The “AAA” HR professional strategic HR

HR professionals often complain about their lack of acceptance at the business leadership table. They argue that they can contribute ideas that will add value to the organization’s bottom line, and that HR is under-appreciated. Too often HR professionals receive the news of plans, reorganizations, new strategies and redirections only after they have been planned.

So, what capabilities can an HR professional focus on that will increase the likelihood of being part of the business decision-making process, rather than an afterthought? Three “AAA” capabilities of the strategic HR professional are:

•Architects of the HR strategic outcomes within the business context;

•Aligning systems, processes and services to meet business needs; and

•Accountability for people and organizational solutions and delivering to expectations on time and on budget.

Architects

The HR architect brings a capability to understand strategy and plans from a business context, as well from an HR perspective. They think and work at the fourth level of strategic business contribution (see figure next page).

Unfortunately, many HR professionals who are assigned to a business leadership team are relegated to contribute value only at levels I or II. Level I refers to work that can be done equally well by the business leader — they just delegate it to the HR professional to do it for them. Some examples include conducting basic employee interviews, tracking processes, event planning and basic communications.

Level II refers to an HR technical expertise that is needed. For example, developing job descriptions, labour relations and legislative input. Both levels I and II are considered core HR work but it does not position the HR professional in the architect role.

The HR professional needs to focus efforts on levels III and IV. Level III reflects a leadership conversation based upon a needs analysis. An HR professional at level III realizes that although the leaders have some appreciation of the problem, HR can help diagnose the problem more precisely and thereby discover the most effective solution. A level III contribution occurs after the problem arises. Even if this HR professional is not “at the table” when the plans are developed, they will be consulted shortly afterwards.

Level IV is the true HR architect. HR balances an understanding of business acumen with an in-depth understanding of implications for the organization and its people. They partner with the business in the thought process and ensure that HR strategy is integrated with business strategy. The HR architect is part of the development of business and organizational plans from its inception to the achievement of its intended outcome.

Aligns

HR aligns in many ways including with the business, with customer-facing groups, with other internal service providers and among its own HR initiatives.

HR professionals align their work in the following ways:

•Aligns with the business: HR aligns all of its initiatives to the business context. They function as “idea merchants” for business leaders of best practices outside and within the organization. They have a unique database to add value to plans of how organizational and people initiatives can contribute to business success.

•Aligns with customer-facing groups: HR aligns closely with the parts of the organization that face the external customer regularly. Particular emphasis is placed on the HR alignment with the marketing team. In most organizations, marketing will survey customers regularly, has the data to determine what creates customer value and often has very high credibility in the organization. HR aligns its approaches internally with the way marketing approaches the customers externally.

•Aligns with other internal service providers: HR works closely with other internal service providers (such as finance, IT, communications, real estate, shared services) to ensure internal service initiatives are aligned with each other. For example, they ensure internal service initiatives deliver a coherent message and that new directions are introduced at times when leaders are able to absorb them.

•Aligns within HR: All of the HR initiatives must be aligned with each other. For example, the learning strategy must be supported by the performance management approach, which needs to be further reinforced through effective employee relations and compensation plans. Inability to achieve HR alignment within itself will reduce HR credibility substantially.

Accountable

Perhaps one of the most unfortunate developments that has captured the imagination of HR professionals is the idea that HR owns nothing and is accountable for nothing. The argument is that HR professionals are enablers, and not doers. Their role is to ensure line managers and front-line employees do the work of HR. The less HR has to do, the more successful they are.

This argument is often based on a vision of HR, which includes three components:

1. all managers are people managers;

2. every employee is self-reliant; and

3. HR is a centre of excellence in people and organizational processes.

They conclude that HR cannot have specific accountabilities because most of the HR work is interdependent with the roles of line managers and employees.

The flaw in this interpretation of the HR vision is that it assumes that the role of HR as a centre of excellence is “to enable.” The preferred interpretation is that HR is a centre of excellence that “ensures” specific people and organizational outcomes. HR, like every other business area, must have specific accountabilities. Without measurable accountabilities, HR and its professionals will often lack business credibility. Business leaders will correctly question what HR does and what is its value to business outcomes.

