If you’re an HR professional, you probably got into the business because you like helping people and hope to make the world — or at least your company — a better place. You care about people’s needs, and you likely feel best when you’re making a difference in someone’s life. After all, the word “human” is right there in your job title!

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeing your work in human terms. But the leadership at your company may not be speaking your language. They have their own set of concerns, and if you really want to impress them, you have to present your ideas in a way that they not only understand but also grasp the value of.

What the C-suite really wants

What matters most to your CEO? A recent Gartner study found that growth is on the minds of most leaders. A full 53 percent named growth as their top priority, and it was the only goal to receive a majority of votes. It’s also worth noting that financial concerns jumped up several percentage points over past years, so it looks like the bottom line is the heart of the matter for most leaders.

With financials and growth taking up executives’ bandwidth, it should be no surprise that the C-suite is focused on numbers. Data matters, and any new proposal is going to be met with a skeptical eye — unless you can prove its value with metrics. The question that savvy HR professionals should be prepared to answer isn’t just “Can we afford it?” but “What will be the Return on Investment (ROI) for this initiative?”

For executives, ROI is best described in cold, hard numbers. Fortunately, there are lots of studies out there to help you make your case, and you can also build in assessments to track the success of any program you implement.

Best of all, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start with these tips to sell your ideas to your company’s leadership.

1. Craft enhanced benefits plans designed to retain employees

A recent study estimates that it costs 33 percent of an employee’s salary to replace them if they leave your company. One way to retain great employees is to make sure your benefits package is competitive in case they go looking for other job.

Which benefits will have the biggest impact? The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that the top five most valued employee benefits are:

  1. Health insurance
  2. Retirement savings plans
  3. Sick leave and vacation time
  4. Flexible work schedules
  5. Professional development opportunities

The study also points out that early adopters of enhanced benefits packages have an advantage when it comes to retaining employees. In addition, wellness benefits were shown to decrease absenteeism and increase productivity — information that will help define ROI for the C-suite.

employee feedback

2. Don’t guess what employees want — ask

Of course, the best way to ensure that your new initiatives keep workers engaged and happy is to ask them what they want and take action. Company leadership is always going to want to know if your programs are paying off, and gathering employee feedback is a great way to measure results — especially for employee initiatives aimed at improving “soft” areas like morale. Take advantage of employee feedback and listening tools to gather insights that will impress your C-suite.

For example, General Motors wanted to engage its global workforce. That’s a big goal that’s not always easy to measure. When they saw over 5,000 positive comments in their engagement survey about their GM Recognition Program, they knew with certainty that they were on the right track. Engagement survey results showed substantial improvements in the area of recognition. Just six months after the GM Recognition Program launched, employee recognition became one of the five move improved areas in their engagement survey. This is the type of employee feedback that you want to share with the C-suite – it will spotlight the impact and value of your work.

3. Make the case for recognition and rewards

The GM Recognition Program is a huge success. The company wanted to encourage behaviors that aligned with its new vision, so they chose a points system in which employees could recognize each other for going above and beyond on certain measures. The points system allowed workers to choose the rewards they found most meaningful — an example of the company addressing feedback about what made their previous rewards system unpopular. If you have an employee recognition program in place, it’s important to measure your recognition program’s performance frequently (not annually) to get the best ROI to wow the C-suite. For example, within just 30 days of launching the GM Recognition Program, 87 percent of the entire global population was active in the Achievers platform sending over 80,000 unique recognitions. After the first year, GM reached a 97 percent activation rate (against an 80 percent target).

Why should your leaders care about employee recognition? Because CEOs know that it has the greatest impact on employee engagement. Companies with the highest engagement levels are 21 percent more profitable than those with the lowest engagement levels, and engagement is also strongly correlated with excellent customer service satisfaction scores. In fact, companies that invest in employee recognition are four times more likely to see an increase in stock prices and twice as likely to improve their NPS scores and individual performances. Use this data to make the case that it’s a matter of real dollars and cents to implement a strong recognition and rewards program.

If you’re an HR professional and have a company-wide recognition program in place (or considering one), get a full understanding of how recognition is the ultimate measure of employee engagement and communicate your recognition program’s value to the C-suite. Success numbers highlighting how your recognition program has improved key business areas such as engagement scores, customer satisfactions scores, and/or retention rates are gold to the C-suite.

4. Choose team building activities with proven results

Another important way to improve employee engagement and performance is to enhance teamwork within your organization. A major meta-study of team building activities found that lectures were the least effective way to improve team functioning, while experiential activities that got employees using the skills in question were highly effective. The authors also note that activities focused on improving social dynamics among workers are also effective, even if those activities didn’t directly relate to on-the-job “hard” skills.

The upshot? You can make a data-based case for professional development aimed at “soft” skills and interpersonal communication.

Team building activities also improve team morale and company culture. Your C-suite can participate in activities and see the positive outcomes of having an engaged team.

hr professional

The bottom line for HR professionals

It’s clear that your bosses in the C-Suite are laser-focused on metrics, but which ones matter most? We’ve written a guide to help HR professionals focus on the things that are most important. Download our e-book, “Four Places to Start Measuring What Matters,” for an inside look at making the results of your engagement programs more tangible and meaningful today.