Training HR itself to be Strategic

I’ve been following a posting on Linkedin all week and it is up to 108 posts as of today, It’s a great discussion around why HR is often accused of not being strategic. This is a thought provoking question for me. How do we, should we, as HR practitioners make sure that we are training ourselves to be current and strategic? We are good at leading others (employees) through training and development, but are we holding ourselves to the same bar? I’ll share a few of my personal thoughts below, however, I would love to hear from all of you bloggers about how you keep your skills and thinking strong in the HR field to avoid being viewed as non value add. I have fallen into the mundane transaction based HR trap one too many times in my twelve years in the field. Luckily failure is the best lesson to learn from and leads to success if humbly one lets it be a tutor.

In HR I think we all too often fail to link to strategy and deliver bottom line (measurable) results. Because we consider ourselves to be somewhat consultative and separate (eg for confidentiality sake) in our nature and function, we can easily isolate ourselves from the mainstream business functions. This leads to what every CEO is most worried about HR becoming – a transaction based operation and not a strategic operation.

HR departments need to be metrics based and conjoined to strategy same as all other departments. We need to be as fluid and changing as the other pieces of the business. The HR teams that fail typically fail because they become separate and set in their ways. Because we are by nature a compliant/legally charged bunch, we can become legalistic in our mindset and become more focused on following process and steps, and not measuring outcomes and value (in dollars) that we create. Rigid mindsets are the enemy of change agility and strategy. So this is the first thing I will take on in myself when trying to stay strategic. We are not the gatekeepers so much as we are the partners in achieving ideal human capital outcomes and productivity. Yes, we uphold laws and are gatekeepers of behaviors. No, we are not primarily here to do that.

In a past position I was brought into an organization to turnaround the HR operation from old school to new school. We changed the structure by looking at ways to make processes more efficient (this way of thinking came not from my HR training but my Six Sigma training). One area of low hanging fruit was recruiting. We had distracted HR staff members managing this process. But because we hired over 150 staff members a year there was zero room for distracted. So I hired a recruiter and taught this recruiter to utilize process improvement methods to drive cost down and productivity up. We also revamped the screening process and created streamlined and more modern screening tools for managers to use that were less prone to human error (screening in too many or screening out too many). And we did a lot more outside of recruiting. For example we more than doubled outcomes (winning cases) with unemployment by ending the vendor contract, hiring a vendor with a different approach to cases, and developing disciplines in house so that policies and documentation were solid and likely to be upheld by the IDES. There were a few other areas (learning and development and work comp projects) that were also selected as key projects at this company. We chose the areas of focus by always, as Stephen Covey puts it, “beginning with the end in mind.” We looked at the five year corporate strategy and built process improvements around it and not our own whims. We looked at the waste (money overspent, and time overspent) and we blew up the current process and were tenaciously determined to rebuild the process around process improvements. We then measured outcomes every quarter and published them for our business partners (other depts) to see and hold us accountable. Every quarter our process and focus would change as the need changed. This was the opposite of rigid and legalistic and instead required a fluid, ever changing HR team that built people and process around strategy and need.

I did not learn this way of approaching HR from a business and problem solving angle from my fellow HR practitioners. The minority of HR practitioners are as aggressive with outcomes based methodology as our finance, operations, etc, counterparts. I learned this way of thinking by working for a Finance VP and CEO where this thought process was required for survival since they expected it of me.

I hope to keep learning from the logical and measurement based folks in business. I love working alongside finance associates, engineers, programmers, operations and executive level associates. I try to keep my cup empty enough of myself, of HR, so that I can gain insight from them. It’s the edge I crave and need to be a strategic HR practitioner.

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