How to Be Strategic in HR (Part 2)

hr, hr strategies

Be sure to check out part 1 of our Strategic in HR series. 

Many in HR, and even outside the industry, would argue that in 2015, HR is all about strategy. It is true that increasingly, organizations’ HR departments are becoming more of a strategic HR business partner than an administrative HR task center, but it’s important to remember that strategic HR and administrative HR can’t exist without each other.  In part one of this series, I talked about how administrative HR lays the foundation for the exciting, new opportunities that come with strategic HR efforts. But without that foundation, strategic efforts will be made in vain.

HR’s focus at any given time depends on a number of factors. But no matter what our focus, HR’s job is to support the organization and meet its needs. This can look different depending on what the company is going through, how mature the HR strategy is and even what the economic landscape is like.

HR Strategy

When I use the term HR strategy here, I’m using it to refer to both strategic HR and administrative HR because even organizations who are more focused on administrative HR are using some type of strategy. Often, HR’s role is largely defined by what HR leadership values. There’s no right or wrong. Even if we as an industry are moving more toward strategic HR, administrative functions performed by an HR department are essential to keeping people there – they get paid and get the benefits that helped make the company attractive in the first place.

Once you’ve laid the foundation with administrative HR, you then have the opportunity to build on that simple success with strategic HR, leaders whose contributions are trusted and valued all the way up the chain of command, talent management that positively impacts the bottom line, and I could go on and on. The possibilities are endless once you have effective administrative HR, but none of it would be possible without having that in place. It’s essentially two separate pieces, but they are dependent on one another.

Changing Roles in the Organization

As I mentioned above, our role in an organization can change greatly, and often times this is due to our ability to play a strategic role. In the simplest terms, the more value you add to the organization in terms of strategic planning and talent management, the more opportunities you’ll have to play a strategic role. CEOs are searching for a trusted advisor in the business and when HR exhibits its ability to make an impact on the organization, the department will be seen as a value-add, not a cost center. HR ROI increases as HR’s strategic role increases. When the department is simply performing personnel administration, the ROI is extremely low. But when an HR department becomes more strategic and is eventually an organizational designer, it achieves maximum ROI.

Changes Beyond Our Control

We have the ability to shape the role we play in an organization, but there will always be factors that are beyond our control. For instance, when the organization is going through significant change, we must suddenly become change management experts. More often than not though, this occurs when the business grows or shrinks, or when current economic conditions affect the business. These changes force your department to become more strategic based on the business needs. A perfect widespread example of this is the California STEM wars that demand that HR be extremely strategic in their talent management and planning. It’s important to note that this challenge also increased the need for HR to be equally focused on California employment law. With any organizational or economic change, HR’s role can change greatly. However, it always comes back to having a strong administrative HR foundation and then building on that with strategic HR practices that shift how company leadership sees the department, and even how we see ourselves.

External Factors That Impact HR

Let us not forgot theexternal outside factors that impact the internal human resources. It’s hard to be strategic when a company’s is in panic mode or running around crazy trying to manage a crisis internally or externally. But external factors also impact how strategic HR is seen to be. Things like economic conditions, technological advancements, workforce demographics and government regulations move the HR function between administrative and strategic in a fluid and sometimes unexpectedly.

The key to being in strategic in HR is to build a relationship with your senior leaders, have a solid understanding of the business and be present in conversations that are related to your employees, business growth and organizational changes. Strategic HR leaders are seen as true business partners and not glorifed employee filers or new hire onboarders. They are seen as the business expert on all things related to the comany’s human capital which as you know accounts for a company’s largest business expense as well as the largest business revenue opportunity.

Be sure to check out part 1 of our Strategic in HR series. 

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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