HR increasingly a business partner: Survey

Majority of HR professionals consulted before business decisions are made
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/20/2009

The majority of human resources professionals think HR is seen as a business partner within their organization, according to a survey.

The Pulse Survey, conducted by Canadian HR Reporter and the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA), finds 63.5 per cent of 573 respondents think their business partners see HR as a business partner. But a significant proportion, 24.1 per cent, say it depends on both the situation and the business partner.

“It’s certainly come a long way in the last few years,” said Rob Burwash, senior employee relations consultant for Canadian Blood Services in Ancaster, Ont.

“I think we are really starting to see improvements. It’s something the HR community has talked about for a long time — being a business partner and being taken seriously — and I think we’re now starting to see that happen.”

There’s been a definite shift at Canadian Blood Services and now when a new initiative or major undertaking is announced, HR is brought into the mix right at the beginning instead of as an afterthought, said Burwash.

One reason for that shift is HR at the national organization, which has several locations, has begun to work together to provide consistent, high-quality programs.

“That has raised the credibility of the HR group,” he said.

The majority (52.4 per cent) of survey respondents report a similar consultative role for HR, with the department usually being consulted before important decisions are made. However, 37.4 per cent of respondents say HR is sometimes consulted before, sometimes after.

Proving HR’s worth

Only 11 per cent of respondents say it was relatively easy for them, as an HR professional, to establish themselves as a business partner. Nearly one-third (32.9 per cent) say they still need to prove themselves over and over while 40.6 per cent say that while they needed to prove themselves to be accepted as a business partner, it was fairly easy to do so.

At Toronto-based architectural firm HOK, HR is definitely seen as a business partner, but it hasn’t always been that way, said HR manager Lara Koretsky.

“However, I wouldn’t say that it was difficult (to become established),” she said. “It was a change, a shift, going from a traditional and administrative perspective of HR to a business partner, but it was met quite receptively.”

Koretsky credits the ease of the transition to the firm’s open-minded leadership team and the openness of the organization as a whole to see HR in a new light.

Overwhelmingly, 77 per cent of respondents believe it is more difficult for HR professionals to establish credibility than it is for professionals in other disciplines, while only a small percentage think it’s easier.

“Traditionally it has been more difficult because HR was viewed as an administrative function or even, at times, as more of a soft skill,” said Koretsky.

“But I think that you’re starting to see the shift more and more in organizations where HR is really at the table in a lot of decisions.”

Koretsky sees this first-hand when HOK meets with clients about redesigning their corporate space.

“The head of HR is often at the table helping to make the decisions as to what type of work environment they want their people to be in,” she said.

Raising awareness

Four in 10 respondents (42.6 per cent) think HR associations are doing enough to help raise awareness of HR as a business partner, but 14.4 per cent think the profession could be doing more, with some saying they need to do more to raise awareness around the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation.

“One thing that would really go a long way is working towards putting some meaning around what it is to have a CHRP,” said Burwash.

While organizations know they need to hire a chartered accountant for certain jobs, HR work isn’t restricted to CHRP holders and many business people still don’t know what the CHRP is, he said.

“Putting some definition and some meat on the bones of the CHRP would probably go a long way (to establishing HR as a business partner),” said Burwash.

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