‘Strategic’ overused in HR

Profession struggles to prove value to business leaders
By Uyen Vu
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/09/2008

Despite overusing the word “strategic” to such an extent that it may hurt HR’s credibility, the profession still struggles with proving its value to other business leaders.

That’s the view of the majority in a survey of more than 700 HR professionals on the strategic value of HR. The

Pulse Survey

, conducted jointly by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) of Ontario and

Canadian HR Reporter

, found nearly nine out of 10 respondents (87 per cent) either agree or strongly agree that business leaders don’t see HR as strategic.

Only four per cent thought HR professionals are strategic on the whole and that most of the business community recognized it.

About one-half (49 per cent) said HR professionals are strategic but fail to get the recognition for it. The other half (47 per cent) simply don’t think HR professionals are as strategic as they think they are.

“In order to be strategic, HR would have to understand the business. What are its challenges? Who are the competitors?” said Colleen McKinnell, a Toronto-based consultant specializing in talent management.

Even then, a lot of HR professionals may not have the opportunity to be strategic, she added.

“I’m thinking of small and medium-sized businesses, where the CEO makes all the decisions and is not interested in hearing challenges.”

A majority (73 per cent) also agreed the word “strategic” is overused in HR, and 53 per cent believe the overuse of the word is costing the HR profession its credibility.

Jeannie McQuaid, HR supervisor at the Belleville, Ont.-based Belshield Enterprises, has particularly strong opinions when it comes to the word “strategic” and to all HR jargon in general.

“It’s so overused that it has become meaningless. It has permeated everything written or said about HR. I don’t hear lawyers or accountants or engineers talking about being strategic. They just settle down and do their job, and we should too.”

As to why such jargon hurts the profession’s credibility, she turned to a common marketing maxim — don’t oversell.

“If you really want to hurt your image, just make yourself out to be bigger than you are,” said McQuaid. “If you’re saying, ‘Aren’t I wonderful because I have a strategic plan?’ well, no you’re not. In fact, you’re goofy because you spent all your time making yourself look good instead of getting your stuff done.”

And if HR can’t get the transactional stuff right, like paying people on time, they’re not going to be able to build their credibility with the management team, said David Uez, director of employee relations and compliance at Sun Life Financial Canada.

HR should keep working at building relationships in the day-to-day interactions and understanding the business concerns, he said.

“You earn an invitation to the planning sessions by representing your function daily at every level, including the transactional and the value-add.”

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