Business approach key for HR leaders

National conference finds HR practitioners must take a seat at the table and become effective business managers
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/20/2009

HR practitioners will have to change the way they do business if they want to remain competitive and relevant, a report from the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA) states.

The CCHRA took a large step in becoming the national voice of this country’s HR professionals with the release of the summary of its first National Human Resources Forum, attended by more than 50 industry professionals in Ottawa on June 15. The report details the key issues affecting HR as identified by those who live it every day.

“We want to use the results of the discussion to lobby the government in a more efficient manner, in terms of new legislation, new programs that are put in place to support organizations,” CCHRA president Geneviève Fortier told

Canadian HR Reporter

. “And we want to make sure that within the HR community we are pushing the proper research projects that would support those initiatives.”

The CCHRA will meet with its federal affairs government committee to review the findings of the forum and look at how the federal government can get involved in addressing the issues.

Fortier said that even though those who attended the forum came from different backgrounds, they consistently put forward similar key issues that HR professionals will have to focus on in the future.

“What we discovered from the forum is whether you’re coming from an HR specialist association or from an organization as a practitioner, whether you’re a member or not of a provincial association, when we ask you to look at some of the Canadian HR issues, there are a lot of commonalities,” she said. “The consensus around the elements that matter in HR is a great achievement.”

According to those who attended the forum, the role and functionality of HR will change as business needs change. They believe that HR must now adopt a business way of thinking because the line between business strategy and HR strategy is blurring.

Success for the HR executive and department will be in the ability to understand and grow the business.

HR professionals must take a proactive approach to business planning and provide foresight to their organizations instead of passively reacting to the changing business landscape. Fortier called this wearing “their business hat along with their HR hat.”

She said that the CCHRA will support HR professionals in developing this business mindset by encouraging provincial and specialty associations to develop training programs geared to HR and business strategy. “The strategy to address those issues is not only a CCHRA response,” she said. “It’s a combination of all means available to us.”

The HR professional’s role in supporting an aging workforce is an example of this kind of business initiative. “There is a generation leaving the workforce and there’s a need to ensure appropriate knowledge transfer of the skills residing with the baby boomers to the generation that are entering the market,” said Fortier. “There is potential here for programs to be put forward countrywide to address the issue.”

As a large portion of the Canadian workforce approaches the ages of 50 and 60, the HR professional will have to build business strategies that introduce more flexibility in work schedules, provide accommodations for physical limitations and restructure the benefits plan to better suit the wants and needs of this older population.

Fortier said that the federal government is currently working on a project to address these issues. She said the CCHRA will sit down with its federal affairs committee and use the findings from the conference to influence how the government will proceed with its initiatives to ensure the government adequately addresses the issues raised at the forum.

Developing an immigration policy and tackling a looming skills shortage will also fall to the HR professional. She will have to be a leader in recruiting, retraining and understanding the changing labour pool — one that is going to rely more heavily on new Canadians.

She will have to make sure accommodations are made for cultural differences and develop training programs to help new Canadians successfully assimilate into the corporate culture.

As the workforce shrinks, competition for skilled and talented employees will become fierce. To recruit and retain the best employees, HR will have to focus on employee engagement and talent management.

Employees need to feel valued and appreciated and that their employers are helping them develop skills. This will require HR professionals to get out among employees and talk to them about what they like and don’t like about their jobs.

The report also found that HR professionals believe that as the department gains more influence on corporate governance, the management of the HR department will have to change as well. This means that HR has to move away from transactional functions such as payroll and delve into focusing on, identifying and building value-added business capabilities.

To be considered and respected as an equal business partner by other executives in the company, the HR executive will have to learn to push back and say “No” more often.

HR can no longer be a dumping ground for functions that the rest of the company doesn’t know what to do with.

The HR professional will have to become more aware and knowledgeable of Canada’s increasingly litigious landscape. If she pays more attention to problems and complaints in the workforce, she might be able to prevent them from developing into issues that would lead to formal and legal grievances.

Forum participants found that in the past, HR managers have been too internally focused, passive, defensive and afraid of taking risks. They said HR managers will have to leave those traits behind to transform into effective business managers.

The effective HR practitioner will take a seat at the table by turning her focus to external clients, developing her business literacy and operating as a strategic partner within the organization. She will need to build relationships with other executives and take risks by focusing on how tasks can be done instead of which tasks can’t be done.

“Everybody at the conference felt we need to continue to push these issues and we need to continue to speak at the senior level to ensure that they will remain active,” said Fortier.

She added that the CCHRA wants to ensure that the forum is held as an annual event and the committee is already planning next year’s forum, to be held at the end of May or beginning of June. “We need an annual event to go back to the drawing board to review what were the issues that were identified and if they remain the same. If not, then we need to identify the new issues facing HR.”

With files from Uyen Vu.

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