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HR as a Strategic Business Partner: Cliché or Absolute?
By Monique Dearth Honaman — HRCrossing Magazine
This article was featured on HR Crossing.
As a practicing HR professional for the past 17 years, I believe I have experienced the value (and contribution) of HR in many different ways. I hear many companies and HR leaders talking about the "value of HR as a strategic business partner," and it is interesting to observe how this plays out in the real world of day-to-day HR work. Is HR valued as a business partner? A few observations follow.
Phase 1: I began my HR career working for a large automotive company based in none other than the Motor City, Detroit. The title I was given, personnel generalist, should have been some indication of whether or not HR was viewed as a "strategic business partner." The plant manager and his staff sat in executive offices near the front of the plant. The HR manager and the rest of us on his team were placed in offices upstairs. The role of HR was obvious. It was relegated to being a "support" function, clearly not a part of the leadership team, and planning the company picnic was one of the expected responsibilities. I learned through observation and through assignment that HR was an administrative function and nothing more. Note: I was working at this company while attending school to receive my master's degree in labor and industrial relations/human resources. Here I was learning all about the role of strategic HR, and yet I was experiencing something entirely different.
Phase 2: I interviewed with a new company that had a reputation for valuing the role of HR, but was it able and willing to put its money where its mouth was? Absolutely. Talk about HR being viewed as an integral part of the team! At this company, HR was expected to be "at the table" participating in making the big decisions, strategizing, and understanding the impact to the business. There were no company picnics being planned in upstairs offices. This was real. The golden triangle in this company was comprised of the business operating leader, the finance manager, and the HR manager. This triad worked very closely together to ensure that the business was heading in the right direction. HR was expected to understand how the business ran, how to read the company financials, and, most importantly, how the role of HR could impact both of these things.
Phase 3: I left corporate America for an opportunity to start my own gig providing HR consulting services focused on my passion for leadership assessment and development. This opened up a tremendous opportunity to witness what HR looks like in many other companies. We work with companies across the U.S. ranging from the very small to the very large and across product and service lines. What did I find? Not a whole lot has changed. It's amazing to see the differences that still exist in what businesses expect from their HR teams. Some of our clients continue to see HR as a necessary evil to pay people and keep them happy but would no more expect to see HR playing a role in the big decisions. Other companies rely on their HR teams as integral partners and won't move forward on making major decisions until HR has participated. Clearly, we engage quickly and directly with those companies who already view HR as integral. Our greatest challenge lies in helping to educate our clients who don't know how to use their HR teams to their fullest potential. This often requires upgrading the HR talent or at least providing them with a new direction in terms of what is expected. So, returning to the original question, can you, as an HR professional, execute on your role as a strategic business partner with your organization? Yes, this depends in part on the company, but don't let that be your excuse. And don't interview for an HR job using the hip buzzwords "I want to be a strategic business partner" if you aren't ready and able to execute on this.
Here is my advice for truly delivering as a strategic business partner:
Last Updated 5 Year(s) ago