Leadership Level HR 101: Building a Better Business Practice


For some time now, we’ve been hearing fa double-edged complaint: from CEOs bemoaning their HR team’s lack of vision and from HR teams begrudging being left out of those very same strategic discussions.

With the added stress of AI and technology, we are starting to see more articles and viewpoints declaring that HR is officially dead, while others are focusing on the necessary human skills that HR is known for contributing to organizations. Whatever viewpoint you support, what is clear is that HR is standing on quicksand and choices will need to be made in order for the HR function to be strategic, innovative and able to drive business forward.

Of Talent and Technology
In their excellent book, Talent Wins, Ram Charan, Dominic Barton and Dennis Carey make a definitive point in declaring, “Talent has never been more important to the success of the corporation. Talent is king. Talent, even more than strategy is what creates value.” They argue that talent and financial resources should be put on an equal footing if an organization hopes to remain competitive and successful in our changing global economy.

It seems that many organizations have been pinning their hopes for some time on technology, in the hopes that it would shake up the HR profession and have a positive impact on the entire business. However, many organizations are not embracing technology as quickly or as easily as expected; in some environments, it’s even creating more complex issues around privacy and data management as opposed to reducing the inherent complexity that occurs when trying to effectively manage large numbers of employees.

An article in the HR Technologist published last year shared the results of a survey they had done and, “Despite all the talk, there is no large scale HR tech adoption in the domain. About 34 per cent of the surveyed companies did not use technology automation for recruitment, 44 per cent did not automate onboarding, and 60 per cent were not automating any human capital management (HCM) activities for employees.”

Of People, Process and Intent
We have known for decades that people the key factor in organizational success, but our HR structures and processes don’t often actually support that perspective. As with good leadership, there is a general acceptance and understanding about what factors into effective HR; it’s in the execution where our positive intent seems to get lost.

Daily examples come to mind. One of the clients I work with has a typical environment where corporate functions and operations don’t communicate very well, and has struggled to implement a total rewards system. It was built with great effort by their HR department, but with no input from the operational side. The result, as is unfortunately common, is that the system looked great on paper, but was inherently flawed in its application and created a great deal of hurt feelings on the operations side.

Along similar lines, another colleague of mine was receiving one job offer from his key contact within an organization, while the internal recruiter sending him something completely different. These examples are common, but unfortunately they discredit the both the effort and potential of HR. They do drive home a point though that is business 101 for drivers within the profession.

Surpassing Past and Present Perceptions
In order to facilitate the much-needed move to strategic partner, HR has to break down organizational silos, as well as its own, and become an integrated part of the business; this means focusing on talent strategy and not ‘HR’ in its traditional sense. For that shift to happen, it is crucial that we change how we educate our HR professionals. Many HR diplomas and programs are still very much built around specific HR functions (recruitment, training, payroll, HRIS, labour relations, etc.) without making any links to the actual business goals and strategy of the organization, or teaching critical thinking.

While these key areas have been included in the most recent CPHR framework, and are thereby working their way into the workplace, as well as those affiliated post-secondary institutions, the current reality and regard of the HR profession in the workplace leans towards an antiquated perception.

In DDI’s 2018 Global Leadership Forecast, only 11 per cent of senior leadership rated the HR function as “Anticipators”—defined as “uses analytics to forecast talent needs; provides insights and solutions to ensure high-quality supply of talent; links talent planning to business planning”. When you reflect on the talent challenges facing organizations today, that statistic is simply alarming, even more so when the HR professionals only rated themselves at 17 per cent.

Moreover, 43 per cent of senior leaders rated their HR leadership as being “Reactors”— defined as “sets and ensures compliance with policies; responds to business needs; installs basic initiatives to manage talent.” In other words, the classic—and extremely outdated—view of a human resources department.

Building a Better Business Practice of HR
So how can we move from responding to business needs to a place where HR professionals are partners in identifying and defining the needs of the business, and therefore fully participating in the strategic conversations happening at the C-suite?

First, figure out where your HR function stands within your organization:

  • Are you more focused on compliance?
  • Are you reactive as opposed to proactive?
  • Are you an influencer?
  • Would you consider yourself and your team completely integrated into the business to the point where you are defining strategy and sharing your vision of the business with other members of the senior leadership team?

Once you figure out your starting point, you can decide where you need and want to go next.

Converse, Consider and Close the Gaps
Many HR teams are not operating with a clear vision of their organization’s business goals and strategy. Have conversations with your senior leaders; clearly understand your business drivers and how a talent strategy will help you achieve the overall strategic vision.

Another key is to get regular feedback on the effectiveness of your HR function. Have honest conversations with other department heads on the value you are providing, and what you could be doing differently. Keep clear metrics to show progress and ongoing areas of improvement.

Look at the gaps between the talent you have now, and the talent the organization will need. Implement a succession planning program; this is one of the best ways to find your current gaps and opportunities for development. Work with all the leaders to help them identify their flight risks, their talent pain points, and where there is opportunity for growth. This process also allows you to attract and retain key employees by creating a clear career path for those who wish to advance within the organization.

Share a Story: Tell Your Own
Leverage technology. It’s not going to replace key people, but instead will provide you with the tools so you can be more efficient and focus your time on what actually matters. Most importantly, use that technology and your team to create an employee experience of which your organization can be proud—and which speaks volumes of HR’s ROI in return.

In short, make HR matter to people and their careers. Be an essential factor in your organization’s success – and then market yourselves internally so that everyone knows what you have achieved and what you are capable of. Tell your story.

HR has an amazing opportunity to create a function that is exciting, cutting-edge and so much more than “just a cost centre.” It’s time to make it happen.

Named by CEO Today magazine as one of 2018’s top 100 global management consultants,  Jennifer Gerves-Keen, master corporate executive coach, partners with organizations to create better businesses through internal coaching systems and evolving leadership. 


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