There is strategic value in human resources (Guest Commentary)

Sustainable, competitive advantage to recruiting, retaining, leveraging people
By Heidi Hauver and Andrew Waitman
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/18/2012

In this hyper-competitive era, human resources can, should and must play a strategic role. If not, then an organization’s business goals will be more difficult to achieve.

Non-routine creative work requires highly skilled individuals, and recruiting, retaining and engaging these employees is one of the most important roles at any organization.

The 21st century is a “world is flat” century where sustainable success is difficult. Innovation is demanded incessantly, not only in new product design but all functional groups, from marketing to operations.

The only sustainable advantage is recruiting, retaining and leveraging the most talented, creative and capable employees in the world. Geography or confidentiality no longer protects employees from being headhunted.

The Internet ensures almost everyone is one click away from becoming someone else’s employee. Social networking websites such as LinkedIn provide complete visibility of people’s history, capability and recommendations.

During economic slowdowns, recruitment may appear to become easier. But HR professionals know it doesn’t, at least not for the top-tier creative, capable people everyone wants to hire. When the economy recovers, it will undoubtedly be significantly more difficult to recruit.

Innovative recruiting programs are only one step in a series of important strategic HR investments. Once recruited, employees need to have proper career management, opportunities for skills enhancement and both formal and informal feedback. They also need to genuinely enjoy being an employee. HR plays a critical and strategic role in each of these areas.

There are a number of areas where companies can drive strategic value from within HR, including:

• systemically hiring the most talented individuals from anywhere in the world

• using social media tools to provide awareness of key hires and critical positions

• driving an efficient recruitment and selection process

• lowering learning curves and time-to-value of new workers

• improving communication, collaboration and training

• increasing engagement

• reducing turnover

• driving the brand to become an employer of choice

• coaching leadership and senior managers

• facilitating the constant improvement of corporate IQ through formal and informal training, shared internal learning and constant attention to skills upgrading.

To make all this happen, an HR plan needs to be developed and a sufficient budget obtained to execute that plan. HR needs to work with functional leads and determine the areas where HR can be most valuable and strategic.

It also needs to identify new ideas for programs and initiatives to improve retention and engagement and introduce feedback systems, both informal and formal, to enhance employee engagement.

How to get CEO’s attention

Start by linking proactive HR programs to matters that have the CEO’s attention, such as revenue growth, cost management and customer satisfaction.

HR professionals can also focus on driving HR productivity improvements, new innovative products, processes and perspectives, reducing employee turnover and boosting employee engagement and satisfaction.

CEO, HR collaboration

The CEO needs to sit down with the head of HR and discuss business strategy and growth for the next 12 months to 24 months.

In that conversation, the CEO should also:

• discuss what skills gaps may limit her ability, and the company’s ability, to achieve those goals

• discuss what HR programs are working and contributing to these goals; what opportunities exist to improve employee engagement; and how better engagement will help corporate objectives

• discuss ideas for improved employee engagement, such as better informal and formal feedback programs, improved communication, lunchtime webinars and leadership training

• determine where, when and how HR connects to other functional groups and identify points for improvement.

5 strategies for head of HR

There are a number of ways the most senior HR person can help drive strategic success, including:

• Ask the CEO what keeps her up at night.

• Determine what you and your CEO’s combined expectations are for the next three, six, 12 and 24 months — set up a regular time to meet to review progress and celebrate successes.

• Identify new program ideas and formulate a plan that can drive competitive advantage through recruitment, retention and engagement.

• Go deep — be an active member of the leadership team by understanding each functional group. Find out what their challenges are, proactively identify key mesh points and find out how HR can support them.

• Know what the key corporate strengths and weaknesses are of all functions and departments and consider how HR can contribute.

Heidi Hauver is director of human resources at Pythian, a global IT professional services company based in Ottawa. She can be reached at Andrew Waitman is Pythian’s CEO. He can be reached at

Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *