Human Resources, with its diverse internal and external customer base, the ability to touch all levels of the organization and the legendary understanding of the organization’s environment could not be more suited for the critical role of a strategic business partner.
In General Electric’s recently published 2008 annual letter to shareholders, the CEO Jeff Immelt stated the following: “…..The secret to all of these dimensions of developing leaders is to have a great team of human resource professionals. Enduring companies must have a passion for people. GE has a great HR team that protects our valuable human assets. I want to give them special recognition this year….” For years, GE has acknowledged the success of Bill Conaty, their Senior Vice President of Corporate Human Resources. Bill Conaty is highly valued for his continued contribution to the organization. His insight and input have been invaluable. In a 2004 article written by Anne Freedman, Conaty himself stated: “I consider my real core competency and my value to the organization as being a human resource leader, but without having the business grounding, I don’t think I would be an effective HR partner.”
Organizations that consider their employees to be the most valuable asset cannot afford to not have human resources functioning in a true strategic business partner role. Human Resource professionals are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and abilities, the talent to partner with senior leadership to not only be involved in the strategic management of the organization but drive the implementation of it. As stated in “The 8 Practices of Exceptional Companies, How Great Organizations Make the Most of Their Human Assets” by Jac Fitz-Enz, “Strategic plans must be laid on a core strategy, a solid wall of values. Core strategies lead to strategic plans, organizational charts, operating plans, quantitative objectives, and ultimately, to specific human behavior and task performance.” Business oriented HR professionals can help design a strategic plan that balances the needs of the organization, its employees, and other stakeholders. It can help align the efforts of the various functions in the organization with the plan’s strategic goals, and it can support those functions by ensuring that they can recruit, develop, and retain the necessary company team members. HR, as strategic business partners should be the drivers of the organizations values thus the drivers of the strategic plan.
HR should be made responsible for owning the leadership and employee development, as well as direct all communication efforts, especially as it relates to the pulse of the employee population. Succession planning is an area that a strategic HR business partner should be involved in. As discussed in “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, having the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats is the key element to the success of any organization – who better than to manage the people process than a strategic HR business partner.
To fulfill a strategic business partner role, HR leaders must understand the organization’s business. In addition to fully understanding the business, HR must understand the environment in which it operates, the competition, and the circumstances that could influence the progress of the organization. HR can no longer focus on its own internal tasks. It must be responsible for ensuring that HR’s strategy, goals and priorities are driven by and aligned with the overall business needs. It must establish key business partnerships with senior management, as well as key figures in other functions within the organization. Although the operational role of HR, the day-to-day tasks required to run an organization are not strategic in nature, the responsibilities must mirror the goals of the organization. There needs to be a more integrated global company-wide process that considers how each of the HR programs can help move the entire organization in the right direction.
In addition to HR increasing its own knowledge of the organization and creating solid partnerships through collaborative communication efforts, increasing its knowledge in other areas is extremely important to being a successful strategic business partner. HR must increase its knowledge of Finance and Accounting, Marketing and Sales, Operations, and Information Technology and hone in on key business skills. Almost every activity in an organization can be referred to as a project. That is why it is important for professionals in HR to improve their project management skills. In addition to project management skills, strategic HR business partners must fully understand the strategic planning process. HR must be able to manage change, perform environmental scanning, and understand the importance of outsourcing and the process associated with outsourcing. Being able to manage technology and measure the effectiveness of all company-wide programs and efforts are equally important. HR should also be playing a vital role in leadership coaching, should be responsible for implementing strategies to become an employer of choice, and should be responsible for leading programs to safe guard your company performance from external elements.
To summarize, Human Resource professionals touch every level and every department in the organization. Due to the involvement across the company, employees at all levels get to know and trust the members of the HR team. Because of HR’s familiarity with the change management process and human capital development, successful companies benefit from having HR fully functioning in a strategic business partner role. If your company is not already doing so, allow Human Resources to be represented in meetings along side other senior leaders. There is not a more suitable functional group within the company to be responsible for leading the development of strategic plans, implementing key tactics, and measuring the organizations success in executing its plan than Human Resources.