HR as Strategic Partner: The Warrior of the 21st Century

By Julie Jones, CHRP

With the current downturn in the economy and the shift in today’s workplace, it is not enough for HR to simply have a seat at the executive table. To make an impact and create positive change, HR must have the courage to find their voice and contribute true value to the business. They need to become an HR Warrior!

When we think ‘warrior’, we think of somebody in conflict. The HR warrior’s conflict revolves around the traditional role of HR (the past), and the futuristic and contemporary role of HR (the present and the future). A decade ago writing about this topic would have included what one needed to do in order to have a seat at the executive table. Fast forward to today and the struggle is no longer about how to get there, but more about what we need to do differently now that we are there. It’s about understanding the business and the people issues in relation to the business. There has never been a better time for HR leaders to take their seat and lead the charge into the workplace of the 21st Century.

In 2007, the HR Competency Study, conducted jointly by the RBL Group and the Ross School at the University of Michigan, provided a comprehensive global empirical review of the HR profession. The key findings produced an HR competency model divided into two dimensions: focus and level of influence. While this article does not attempt to go into the details of this study, it shines a light on how critical it is for HR to be in alignment with the business and has a great story to tell about how impactful this can be to the business.

Another study conducted by The Corporate Leadership Council surveyed 2,500 HR professionals and 13,000 line managers from more than 100 companies across 20 industries in 2007 and found that there was a mutual desire to be more strategic. Ninety-three per cent of CHRO’s and line managers indicated they wanted their HR business partners to become more strategic and yet 92 per cent of most line managers were disappointed in HR’s ability to accomplish this. We can conclude that while the desire is clearly there for HR to take the lead, the evidence seems to paint a very different picture.

There is, however, a common theme in these two studies that is reflected in the struggle between what the business wants and what HR appears to be delivering at the strategic level. The good news is that HR is well poised to take advantage of this opportunity. Look to those around you who you know have been successful in making the shift from the traditional to the contemporary. Ask yourself what you need to do to make this happen for you. Coming from your own principles here are five triggers to get you started:

1. Where are you choosing to spend your attention? Are you spending most of your time internally focused and working on initiatives that don’t align with the business strategy, or are you standing in the business (and outside the business) to understand the true needs that HR must deliver on?

2. Are you viewed as an equal partner on par with other executives around the table? If not, why not? Having the courage to equalize the playing field is a critical success factor and connects with the leadership skill of learning to strategically influence. What are you doing to increase your awareness and your ability to influence others?

3. How are you using your workforce analytics to tell your story in a way that the business can hear? You have to be able to speak the same language and understand the financials and business operatives to be able to effectively guide your decisions and create long term solutions.

4. Who do you have in your HR shop? Do you have the right people in the right roles focusing on the right business issues? Your business should really be driving who you have on staff and you need to ensure you have strong subject matter expertise in-house to support and drive the business in the right direction.

5. What are you doing to continually build trust and credibility individually and collectively? The foundation needs to be rock solid and you need to have trust and credibility anchored into everything you do and touch.

One of the respected HR leaders, David Ulrich, refers to globalization, the pace of technology, industry trends, unexpected competition and changing demographics as the external factors that are shaping the organizations we all work in. Whether we are in the private or public sector, unionized or non-unionized, service or manufacturing, there is no denying that being able to lead in today’s workplace requires courage and a strong sense of self. To be successful as a strategic HR partner it is imperative that you are a warrior. A strong business leader AND a strong people leader. If HR doesn’t take this opportunity to step up and take the charge, the business leaders will.

Julie Jones, MA, PCC, CHRP is a senior consultant and coach with Knightsbridge. Julie presented at the Northern Symposium addressing what it takes to become a Strategic HR Partner.




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