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How do We Sustain Collaboration Between Business Units as Our HR Function Moves to a Different Floor?

November 11, 2011

Dear Staying Connected:

If you truly want to be collaborative and stay in touch with your customers, take a lesson from hockey great Wayne Gretzky. Once asked if his strategy was to skate towards the puck, Gretzky shook his head no. Instead, Gretzky always skated to the spot where he anticipated the puck would be.

The real action in a company takes place on the line. That's where the puck will be, so skate towards it and don't wait for it to come to you.

It may seem ideal for your human resources function to be situated in the heart of a business unit. But don't allow the location of your department to dictate how it interacts with your customers. Treat the move to a different floor as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. A progressive human resources function imbeds itself in the business units they serve.

This is often referred to as "business partnering" and, frankly, the term has become oversimplified to the point where many professionals struggle to articulate how a business partnership truly works. Key point: The interaction between HR and the line managers results from relationships, not location. Just like personal relationships, business relationships require effort.

You've probably heard of the phrase "management by walking around." HR leadership is no different. Spend time every day walking around in the business unit. It's time well spent and will support the collaborative environment you value. Ask for an invitation to attend meetings of line staff. If you attend on a regular basis, you won't be perceived as a guest, but rather as an integral part of the team. And you will be added to the regular distribution list, not just for meetings but for other important communications as well.

Additionally, you will develop your business acumen by spending more time in the unit with employees, who are often closer to the customer than you might be.

Although a convenient location allows your customers easy access to HR, relying on location alone is a reactive approach to a real business partnership. Don't allow your customers to take HR for granted simply because its location is convenient. Putting distance between your locations forces you to take a proactive approach, with HR staff spending time out interacting directly on the front lines of the business unit.

Finally, remember that you must be relevant to interact as a business partner. Administrative support is important for HR credibility, but it's really a ticket for admission to the proverbial "seat" at the executive table.. Your real strategic value relates to coaching and counseling on talent management. Exceptional HR functions provide tools, services, and processes to improve organizational effectiveness—and may help the business attract, retain and develop its best people for a competitive edge.

SOURCE: Jeff Husserl, Coral Bridge Partners, Chicago

LEARN MORE: Human resources executives needn't be shrinking violets during recession. Some experts say HR should take greater control in helping their organizations turn things around.

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.