By Debbie Nicol, Managing Director of ‘business en motion’

Rebooting the HR Function is no longer a choice – it’s a necessity!

Why is it that HR can still be pushed aside in business? Why don’t business leaders form a queue at the doors of HR Departments? Why do CEOs and corporate leaders have such long-held diabolical opinions of the lack of business value from HR? The answer lies wholly and solely in our own hands; the HR profession is simply not providing enough reason for businesses to allocate a seat at the table! It’s time to cement the true meaning of HR Business Partnerships.

Business must produce results – it’s that simple. Without results, customers don’t buy, staff don’t receive salaries and companies don’t survive. For corporate results to occur, there is most definitely a need for support functions to assist – and herein lies the problem. The word ‘assist’ can be interpreted with differing priorities, and even be measured in differing ways. ‘If we only assist, our contribution will be for a different purpose, one that exists on the periphery’! Admittedly, there will always be some administrative responsibility in the HR function, measured not by evidence of change but by evidence of gaps from its absence. Yet the majority of HR effort should be measured by evidence of contribution to solutions for real business challenges; after all motivated and trained people wont be needed if the business is not successful.

Real examples exist of HR bringing tangible contribution to business success, examples that are beyond ‘trends seen in HR data’, ‘the latest leadership development program’ and ‘mechanism to counteract turnover’. These listed examples maintain importance yet is there an opportunity for them to be balanced with business solutions as well.

  • A division head needs the team to be up-to-date with the latest training information, yet the team works when the rest of the world sleeps. Where is opportunity for HR to partner with that division head?
  • A division head has an operational concern, one that’s never happened before due to a changing landscape. Where is the opportunity for HR to partner with that division head in designing a way through the challenge, one that will have people working differently?
  •  A CEO can’t sleep at night because his innovative focus to take the business forward is exponentially creating pressure in the talent pipeline 3 years from now? Where is the opportunity for HR to partner with that CEO?

These are real challenges that all involve productivity and people, the lifeblood of organizations. Why are they perceived as operational problems in which the leaders will ask for assistance from HR, as opposed to HR owning them equally and driving solutions with the leaders. In the latter, the reality of the business is fully understood by HR.

What could happen if for example 60% of the HR functionality was dedicated to understanding the business, building relationships with the business drivers, having those deep discussions to transfer ourselves into their world and building business solutions?

Perhaps the above may look like:

  • HR willingly and regularly providing training around shift times
  • HR sitting in the brainstorming meetings that address business challenges
  • HR recognizing the limitation of an empty pipeline, stimulated into changing the way it recruits, commencing an exciting youth development program.

This would be possible if HR focused not on the business of HR but on the business of the corporation. The business of HR should be a subset of the corporate core business.

The outcome of this change in approach is that tangibility will be at the center of HR activity. Currently, with employer branding, retention, performance management being more intangible, results of any activity may also be intangible. Some great examples of that on an international front would include:

  • When HR ‘understood’ that attracting people to KRAFT’s HQ in a remote and unfavorable location was becoming more difficult in the light of more favored locations, HR started an advertising campaign across social media driven by those who worked there, sharing real and personal perspectives of benefits.
  • When HR ‘understood’ the degree of future talent shortage at Boeing, they designed a senior school program, appealing to the curiosity of teenagers when involved with ‘big engines’. Regular exploratory group visits were employed which earned the loyalty of many of the youth

Tips to ‘get HR’s feet wet’ in the land of business:

Rather than deciding an entire strategic approach is needed to convert an HR operation to an HR business partnership, why not have the HR team commence the journey with some small steps.

  1. Research the core business that the organization is serving, becoming familiar with the industry, terminology and challenges.
  2. Look at, or build, the organization’s business SWOT to be connected with its operating context
  3. On a regular and ongoing basis, start to solidify strong relationship with the division heads. Choose the time wisely and bring one key question in each time, possibly ‘what’s happening in your land’, or gain an opinion on a current business issue. End with a summary of the situation or challenge to confirm understanding. Just remember, if your long-term goal is to contribute to solutions, it will be essential for them to trust the messenger before they trust any message. Simply build your credibility by showing you belong in ‘their land’.
  4. Ensure you talk the business’s language and not the language of HR in future interactions.
  5. Market HR resources and ideas that show both an alignment and understanding to the business. Market successes and create ambassadors out of the proactive leaders.

Currently, HR is an enigma in more ways than one. That is the ‘what is’, yet could there be a brighter horizon in the ‘what can be’? Leaders, even HR leaders, excel in the context of change. According to leadership gurus Kouzes and Posner, there’s great opportunity to challenge the way when moving towards a new future. Is it time for HR leaders to aim for tangible respect, driven by tangible business solutions for today’s tangible business problems. Who’s up for the challenge?

Debbie Nicol, Managing Director of ‘business en motion’ moves businesses and leaders ahead by building organizational frameworks, systems and human capability. When applying the services of business consultancy, training and coaching, business success will be evidenced by change!