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HR as Strategic Partner: Are You Ready?


Jun 17, 2019, 9:00 AM.

HR’s role is changing. Do you have the skills to succeed?

Human resources is awhirl in change, including advances in big data and automation, new strategies for employee recruitment and retention, and updated guidelines for wages and benefits administration.

These factors have created opportunities for HR organizations. No longer just a tactical center, HR now influences company strategy and has a stronger voice at the decision-making table. And that requires a set of new skills and competencies for HR professionals.

The Evolving Role of HR

Today’s enterprises look to HR for more than head counts and compliance. Increased demand for highly qualified, highly mobile employees calls for new strategic functions related to organizational planning and development to meet business needs.

As a result, HR professionals are expected to develop and execute strategies related to the following areas, according to a report from Korn Ferry:

  • Benefits and compensation
  • Compliance
  • Culture, diversity and inclusion
  • Employee relations
  • HR technology
  • Leadership development
  • Onboarding, learning, training and retraining
  • Organizational design
  • Performance management
  • Recruiting and retention
  • Succession planning
  • Talent acquisition

This broadening of core HR functions opens the way for HR professionals to transition from being service providers and to becoming high- value consultants.

Get a Seat at the Table

If your organization doesn’t yet view HR as a strategic business function, here are four ways you can take a seat at the table for higher-level conversations:

  1. Find an advocate. Identify a top-level colleague from another area who can include you in appropriate strategic meetings and make sure you’re heard at the proceedings.
  2. Align HR with broader business needs. Review your KPIs to focus on outputs related to your job or department and outcomes related to company performance. Linking HR to corporate strategic goals shows you understand the business and how HR can advance it.
  3. Deliver valuable insights. Data drives business. HR pros need to monitor and share metrics relevant to department and business performance. Research from Bersin by Deloitte found that analytics-informed HR leaders are “four times more likely to be respected by their business counterparts for their data-driven decision-making.”
  4. Anticipate and support future talent needs. Be a part of the discussion earlier, when projects and initiatives are being planned. Upstream involvement enables you to provide strategic counsel on sourcing the right talent for the work and designing necessary training programs.

Opportunities for HR Professionals

The Deloitte 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report highlights five key areas of opportunity for HR professionals:

  • 89% of executives made strengthening, retooling and upgrading organizational leadership a priority, yet 21% don’t even have leadership programs.
  • 86% said culture was an important or very important issue, though only 12% thought their companies were building the right culture.
  • 85% considered engagement important or very important, but only 46% are prepared to execute on improving it.
  • 84% ranked learning as important or very important, though 37% say their programs are effective.
  • 33% of the workforce is made up of millennials — the largest population now working — and they hold 20% of all managerial jobs (according U.S. Census Bureau and BLS data), yet only 7% of HR executives’ companies have fast-tracked leadership development for this age group.

Boost Your Skill Set

The changing role of HR requires new or deeper skills in key areas.

Business knowledge. Only 17% of HR teams believe they have a very good understanding of their companies’ products, services and profit models, according to the Deloitte 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report. Actively learn more about the business areas of the company, including how they function and the challenges they face.

Data and analytics. A KPMG survey found that 85% of C-level executives felt their HR leaders “fail to provide insightful analytics.” As businesses continue to focus on business intelligence to drive decisions, it’s critical for HR professional to understand how to track, analyze and activate analytics related to HR management processes and development activities.

Design thinking. Design thinking was a priority for 79% of respondents in the Deloitte survey, signaling its value as an HR skill. The approach spotlights the needs of people and the quality of their experiences to produce desired results, not just the processes and procedures. According to Deloitte, “self-identified high-performing companies are three to four times more likely than their competitors to be applying design thinking to their people practices.”

HR technology. HR pros need to embrace and understand the HR2.0 tech stack. SHRM data shows that more than 80% of businesses plan to replace their legacy (or HR1.0) systems with more agile systems that provide better monitoring and evaluation, automate certain functions, and make it easier to create employee experiences that improve performance, retention and overall satisfaction.

Networking, marketing and social media. With multiple generations (boomers, Gens X, Y & Z) in the job market, simply placing ads doesn’t cut it. HR pros must learn how to deliver the right recruiting message to the right audience at the right time and on the right channel.

Strengthening or developing these skills is important to your career advancement — and your employer’s bottom line. According to a CEB report, businesses making big investments in developing HR teams experienced a 22% lift in employee performance and a 24% increase in retention, gains that ultimately led to revenue growth of 7% and profit growth of 9%.

“[HR need professionals] to be key partners with senior leadership, who help drive their organization’s success”

“HR to pros must learn how to deliver the right recruiting message to the right audience at the right time and on the right channel.”

Considerations for Evaluating Graduate School

After a few years of working in HR, Lisa Brill was ready to advance to another career level with a master’s degree. She considered these important factors when evaluating graduate school:

Flexibility: Review class schedules and locations, length of program, minimum course loads and other requirements to make sure the program can accommodate your commitments. “Fully online options are great for people who are already in the workforce,” she says.

Program quality: Check out the program’s bona fides, such as when it was established, who has attended, where it ranks against other programs, is it accredited and so forth.

Time commitments. Map your current commitments and time constraints over the schedule of your short-list programs to get a real look at what it’s going to take to complete your degree. “I planned out my weeks and months, while juggling a full-time job and life, and made a plan for the year,” Brill recalls.

After considering her options, Brill opted to attend FIU’s Online MS in Human Resources Management program.

“During the program, I was able to apply what I was learning to my day-to-day tasks working as an HR generalist for the FIU College of Medicine,” she explains. And now that she has graduated, she’s realizing more return on that investment.

“[HR professionals] need to be key partners with senior leadership, who help drive their organization’s success,” she says. “Earning a graduate degree has enabled me to think more strategically.”

And her goal of career advancement? Achieved!

Brill was promoted to assistant director of Human Resources for FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine shortly after receiving her degree. “I believe that the program really helped me achieve this goal,” she asserts.

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