The HR business partner model has served HR well in the last few decades. It was the catalyst that moved HR from its cubicle to being more involved with the business. Many companies moved this function to more operational roles where it actually became woven into business units. This model was a good thing…for a while.
Then the C-Suite and other top leaders demanded more from HR. The recession made business leaders realize that people do “matter” and that decisions regarding people should be made with data and not with an emotional gut-based reaction. Today, the need to develop and build talent is priority-one for most CEOs.
HR needs to keep up with the pace of change in business
As HR organizations struggled for the last 20 years with being strategic and having a seat at the “illustrious table”, the need for HR leadership was lost in the shuffle. Today the demand for this leadership is the highest I have ever witnessed, yet the supply is not yet there.
According to Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends, “HR organizations and HR skills are not keeping up with business needs.”
To put it bluntly, HR often cannot keep up with the pace of change in business. It needs to raise its game by aligning its skills and capabilities with the organization’s overall business goals. As HR pursues its own makeover, its strategic role must also change to meet the intense pressures of today’s business environment.
Essentially, to be seen as business leaders, HR needs to change how it tells its story.
In keeping with this observation, below are five areas where HR professionals can “raise their game” in answer to the business need for a stronger, more strategic skillset.
1. Increase your business acumen
I remember the day I facilitated a panel of Atlanta-area business leaders for SHRM-Atlanta on the topic of HR and business acumen. One of the CEOs said that it was “easier to teach someone from the business HR than it is to teach HR the business.”
Of course, I wanted to bang my head on the podium at this mindset but I understood the issue.
The perception is that HR professionals are not business-minded and don’t understand the language of the business. I don’t think that perception is as prevalent as it was even just a few years back, but it still exists.
However, I see HR pros pursuing opportunities to increase their business acumen in a variety of ways, such as: seeking MBA’s, pursuing outside work on boards, taking on job rotations, and even seeking out mentors to close the skill gap.
Other opportunities that could be pursued on a daily/weekly basis include: attending industry professional group meetings, reading industry-specific and business articles, meeting with other business leaders to learn more and simply being curious.
The point is to be a business sponge and soak up any and all knowledge related to the business and industry.
2. Turn HR data into insight
HR data and the discussion of big data is everywhere, and if there is a hot topic within the HR profession today, it has to do with metrics and analytics. No longer is reporting cost-per-hire and days-to fill good enough.
Today’s business leaders want data that has meaning to the business. They need insight. Data is just rows and columns of numbers. Insight is created when someone can make sense of those rows and columns and apply it to the business in an impactful way.
This application takes a different analytical skillset, one that HR professionals have not been known for. I am not suggesting all HR professionals need to have a PhD, but I think we need to be good consumers of data. In other words, we need to understand what the data is trying to say and how to use it to increase business results.
3. Become a strategy executer
If you ask any business leader what the hardest part about business strategy is they will tell you it’s the execution of that strategy. If you dig deeper, and uncover root causes for those failures in execution you typically find poor communications, lack of accountability and ineffective leadership making the top three reasons.
Looking at these reasons of failure, HR organizations can mitigate them with skills resident within the function itself. By utilizing HR’s communication and performance management skills, goals and objectives can be aligned to the front line where execution takes place.
For any business to be successful, all employees need to understand the strategy and what it means to them on a day-to-day basis. For this reason, performance management is the best tool to enable execution from top to bottom.
4. Leverage performance management
Not only can performance management be used as a tool for aligning goals and objectives, it also can be used as a gold mine for employee performance data. As I’ve said many times before, performance data is the most underused data set HR owns.
By analyzing performance data, HR organizations are in the position to proactively identify: who’s at risk for leaving, whether top performers are sustaining performance or not, and how bonus and/or salary increases are really impacting performance. Those are just a few examples.
This data is critical, results-oriented and relatively easy to calculate. So after your next performance review cycle don’t just check the box that appraisals are complete, start analyzing your data for more bang for your buck.
5. Re-brand HR
Just like any other tired brand, the HR function needs a serious makeover. As I train and consult with HR professionals, I still hear passive words describing what they do and what impact the function has on the business. I hear: “I help, I assist” and “I partner with.” Really what we need is a shift in mindset.
Our vernacular needs to change to words like: “I lead, I create, I analyze, etc.” These words carry over into the way we communicate to other business units about HR’s value.
It’s the difference between communicating, “We help employees” and “We create programs that enable our employees to be 10% more productive.”
Communication matters and so does the way we tell our story. In order to re-brand HR you have to use business acumen, HR analytics and excellent communications skills to be successful.
So as you can see, the five areas discussed above are highly interdependent and necessary for HR to “up its game.” These five are the “how’s” that are needed to move into business leadership. In my next article, I’ll discuss the “what’s” that are needed for HR to be successful in moving from a business partner to a business leader.