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Dear Workforce How Can HR Be a Strategic Business Partner

Figure out what constraints threaten to keep your organization from reaching its goals and then see what HR can do to help overcome the constraints.
January 14, 2001
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Dear Workforce

    I would like someguidance on how HR in my company can successfully shift its focus from beinglargely administrative to engage in more facilitative, consultative anddevelopmental work. We want to embrace the concept of HR as a strategic businesspartner, change agent and leader. My company is a light and power company with alittle over 1,500 employees in several locations island-wide.

- Sharon 

ADear Sharon: 

   Shifting HR from an administrative to strategic focus requires a change inorganizational mindsets, and that's not easy to accomplish. Over the course ofthe past century, decision-making has been driven by the finance and marketingfunctions, which was fine when financial capital and customers were the mostconstrained resources. 

   These days, we all know that good people are hard to come by, and it'sthe ability to manage these human assets that will determine whether or notorganizations will reach their goals. If I had to boil the process down, I'd putthese three items at the top of my transformational to-do list.

   The first and most important task is to adopt a common language and frameworkwithin the HR function for developing and communicating the HR activities thatbuild value for the organization. You can't be strategic unless you know how toconnect to business issues, and you won't be perceived as strategic if differentmembers of the HR function are using different methods and language in anattempt to become strategic partners. Several frameworks exist today.  Forone example, check out the work at Cornell University by John Boudreau asillustrated in the workingpaper case study about Encyclopedia Britannica.

   The second step is to use this framework to think and act top-down rather thanbottom-up. This means figuring out what constraints threaten to keep yourorganization from reaching its goals (and these are almost always people issuesnow) and then seeing what HR can do to help overcome the constraints. Thisprocess will create a pull for HR services, provide HR with the opportunity totake 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 makeshuman capital decisions. This is important because most big human capitaldecisions are made outside of the HR function. If you don't improve the wayothers in the organization make decisions that have people implications, theywill continue to make poor decisions. 

   I have two suggestions regarding this focus shift. One is to use yourframework with other functions regularly. Pull it out in every conversationand use it to explain what you are doing and show how the decisions affectemployees. The second is to spread accountability for human capital issueslike turnover, training effectiveness, etc. Holding people accountable forthe human capital we have entrusted to them is a big step in getting people tomake better decisions.

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


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

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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