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It’s always sobering to discover that a colleague sees something quite differently from you. Especially when the something is your role in the company. So I was hit hard by the latest 20 Minute Master Class from SuccessFactors: “Future priorities for HR: how can you make sure you’re on track”, which is based on a recent CIPD HR Outlook survey.

CIPD had asked HR and non-HR business leaders about corporate priorities and the role of HR and, for a couple of slides, everything was reassuring. Everyone seemed to agree that in the current economic conditions companies were concentrating on short-term issues, such as cost management, productivity and customer focus.

Looking ahead a couple of years, the consensus remained. Yes, HR people were naturally more concerned with longer-term capabilities, but by and large they were talking the same language as their colleagues.

However, when we got to HR’s involvement in strategy, things got a lot more interesting – and uncomfortable. While HR leaders were convinced they were integral to setting, communicating and executing business strategy, non-HR leaders were much less sure. In fact, more than a third of them either said that senior HR people had no involvement in strategy or didn’t know whether they did or not. The implication was that they didn’t really care.

This rang several alarm bells, so it was good to see that the second half of the Masterclass focused on six key messages we can all take from the research to help put HR at the heart of business strategy.

These included raising our visibility and impact by demonstrating the value we bring. We must use evidence and demonstrate the business benefits of HR initiatives. Above all, we need to embrace data and use it not just to illustrate trends, but to initiate change.

I learned that HR people almost always have broad business experience from outside the HR function. They also have a unique understanding of the long-term value of a company’s people. That’s why it’s time to really expose the contribution we can make to business transformation. In tough economic times, businesses are more receptive than ever to creative ideas. But to make sure ours are heard and acted on, we need to present an informed and convincing business case.

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  1. Sven Ringling

    I agree with most of your points and certainly with the general idea that HR should and could make a stronger and more visible contribution to biz strategy.

    But how is this going to happen? HR has been the said to have a much more strategic role in 3 years time for about 20 years now 🙁

    I can see 2 roadblocks HR can address themselves (not meant to be comprehensive), but just talking more about how strategic HR is, is not one of them (against common wisdom, which often emphasises on HR just need to make themselves heard more)

    1) understand the business.

    Your comment about many HR pros having valuable experience outside HR does not match my experience. I am constantly disappointed, when asking HR pros incl director level about the business. Mentioning shareholder value often gets answered by “that’s not our focus. We are longterm rather than looking after short term profit”. Excuse me? I’m not a CFO, but the components of shv. always included a time element in my book. Call it “competitive advantage period” or whatever you want it, but it’s there and it’s a component HR can influence in particular (it certainly can do it for the cost element as well, but that’s less fun). In a workshop with HR BPs to develop a value graph with ideas how HR adds shv. for a particular organisation, I was first shocked about how little thought BPs had ever given to the “B”, but then it turned out they engaged quickly and developed ideas.

    2) almost leads immediately to: engage with line managers. I see it in biz cases for HR systems: HR and IT try to justify e.g. new learning or recruitment systems. Well, if it’s assumed that getting new salesreps on board faster and training them in new products faster boosts sales, then the Sales Director is the one to talk to!

    When MSS reports and processes are designed, why are there so few line managers in the workshops?

    And why is there still so much reluctance to give line managers access to a wide range of online reports and processes?

    I’m not saying it’s all HR’s fault. If two parties aren’t talking enough or not about the right things, it’s rarely only one party’s fault.

    But I am convinced HR needs to be out there more developing HR tools as well as strategy WITH line managers rather than sitting in their room and dreaming sth up FOR them.

    The BP approach has the right name. Unfortunately they hide behind (or are pushed into) legal and HR Ops nitty gritty to much. One reason is the lack of basic biz knowledge (small example: I had a client where HRD and CFO were at loggerheads over a performance mgt system. No sensible conversation any more. HR brought me into a meeting. Icy. Then I could demonstrate I didn’t need any explanation, when he talked about economic value added as their new leading KPI. All turned round in a minute, because he found someone to talk to. A very fruitful meeting)

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    1. Laura Clements Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Sven. It’s always great to hear other points of view. It is Interesting you mention that you believe HR’s focus does not align with finance and other senior stakeholders, and that there is often a lack of communication between HR and Sales when purchasing new software. How do you think one could bridge the gap? Do you think with the emergence of social collaboration tools this will become less of a factor?

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      1. Sven Ringling

        Hi Laura,

        Not sure. Social collaboration does make some things easier, but it can also be an excuse for not picking up the phone and call or walk into the office across the courtyard.

        If the culture doesn’t support cross functional comms (and that includes listening as much as talking) technology doesn’t. But I think it can support chsnge to a certain degree.

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  2. Chris Palmer

    It’s an interesting discussion Laura & Sven. I definitely agree with Sven in that it does make some things easier but it can also lead to people not picking up the phone or walking across the room and we end up with a culture where nobody speaks face to face which can only be detrimental to the business.

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