Even the titles of HR service areas focus on processes and not on outcomes. HR often has departments that focus on recruitment, learning, employee relations and compensation. These are processes. HR needs to identify the outcomes that these processes are designed to achieve. For example, learning is designed to achieve a competent workforce that will meet customer needs. HR should take on the accountability for ensuring that employees learn so that they will be competent and meet business and customer needs.

Here are some examples of how HR can have specific and measurable deliverables. Some areas of HR accountability can include:

•taking on specific organizational projects as part of the leadership team (such as restructuring, integration and organizational reviews);

•redefining the HR internal processes (and perhaps those of other internal service deliverers) to focus on achieving external customer value;

•leading an abandonment strategy by removing obsolete practices that are barriers to organizational success;

•committing to a return on investment in human capital or at least the capability to determine the ROI of human capital for various parts of the organization; and

•ensuring leadership team effectiveness (for example, improvement of performance, survey results, leadership coherence and alignment).

The “AAA” HR professional who architects, aligns and is accountable will have a strong chance at being a valued contributor to business strategy. HR professionals have to earn a meaningful seat at the leadership planning table. They need to bring value, earn the right to be a business partner and deliver meaningful contributions to their colleagues on the leadership team.

At the same time, these HR professionals also know when they have little to contribute to a discussion and know when to remain silent. Some executives complain that it is very frustrating to have additional people at the planning table — such as internal service providers from HR and IT — if they offer distracting ideas that are not well thought out or not based on substantial knowledge.

Business leaders view “speaking for speaking’s sake” as an unnecessary distraction. Although business leaders will not often confront the HR professional, they may marginalize the HR professional’s contribution and assign them “level I or II” tasks. “AAA” HR professionals build their own mental database continuously and thereby know when they have meaningful ideas to contribute.

The “AAA” HR professional capabilities will also be useful to assess HR professionals. The selection or developmental assessment of these capabilities will help define the probability of an HR professional’s likelihood to succeed. Also, specific HR professional development initiatives need to focus on the capabilities to refine their skills in these highly valued areas of contribution to business performance.

Dr. David Weiss is a partner with Geller, Shedletsky & Weiss and the author of best selling book High Performance HR (John Wiley & Sons, 2000). He may be contacted at [email protected] or through the firm’s Web site, www.gswconsultants.com.


The “AAA” HR professional

strategic HR

David S. Weiss

R professionals often complain about their lack of acceptance at the business leadership table. They argue that they can contribute ideas that will add value to the organization’s bottom line, and that HR is under-appreciated. Too often HR professionals receive the news of plans, reorganizations, new strategies and redirections only after they have been planned.

So, what capabilities can an HR professional focus on that will increase the likelihood of being part of the business decision-making process, rather than an afterthought? Three “AAA” capabilities of the strategic HR professional are:

•Architects of the HR strategic outcomes within the business context;

•Aligning systems, processes and services to meet business needs; and

•Accountability for people and organizational solutions and delivering to expectations on time and on budget.

Architects

The HR architect brings a capability to understand strategy and plans from a business context, as well from an HR perspective. They think and work at the fourth level of strategic business contribution (see figure next page).

Unfortunately, many HR professionals who are assigned to a business leadership team are relegated to contribute value only at levels I or II. Level I refers to work that can be done equally well by the business leader — they just delegate it to the HR professional to do it for them. Some examples include conducting basic employee interviews, tracking processes, event planning and basic communications.

Level II refers to an HR technical expertise that is needed. For example, developing job descriptions, labour relations and legislative input. Both levels I and II are considered core HR work but it does not position the HR professional in the architect role.

The HR professional needs to focus efforts on levels III and IV. Level III reflects a leadership conversation based upon a needs analysis. An HR professional at level III realizes that although the leaders have some appreciation of the problem, HR can help diagnose the problem more precisely and thereby discover the most effective solution. A level III contribution occurs after the problem arises. Even if this HR professional is not “at the table” when the plans are developed, they will be consulted shortly afterwards.

Level IV is the true HR architect. HR balances an understanding of business acumen with an in-depth understanding of implications for the organization and its people. They partner with the business in the thought process and ensure that HR strategy is integrated with business strategy. The HR architect is part of the development of business and organizational plans from its inception to the achievement of its intended outcome.

Aligns

HR aligns in many ways including with the business, with customer-facing groups, with other internal service providers and among its own HR initiatives.

