What is the role of HR in organizational success?
Before we can answer that question what we really need to do is ask, "What do we mean by success?"
If success is defined as helping the organization make a profit, it muddies the issue. If success is defined as helping the organization achieve its mission, vision, strategy, and goals (MSVG), HR's role is clearer.
This broader definition highlights the line of sight perspective that every HR professional must acquire according to HR guru David Ulrich and other experts.
This involves recognizing that the link between helping an individual employee, their team, their department, and their company perform better is a matter of context and HR strategy.
HR professionals must ensure that there is a direct connection between the policies, procedures, programs and services they offer and the organization's larger purposes. Absent clear and deliberate linkages, the HR department is just a cost center that is undervalued and unappreciated.
Chief Human Resources Officer's must take a strategic approach to work. Strategy starts with thinking, long before the doing. Our business or HR philosophy, our guiding principles or our operating framework makes all the difference.
Strategic human resources is about harnessing human potential
Many HR professionals are held back by clinging to the outdated notion that the human resources function is about serving employees. As a young CHRO in the early 1990′s, I developed what I thought was the ultimate slogan for my HR department. I proudly touted it until my reeducation as an HR manager a decade letter.
It said, "We take care of those who take care of business." It was simple, powerful, and poetic.
Yet, it was wrongheaded.
This approach caused me to have a helping and serving mindset and influenced how I set about organizing, staffing, and operating my department. To my understanding today, the purpose of the HR function is to leverage human potential on behalf of the organization so that the latter achieves its MVSG.
In the past, I advocated for people and things, developed programs, and made decisions that did not have a return on investment. They were nice to have 'feel-good' programs that seemed to make sense for employees and morale.
They were allegedly in the best interest of employees, but not necessarily the organization as a whole. If an organization becomes uncompetitive, unprofitable, and ineffective because employees see their relationship with their employer as a provider of perquisites, then the organization will likely go out of business.
HR should champion high performance
Instead of helping and serving employees, HR should be developing, supporting, encouraging, and enabling employees-building capacity. We must help our organizations with harnessing human potential and channeling it in the right direction - toward the achievement of the organization's MSVG. This mindset, perspective, or viewpoint is the starting point to strategic HR.
An HR function that exists to serve employees might as well be a social service, or benefits and aid organization, in contrast to a business. A strategic HR department enables, empowers, and engages employees for the purposes of the business or organization.
This subtle but profound shift in thinking has helped me earn a seat at the table. Did you get that? I said earn a seat at the table. Many human resource professionals are waiting to get a seat at the table.
We earn a seat by being a valuable organizational asset. We do so by serving the ultimate aims of the organization - helping the organization achieve its MSVG. When we help our functions make this shift, we are half way to becoming a strategic partner.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on HR's strategic role in the organization. What are the most important characteristics of a superstar HR manager in the 21st century? Leave a comment below with the following characteristics placed in order of priority:
A. Good with people
B. Operationally efficient
C. Has a strategic mindset
D. Knows HR content
E. Understands the business/industry
F. Compliance Expert
Related Reading: Are you using HR analytics and metrics effectively? In this post, Cathy Missildine outlines how to identify which HR activities and which employee knowledge, skills and behaviors impact the bottom line.