How to Be Strategic in Human Resources (Part 1)

HR Metrics, HR, HR Business Partner, HR Strategic

This week I had the pleasure of attending SHRM’s Talent Conference in Las Vegas. It’s one of my favorite events because the conference is focused making for quality conversations and learnings for those in the HR side of recruitment, retention and staffing. And as I’ve grown in my career, I’ve found that I find these like-minded conversations much more valuable in helping drive my own personal development with peers in the industry. It’s not uncommon to sit down and have drinks with the head of talent at an organization where we openly discuss the challenges of military recruiting or recruiting at all for a company that has had multiple acquisitions and operates with no less than 3 different applicant tracking systems to manage their talent and employees. This is the reality of our roles in HR. We are all over the board because our roles are diverse and our involvement in business level strategy varies depending on the needs of the organization that we support.

How to Be Strategic in Human Resources (Part 1)

Because of this conference and a recent personal focus on HR Metrics and Formulas as part of a webinar series, I’ve been thinking a lot about the strategic role of HR. HR metrics are not the linchpin in being strategic in HR. Our roles in HR are really representative of the needs of the organization depending on where we are needed most. If the organization is small and focused on payroll and personnel, our roles are representative of that fact. Human capital metrics like turnover and payroll hours ring true. As our roles become more complex and more strategic with the organization, the metrics of HR become less important, because the real value we provide is in the larger organization as a whole. It’s the total business-person integration that Paul Kearns depicts below.

I’m not saying that human resources metrics and formulas aren’t important but they are viewed differently as our role becomes more developed within the organization. They should be viewed of secondary importance to gain a foothold in the executive and senior business ranks that we support. We are looking at the impact of human capital in direct relation to revenues or organizational productivity and how it accounts for a certain percentage of expenses for the organization in its entirety. While the metrics remain important, what matters more is HR’s role in other areas of the organization having nothing and everything to do with HR.

HR Needs to Prioritize Manipulation Over Metrics

For HR to be thought of as a strategic business partner, they must not rely on human resources but on business partnerships, relationships and manipulation among their peers and executive teams for HR to really shine. Working in business at any level is a power play. It means understanding the business, researching the organization as a whole and educating yourself about the complete business BEFORE you set foot in any type of business or department meeting. You must be the most knowledgeable, educated and aware of the entire business to be strategic in HR. Without this mindset, the decks are stacked against you because your business leaders have an impression, a stereotype and a point of view when it comes to HR. HR is rooted in personnel, employee filing and policy making instead of human capital management and succession planning. It’s like we are cage fighting a series of opponents with one arm tied behind our back while everyone else, our executive team freely swings, kicks and claws to win influence, respect and a voice but not HR.

We’re also predominantly women who are waiting to be liked, complimented and asked our opinion. This is the reason we have to be prepared to take our position not ask as a strategic business partner in HR.

Having recently read Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, I feel like I finally really understand the real reason why our industry struggles to be taken seriously. We are an industry of women waiting for someone to ask us to join them in their executive business meeting instead of demanding audience or opportunity to meet to represent HR. It’s time to stop asking and start taking to really be a strategic business partner in HR.

I challenge you to get out there, read reports, understand earnings, ask questions and get on the manufacturing floor. Build relationships, alliances and partnerships among peers and other business partners to gain true foothold in the business and represent HR.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP (@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.

Reader Interactions


  1. Magreth Haule says

    I like this article….but what are the steps to become HR business Partner? as of now I am HR executive, what should I suppose to do to reach the mention position..HRBP

  2. PATRICIA MOLEPA Monyela says

    Hi Jessica

    Great article- many thanks.
    what type of HR structure / organogram is best suited to support HRBP



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