HR professionals align their work in the following ways:

•Aligns with the business: HR aligns all of its initiatives to the business context. They function as “idea merchants” for business leaders of best practices outside and within the organization. They have a unique database to add value to plans of how organizational and people initiatives can contribute to business success.

•Aligns with customer-facing groups: HR aligns closely with the parts of the organization that face the external customer regularly. Particular emphasis is placed on the HR alignment with the marketing team. In most organizations, marketing will survey customers regularly, has the data to determine what creates customer value and often has very high credibility in the organization. HR aligns its approaches internally with the way marketing approaches the customers externally.

•Aligns with other internal service providers: HR works closely with other internal service providers (such as finance, IT, communications, real estate, shared services) to ensure internal service initiatives are aligned with each other. For example, they ensure internal service initiatives deliver a coherent message and that new directions are introduced at times when leaders are able to absorb them.

•Aligns within HR: All of the HR initiatives must be aligned with each other. For example, the learning strategy must be supported by the performance management approach, which needs to be further reinforced through effective employee relations and compensation plans. Inability to achieve HR alignment within itself will reduce HR credibility substantially.

Accountable

Perhaps one of the most unfortunate developments that has captured the imagination of HR professionals is the idea that HR owns nothing and is accountable for nothing. The argument is that HR professionals are enablers, and not doers. Their role is to ensure line managers and front-line employees do the work of HR. The less HR has to do, the more successful they are.

This argument is often based on a vision of HR, which includes three components:

1. all managers are people managers;

2. every employee is self-reliant; and

3. HR is a centre of excellence in people and organizational processes.

They conclude that HR cannot have specific accountabilities because most of the HR work is interdependent with the roles of line managers and employees.

The flaw in this interpretation of the HR vision is that it assumes that the role of HR as a centre of excellence is “to enable.” The preferred interpretation is that HR is a centre of excellence that “ensures” specific people and organizational outcomes. HR, like every other business area, must have specific accountabilities. Without measurable accountabilities, HR and its professionals will often lack business credibility. Business leaders will correctly question what HR does and what is its value to business outcomes.

Even the titles of HR service areas focus on processes and not on outcomes. HR often has departments that focus on recruitment, learning, employee relations and compensation. These are processes. HR needs to identify the outcomes that these processes are designed to achieve. For example, learning is designed to achieve a competent workforce that will meet customer needs. HR should take on the accountability for ensuring that employees learn so that they will be competent and meet business and customer needs.

Here are some examples of how HR can have specific and measurable deliverables. Some areas of HR accountability can include:

•taking on specific organizational projects as part of the leadership team (such as restructuring, integration and organizational reviews);

•redefining the HR internal processes (and perhaps those of other internal service deliverers) to focus on achieving external customer value;

•leading an abandonment strategy by removing obsolete practices that are barriers to organizational success;

•committing to a return on investment in human capital or at least the capability to determine the ROI of human capital for various parts of the organization; and

•ensuring leadership team effectiveness (for example, improvement of performance, survey results, leadership coherence and alignment).

The “AAA” HR professional who architects, aligns and is accountable will have a strong chance at being a valued contributor to business strategy. HR professionals have to earn a meaningful seat at the leadership planning table. They need to bring value, earn the right to be a business partner and deliver meaningful contributions to their colleagues on the leadership team.

At the same time, these HR professionals also know when they have little to contribute to a discussion and know when to remain silent. Some executives complain that it is very frustrating to have additional people at the planning table — such as internal service providers from HR and IT — if they offer distracting ideas that are not well thought out or not based on substantial knowledge.

Business leaders view “speaking for speaking’s sake” as an unnecessary distraction. Although business leaders will not often confront the HR professional, they may marginalize the HR professional’s contribution and assign them “level I or II” tasks. “AAA” HR professionals build their own mental database continuously and thereby know when they have meaningful ideas to contribute.

The “AAA” HR professional capabilities will also be useful to assess HR professionals. The selection or developmental assessment of these capabilities will help define the probability of an HR professional’s likelihood to succeed. Also, specific HR professional development initiatives need to focus on the capabilities to refine their skills in these highly valued areas of contribution to business performance.

Dr. David Weiss is a partner with Geller, Shedletsky & Weiss and the author of best selling book High Performance HR (John Wiley & Sons, 2000). He may be contacted at [email protected] or through the firm’s Web site, www.gswconsultants.com.

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