Human Resources as a Strategic Partner

The position of the HR Business Partner has evolved as one of four strategic roles in the book by Dave Ulrich. This book is like the Bible of Human Resources. All HR leaders quickly introduced the model where Human Resources was expected to act as the partner of business leaders. It introduced some chaos into our world because the change was more painful than anticipated in the beginning. Some twenty years later, we have another challenge. We aim to introduce the model of the HR strategic partnership.

The HR Business Partner is a great job; a person in the role can see the positive impact of Human Resources on the organization. She manages and executes critical HR policies and procedures in the close collaboration with internal clients. Also, she shares the responsibility – goals and objectives are the same for the internal customer and the business partner. It all started with the introduction of the business oriented Human Resources function that keeps employees in mind. HR can never be purely business driven; it has to protect the rights and interests of the workforce.

Moreover, David Ulrich also introduced a new HR competency model. He introduced six essential HR competencies that every successful HR professional has to fulfill. They are strategic positioner, credible activist, capability builder, change champion, innovator and technology proponent. Each competency is a game changer in Human Resources because it puts the people management practices into a different perspective (more about six essential HR competencies).

Dave Ulrich changed the passive approach into the active one. He apparently expected HR Managers to become agile promoters of positive shifts in the organization. It was a significant shift in the mindset of HR leaders. Many of them fight with this new role so far. They want to keep the secure compliance position of the department. Being the change agent you have to take and accept risks. You can fail. On the other hand you can win a lot.

Human Resources as a Strategic Partner
Human Resources as a Strategic Partner

The another significant game changer was a dramatic change of the business environment. The globalization (it is also the HR challenge) and the speed of innovations have increased the pressure on leadership teams. They have to predict moves of many competitors; they have to focus on building loyal customer base. They have to allow employees use the creativity.

As a result, leaders have changed their expectations from Human Resources departments. The proactive approach is a must; the competitive advantage is a benefit. The pressure to introduce innovative HR processes and procedures has increased dramatically. Nowaday, we usually call it the HR transformation. The strategic partnership became a new HR buzzword.

We had to return to the six strategic competencies as they were defined by Dave Ulrich. They are the core strengths behind the strategic partnership between HR managers and business leaders. It makes a significant difference – the proactive approach and the business acumen.

The HR organization is at a crossing again. The transformation to the strategic partner is not just about rewriting the job title. It is about a new vision of Human Resources. It is also about another upgrade of skills and competencies.

The HR Manager needs to be proactive to become the member of the strategic planning group. Most organizations have informal groups of employees who decide about the future of the business. The HR professionals have to become the vital member of the core team. No organization has the future without great people management practices.

HR leaders have to make a difficult choice. The road to the future is bumpy. It will not be an easy transformation for most HR employees. They will have to gain new skills and competencies, again. They will have to build trustful strategic partnership with internal clients. They will have to provoke many discussions how the business can enrich its practices. They will have to stand behind their words. It will be a painful period but the new and better HR function will raise.

Organization Design needs your attention.

The efficient design of the organization is one of the main success factors for any company. Human Resources still plays a passive role in the organization design. We usually play a role when recruiting new employees into specific jobs; we do not challenge our partners in the business when talking about the organization structure and jobs required to deliver results. However, the Organization Design is clearly and closely attached to the new role of Human Resources. It is a tool how to build the competitive organization.

There is still a wrong belief that managers know best how they should structure their departments. Human Resources usually accepts all proposals or make just cosmetic changes to the proposal submitted by the manager. We do not challenge the number of employees in the team. We do not ask about potential career paths. We just We expect managers to be the experts who know and can clearly describe all required job profiles to deliver targets.

Human Resources needs to act a more active role in designing organizations. The effective team has a higher productivity; collaboration is closer and roles and responsibilities are clear to everyone in the team. The employees understand what their objectives are. They know how they can improve the performance of the team. They do not have any double work, and the manager has almost no contingency because it is not required.

Organization Design
Organization Design

Human Resources has an ultimate objective to develop the sustainable competitive advantage, and it has to intervene when managers set up teams. HR Business Partner needs to be kept in the loop, and she has to challenge the manager almost daily. She has to ensure the new team will be as productive as possible within a short time.

The HR Department has to define design principles for all managers in the company. It saves the money and resources. It also impacts the satisfaction of employees positively. They clearly see the same principles rule all departments. They see no place acts under a different set of procedures and policies. They can compare the efficiency of teams across the firm. They can apply for new jobs because they will not lose any benefits.

Moreover, clear Organization Design principles give clear boundaries to managers. They have to learn to live inside the system; they have to learn how not to erode the system. This is a huge victory for the long term sustainable business.