For years, HR has advocated for, but not been granted, a seat at the table. In many organisations the department is seen more as a back-office role that concentrates mainly on employee policies, contracts, and benefits. Covid-19 forced companies to extend more influence to HR for the sake of keeping their business afloat.
HR’s role as a business partner
Going forward, HR must hold on to their newfound leadership position and become a respected business partner. For that to happen, HR should involve itself more in developing HR strategies that will help their organisation to achieve its competitive goals. As an HR business partner, you must ensure to be included in conversations about the future, mission, goals, and overall strategy of the company. That way you can help the company to secure a strong position in the marketplace.
According to HR guru Dave Ulrich, the HR department has four roles:
1. Strategic partner
As a strategic partner, it is your responsibility to align HR activities and initiatives with the overall business strategy. This is HR’s chance to prove that they can make a real impact on ROI, by boosting levels of innovation, helping the company to become more agile, and putting best in class training programs in place to keep your employees on top of their game.
2. Change agent
You need to support business change and transitions through the human capital available in the organisation. This will sometimes mean that you need to make employees available to work on change projects, and arrange the upskilling that will make this transition a success. Other times you will need to support downsizing or upscaling the workforce in the most cost and time efficient way.
3. Employee champion
You need to know what employees need, both on a material and inspirational level, and step up to assure management gives each employee what they deserve. In times of change, it is more important than ever that you protect your employees’ interests. After all, when the good times return, people will still remember how they were treated during the crisis. When we return to a tighter labour market, they will either reward your loyalty, or move on to first good opportunity that becomes available.
4. Administrative expert
As an administrative expert, your department makes sure to provide the best possible service, with regards to areas such as payroll processes, contracts and hiring, at the lowest cost to the organization.
Now, what competencies do you need to have to be effective in all four of these roles? We could create a long list of skills that can help give HR a seat at the table, but we will limit ourselves to the most important ones. The five essential skills for an HR business partner are strategic insight, relationship building, empathy, persuasiveness and problem solving.
To connect HR solutions to business goals, you need to be able to see the bigger picture and to be aware of what solutions will help the business to succeed in the marketplace. You need to be able to contribute to high level discussions and strategic decision-making.
As the HR business partner is the middleman between employees and the organisation, you need to be able to build relationships with people at all levels of the company. The better the relationships you build within your organisation, the easier it will be to collaborate with other parts of the business to provide seamless service.
In a role where the wellbeing of employees is your responsibility, you need to be able to empathise with them. For people to come to you when issues arise, such as mental health problems, difficult situations at home or conflicts in the workplace, being able to show genuine compassion makes all the difference in the world. It creates a sense of security, and breaks down the barrier that employees may feel in bringing up whatever has a negative impact on their wellbeing, and therefore likely their performance.
There are always going to be changes within your organisation. And when that happens, HR needs to be able to get people on board with those changes. On the other hand, HR business partner may need to put their foot down when management wants to implement changes that are undesirable from an HR point of view.
Whether there are conflicts within the organisation, or new legislation brings a wave of change, there are always plenty of problems on an HR business partner’s plate. And even if you’re not personally solving these problems, you should have the tenacity to find out who can. In times of rapid change, it can be quite a challenge to balance the interests of both the organisation and its employees.