Like many of you I’m sure, I’ve become incredibly frustrated in that HR never seems to get the credit it deserves. Allied to this, HR doesn’t seem to position itself in a way that it can demonstrate the real “added value” difference that we all know it can.
There is so much talk about HR being more strategic (the ‘S word’) and I’m not sure that phrase or focus is helping. In my mind, strategy relates to the plans made or the actions taken in an effort to help the organization fulfil its intended purpose.
Most business functions use the term strategic to describe its plans, programs and initiatives. Strategic initiatives make a major contribution toward helping the entire organization meet its long-term goals and objectives (e.g. improving customer service, reducing costs, increasing market share, improved employee productivity, etc.) So, where does HR fit in this picture then?
Have a Long-Term, Big Picture Approach
HR has a part to play in determining and delivering these initiatives. But my view of HR and a strategic approach means taking a long-term, big picture approach to people-related issues. Being strategic means operating HR programs with the ultimate goal of making a direct contribution toward meeting major organizational long-term objectives.
The primary goal of HR, therefore, is to increase employee productivity and thus improve organizational profitability. It’s for this reason that the area of metrics, data and people analytics have now become critical to HR to show their value in financial terms. This means that HR has to have a business mind-set first and foremost and stop trying to use the ‘S word’ at every opportunity.
What is (or is not) strategic is determined by senior managers outside of HR. They judge strategic actions or programs not by the words that describe them but by their actual impact on business results, which are always measured in financial terms—the numbers!
So, I guess I’m saying is HR needs to help itself first!
Continue to Change Within the Context of Your Organization
Now lots of people will say that HR has changed already, and to some extent they are correct. Dave Ulrich and other HR gurus have written some great books advising us how to change HR. However, in my mind, adopting their ideas and infrastructures “en masse” is not the solution for everyone. Ulrich, by his own admittance, never advocated the implementation of these models without any organizational context.
So, HR, the floor is ours and the opportunity to really shape and change the way it operates still exists, drawing upon the advice from the Ulrich’s of this world. But whatever HR does, it needs to do two things really well. First, understand the financials and second, link people initiatives to the balance sheet—that’s a business or commercially driven mind-set and not a strategic one.
Change Perceptions and Add Value
HR needs to change perceptions. That can be done only by being a credible business leader (not a partner), knowing your commercial and HR domain expertise and being able to build the business case for people-based initiatives while challenging the business.
Stop trying to please everyone. While everyone always has a view about people and what HR should be doing, HR needs to stand up for what it knows and demonstrate that it can add value to the bottom line. That’s going to be even more important as the true business implications of the pandemic become clearer.
Being business-focused or commercially-minded as an HR practitioner is more critical at this stage than focusing on the ‘S word’. If you want to use a word starting with ‘S’, then focus on being “smarter, savvy and successful” in all you do!