be managed; they generally can’t be solved. Leaders may miss, ignore, or deny critical problems until it is too late to solve them, and while true causes of problems remain misidentified. We know environments change, but organizations often don’t adapt quickly enough. HR can assist management by designing a strategic HR plan that is a critical part of the company’s overall business plan, as well as by learning the CEO’s priorities. This helps HR start at the top, instead of trying to justify their existence from the bottom up.