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Flexing HR’s Business Muscle

Most every company has moved past the initial hype of cloud-based human resource (HR) software as a money-saving tactic (it’s not) to understanding its real benefits around agility for efficiencies and faster innovation. Now the real work has begun for those HR professionals determined to reposition themselves as a strategic business partner.

A recent ISG survey found that improving strategic alignment with the business is the leading area HR organizations are focused on for the next couple of years. Specific to HR software, two of the research findings and ISG conclusions struck me as most interesting. First was that an improved user experience tops the list of expected benefits from implementing both new HR technologies, as well as new HR delivery models, such as HR outsourcing or shared services. (Full disclosure: the report also mentions SuccessFactors, an SAP company, my employer, as an example of a cloud-based HR software vendor.) Second was that real-time workforce visibility and flexibility enables organizations to respond to changing market conditions, emerging markets and growth objectives.

To dig deeper into the ramifications for HR professionals, I talked with Paul L. Belliveau, a Human Capital Management strategist, advisor and thought-leader based in Bedford, New Hamphire. He believes that it’s up to HR to decipher the company’s missions, business goals, and obstacles, paying particular attention to the impact on its “people assets.”

“What really gets HR to the business table is providing evidence that it knows the business, and is capable of developing the strategies to help the business execute against its own objectives. HR needs to use targeted analytics that prove the value of people in the organization with metrics that are measurable and meaningful to the business.”

smallTransaltablog.jpgWhile this may sound pretty obvious, Belliveau told me that attitudes about HR vary by company. “Some HR organizations haven’t stepped up to the plate. They either don’t know how or are being held back.”

Start-ups have the opportunity to build the connection between HR and the business strategy into the company’s DNA early on. Established companies may be looking at HR transformation to make the link more explicit by establishing point-to-point HR solutions for what needs to be solved on the business side. Regardless of the company’s maturity level, the outcomes of strategic HR are unequivocal—more productive, engaged employees who are able to better support business goals.

Such is the case at TransAlta, a Canadian-based energy company where HR has had a major role in supporting its strategic shift to renewable energy in response to consumer demands and regulatory mandates. TransAlta realized it needed to reskill and retool its 2,800 employees to deliver on the company’s new strategy. The HR organization turned to the SuccessFactors talent management solutions suite for not only a make-over of the company’s HR processes, but also its brand to attract top talent.

“We had redundant, outdated, either manual processes or outdated systems that didn’t fit with our larger vision,” said Susanne Beaton, Director of Talent Management at TransAlta. “Knowing that we were in a competitive labor market, we leveraged that opportunity to also make us more marketable by being able to give employees strong talent tools in order for them to execute on their careers here at TransAlta.”

By consolidating eight talent management systems into one, TransAlta’s employees now complete core HR tasks in as little as one-third of the time. Also reflecting the ISG survey results on the importance of user experience, Beaton said that TransAlta employees required little to no training time due to the intuitive nature of the SuccessFactors user interface. The company touts its 100 percent employee completion rates in both employee profiles and succession planning as a further demonstration of how easy the system is to use.

Cloud technology is giving HR a much more powerful tool than the latest software. Framed by the business case, cloud-based software can align HR to directly support the vision of the company, thereby increasing sales and customer satisfaction. There’s no stronger future-proofing for the business than that.


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