Strategy & LeadershipHow can HR be a confident strategic adviser to senior leadership teams?

How can HR be a confident strategic adviser to senior leadership teams?

HR’s role as a keystone of strategic decision-making is growing with increasing speed. How can HR professionals grab the bull by the horns? With Stephen Pierce, Deputy MD & CHRO, Hitachi Europe.

Any HR professional with years in the game understands that HR doesn’t always have the strongest voice in business. While people are the most important asset of any business, convincing senior leadership of this – especially if there is a price tag involved – can be an uphill battle.

The changing role of HR in business

As digital transformation becomes ever more prevalent a concern for businesses of all shapes and sizes, HR’s role as a keystone of strategic decision-making is growing with increasing speed.

However, as a recent study by Gartner revealed, while 70% of CHRO’s expect their HR Business Partners to be strategic partners to business, only 18% of HR Business Partners recognise room to grow as strategic partners.[1]

Another recent survey in the role of the HR Business Partner, carried out by SHRM, concluded that, in order to be an effective strategic partner to their businesses, HR BPs must:

  • Understand financial and operational business measures
  • Be masters of people-related measurement and ensure that this is seen as an essential part of business measurement
  • Focus on the metrics that drive short and long-term performance
  • Discourage data collection that does not help the business perform well or meet legal requirements survey into HR business partner role[2]

HR’s potential as a strategic adviser to business is growing, and with that growth comes a necessary change in the functions and duties of HR professionals.

HR Strategy and Employee Experience

As the employee safeguard and mouthpiece to SLT, HR is in a unique position to create the value in their organisations that employees need to see to feel engaged on a long-term basis.

More than ever before, employees are looking for more than a sensible rate of pay in their working lives. A greater appreciation of the importance of wellbeing, diversity and inclusion and other key experience-centric metrics have become solidly entrenched in the lexicon of workplace cultural goals, which businesses, through their HR functions, must answer.

However, studies show that the majority of HR leaders do not understand the needs of their employees.

According to another recent study by Gartner, “51% percent of all HR leaders and 62% of heads of diversity and inclusion said it is a priority to improve employee experience.”

While, simultaneously, the same study revealed that “only 29% of employees agree that ‘HR really understands what people like me need and want’”, and that, “among surveyed HR leaders, 40% conceded that their organization struggles to bring the employee value proposition to life in employees’ day-to-day work.”[3]

Improving employee experience is crucial to business success, and it’s HR’s responsibility to prioritise it as a strategic goal.

As Lucy Whitehall, a Positive Psychologist and wellbeing expert with CABA, recently argued in an article on HRD Connect, employee wellbeing should be directly tied to business strategy to ensure continuous success.

“Your business strategy should include or be very highly connected to your wellbeing strategy”, Lucy says. “All of your policies should have a golden thread of keeping your people well running entirely through them.”

How can HR be a confident strategic adviser to senior leadership teams?

Stephen Pierce, Deputy Managing Director & CHRO, Hitachi Europe, believes that HR’s role in this strategic development is absolutely crucial to success.

“HR leaders need to be the trusted adviser, not just the HR leader. They need to be able to tell it as it is, to have that honesty and openness with the CEO and senior colleagues”, says Stephen.

“I think HR is in a unique position to influence, but needs to build great relationships and demonstrate commercial credibility to add value and be catalysts for change which will bring real and enduring business value.”

So, how can HR professionals grab the bull by the horns, and make the most of the changing times to become the strategic adviser that senior leadership teams will direly need in the changing business landscape?

Stephen Pierce, Deputy Managing Director & CHRO, Hitachi Europe, gives four pieces of key advice for HR professionals:

  1. HR needs to have the external focus. So, they will spend some time on the outside, thinking in to the organisation to understand best practice and trends externally.
  2. HR must understand the business and recognise what the external changes in the workforce landscape mean for the organisation itself. They can only do that if they really understand the business itself.
  3. HR needs to be able to think strategically. HR can often get too focused on process, so they need to be able to take broader strategic thinking into the organisation.
  4. HR needs to be analytical and consider business justifications which will drive decision making and take account of the external environment.

HR professionals have the potential to become the lifeblood of every organisation, through a greater understanding of the strategic powers at their disposal.

How do you think HR can be more of an effective strategic adviser to senior leadership teams? Tweet us at @HRDCommunity and let us know.


[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/human-resources/role/hr-business-partners

[2] https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/documents/crfreseach.pdf

[3] https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/top-3-priorities-for-hr-in-2019/

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