HR's Strategic Role: Champions of High Performance or Organizational Sandbags?

Guest Contributorby Dr. Christopher Lee | Posted | Performance Management

HR\'s Strategic Role: Champions of High Performance or Organizational Sandbags?

The role of the HR department is to help unleash human potential in support of the organization's mission, vision, strategy and goals. In this capacity, HR must be concerned with internal business operations, continuous improvement, competition, and the bottom line. So enabling individual and organizational performance becomes HR’s strategic role

Why should HR be concerned about the organization's customers, competition, cost structure, and regulatory environment? One short word—jobs. Being concerned about employees is a moot point if there are no jobs for them. 

Using the human resources from-the-outside-in perspective espoused by David Ulrich and others, HR’s strategic role must concern itself with the business of the business. There is nothing more important in business than results. Results derive from employee performance. 

How then can HR embrace this challenge? The role of the HR department should be to champion high performance.

HR must be advocates and architects of high performance 

We must advocate for all things that support optimal performance (e.g., culture, high standards and expectations, supervisor accountability, diversity and equal opportunity, the employee value proposition, etc.). 

We must build better people systems that support high performance (e.g. alternative appraisal systems, fair rewards, talent management and engagement programs, etc.). 

Most importantly, in HR’s strategic role, each of the things that we articulate or build must be deliberately designed to support, and be directly linked to the organization’s mission, vision, strategy and goals.

The strategic role for HR must be to be a leader in advocating for high performance from every employee, team, department, and the organization itself. 

Functions such as diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity take on new meaning when the organization is serious about ensuring that every employee has the support he or she needs to reach their full potential. 

Fairness and ethics take care of themselves organically when results are valued and are used as the ultimate measuring stick. 

A 21st-century strategic HR department shifts itself from ensuring marginal employees are given due process in their disciplinary process, to challenging coworkers to provide assistance, on-the-job training, and encouragement to their flailing coworker. 

When championing high performance, HR’s strategic role might involve delivering the sober news to an employee that their good work is simply not good enough for the company. Outsourcing, off-shoring, right-sizing, and jobs being shipped overseas should be a wake-up call for every HR manager. 

The HR manager must ensure that every employee is performing optimally to meet the challenge of global competition, or else. 

HR is the lever that drives performance upwards

When employees do their best work, everyone wins. When HR is seen as the lever that drives performance upwards, then HR lives up to its potential as the most important function in every organization. 

The idea that HR is a business-oriented function that exists to unleash human potential stands in stark contrast to older views of many HR professionals who cite fairness, compliance, and rule enforcement as some of the reasons they joined the profession. 

While these are noble roles for HR professionals, they are subordinate to the ultimate purposes of the function—to leverage human potential in support of the organization's mission, vision, strategy, and goals. If being a strategic partner in the 21st century requires the latter, we may have many of the wrong people in the human resources function. 

Some might think it blasphemous to imply that many human resource professionals should find another career because their view of the profession is out of step with the future of the profession. 

While I think that this is the case, there is some solace in the emerging opinion that there may be as many as three HR-related professions existing under one umbrella. Is there still room for a compliance-oriented profession in addition to operational and strategic ones? 

Your turn: Is it possible for HR to simultaneously be an employee advocate and champion of high performance? Does having high standards mean that some employees will not meet them and should therefore exit the organization?

For more on how HR can build their world class workforces, download the Employee Performance Management ebook.

Employee Performance Management eBook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Best Practices


Employee Performance Management eBook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Best Practices


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