For the past four years, once or twice a year, I’ve stood before a room of students studying for the HRCI exam in the hopes of earning a PHR or SPHR designation. I’m there to teach the Strategic Management module. All of them walk in as HR Professionals. My goal is to get them to leave with a new attitude. If they want to be strategic, if they really want to impact their organization, they need to demonstrate they are Business Professionals with expertise in HR. It doesn’t sound like much of a change, but I think it’s huge.
In the past, an HR Professional advised and assisted managers in managing human resources. They gathered facts, diagnosed problems, provided solutions and offered assistance on employee-related problems. They provided service to a diverse customer base – employees, managers, executives, vendors, applicants, retirees, etc. They exercised control or authority by reviewing and measuring employee performance. And they pushed a lot of paper.
In many cases, they became known as the people who did the hiring and firing, told people what they could and couldn’t do, and they organized the company picnic. They were perceived as members of the “Department of Sunshine and Rainbows.”
Don’t get me wrong. My Myers-Briggs personality inventory says I’m an “F” off the scale. I make decisions based on feelings. I understand and gravitate towards the people who say I’m a “people person,” so I entered the field of HR. But as an officer of a company, I’ve learned the role of HR has expanded.
Today’s successful HR practitioner must also have a strategic focus, a global, long-term, forward-thinking focus. They help create a culture and build an organization that meets its goals. They help an organization prepare for change; forecast human capital needs, manage talent, and develop systems that support strategic objectives.
Of course they still have operational and administrative duties. HR has a role in the day-to-day tasks that are necessary to run an organization and they have to deal with compliance issues and record keeping.
But, to be strategic, they must understand the perspective of their business partners; finance and accounting, marketing and sales, operations, information technology, and the employees. It’s the only way they will be able to collaborate and identify internal needs and emerging issues. Today’s HR professional must understand the entire business.
Of course, it takes time to understand the business – to step back and think strategically. To regularly meet, formally or informally, with business partners to get to know them and what’s going on in their world. An HR professional bogged down in paperwork and administrative tasks doesn’t have time to be strategic.
It also takes timely data and the ability to analyze the data to spot problems, identify trends and forecast future outcomes. It comes back to time. To be strategic, you can’t be spending time pulling paper out of files or trying to pull data out of different systems and cobble it together manually in a spreadsheet.
Luckily, like the HR profession, HR technology has come a long way too. Modern human resources management systems integrate with other systems for seamless data transfer. Automation and workflow helps tasks flow through a process without significant manual intervention. Dynamic reporting puts up-to-the-minute data at your fingertips without waiting for batch jobs or IT support. Web-based self-service empowers employees and managers by giving them access to appropriate information and let’s them “help themselves” without calling down to HR for assistance with day-to-day tasks.
When you’re considering HR technology, put on your business hat and think about the needs and goals of the organization. What system will help the organization deliver on its mission and achieve its goals? Of course, your expertise ensures it supports the HR function. Remember, now you’re a business professional with expertise in HR – not an HR professional.