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How Can HR Be a Strategic Business Partner ?

September 6, 2009 12:22 PM 1
Total Posts: 14
Join Date: July 25, 2009
Rank: Executive
Post Date: January 1, 1970
Posts: 14
Location: India

How Can HR Be a Strategic Business Partner ?

Dear professionals,

Intellectual posting on workforce.com where a query was asked by the below member and the answer given by workforce team.

Dear Workforce:

I would like some guidance on how HR in my company can successfully shift its focus from being largely administrative to engage in more facilitative, consultative and developmental work. We want to embrace the concept of HR as a strategic business partner, change agent and leader. My company is a light and power company with a little over 1,500 employees in several locations island-wide.

- Sharon

Dear Sharon:

Shifting HR from an administrative to strategic focus requires a change in organizational mindsets, and that's not easy to accomplish. Over the course of the past century, decision-making has been driven by the finance and marketing functions, which was fine when financial capital and customers were the most constrained resources.

These days, we all know that good people are hard to come by, and it's the ability to manage these human assets that will determine whether or not organizations will reach their goals. If I had to boil the process down, I'd put these three items at the top of my transformational to-do list.

The first and most important task is to adopt a common language and framework within the HR function for developing and communicating the HR activities that build value for the organization. You can't be strategic unless you know how to connect to business issues, and you won't be perceived as strategic if different members of the HR function are using different methods and language in an attempt to become strategic partners. Several frameworks exist today. For one example, check out the work at Cornell University by John Boudreau as illustrated in the working paper case study about Encyclopedia Britannica.

The second step is to use this framework to think and act top-down rather than bottom-up. This means figuring out what constraints threaten to keep your organization from reaching its goals (and these are almost always people issues now) and then seeing what HR can do to help overcome the constraints. This process will create a pull for HR services, provide HR with the opportunity to take the lead in solving business problems, and put you in the strategic, facilitative and consultative position your looking for.

Finally, and this is hardest , focus on changing the way your organization makes human capital decisions. This is important because most big human capital decisions are made outside of the HR function. If you don't improve the way others in the organization make decisions that have people implications, they will continue to make poor decisions.

I have two suggestions regarding this focus shift. One is to use your framework with other functions regularly. Pull it out in every conversation and use it to explain what you are doing and show how the decisions affect employees. The second is to spread accountability for human capital issues like turnover, training effectiveness, etc. Holding people accountable for the human capital we have entrusted to them is a big step in getting people to make better decisions.

Transforming an HR function into a true strategic partner is not an easy task and it takes time, but it can be done. Start with some baby steps, and before you know it you'll not only be aligning your activities with the organization's strategy, but you'll be helping to formulate that strategy.

SOURCE: Paul Bly, Ph.D, consultant, PDI's Organizational Solutions group, Minneapolis, MN.