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HR as Business Partner

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take a two-day professional development course offered by the University of Michigan Ross School of Business with Dr. Jon Younger, a leading author, educator, and consultant in strategic HR.  Among other things, Dr. Younger’s teachings focused on developing HR as an effective partner with the business.  He emphasized that we are business people with a specialization in Human Resources: we not only need to have an interest in the businesses we work in, but we also need to have an HR expertise. HR is not a referee in someone else’s sporting event; we are players on the field.

HR is not a referee in someone else’s sporting event; we are players on the field.

There are a multitude of articles out there arguing that HR has a critical role to play in impacting the bottom line and fostering the growth of the businesses in which we work. However, this isn’t the attitude that a lot of companies have about their HR teams, especially in Asia Pacific. For example, in Hong Kong, many companies still view their HR teams as “personnel” who simply administer payroll and do a bit of recruitment. They may not have worked with a more strategic HR partner and may not understand how they can add value.  How can you convince your company or management team that your viewpoint is worthwhile? Here are four simple steps you can take to position yourself as a true partner with your business.  

1) Metrics - Hit them with the numbers! Business people use metrics to assess the strengths and weaknesses of all aspects of their business. Therefore, they expect to see the same type of informative content coming from HR. They understand metrics and appreciate analytics that not only look at past trends but can also be predictive about the future.  As they say, what gets measured gets done! If you can show your business some hard data to support your recommendations, you are halfway there.

2) Cost Savings - Business people care about the bottom line.  HR is not just a cost center. If you can bring forth ideas to save costs or find ways to get better returns on HR investments, this type of creative thinking is highly valued. In some larger organizations, this might be challenging since many processes are global and require multiple approvals. But sometimes even a piloted, local initiative can have a big impact. At smaller organizations, you may have more control over your budget and can find ways to save costs, such as reducing your spend on job boards or outsourcing some payroll processes. 

3) Business expertise - Understand the business in which you work. Attend management meetings, have informal catch-ups with division and product heads, read industry news, maintain relationships with headhunters, review compensation benchmarking, stay abreast of how technology is disrupting (or could disrupt) your business. Show you are engaged and that the business is just as important to you as it is to your business people.

4) Continuous development – The world of HR is always changing and you need to keep abreast of the latest developments. Especially with the push for AI and the disruptive impact of technology on HR processes, you’ve got to remain at the forefront of trends. Attend conferences, maintain a wide HR network, sign-up for professional development courses (like the one with Dr. Younger!) or even consider an advanced degree. The more knowledgeable you are, the more your business will trust you.

When I was an HR Business Partner at a large bank, I successfully followed these steps to and built trust with my business. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a period of time for them to trust me and feel that I could add value beyond just the basics of HR. But before long, they were confiding in me about struggles with their clients, successes on deals and aspirations for the future of the business. Most phone calls involved strategy, consultation and coaching instead of just transactional requests. It was a truly rewarding partnership and one I hope each of you can replicate in your roles and companies.

What other tips do you have for becoming a strategic partner with your business? Please share them here!

Renee Conklin is an HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. She is the founder of RC HR Consulting.

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