Making HR a True Strategic Partner: It’s Not As Easy as Some Make It Seem

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Feb 1, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Nothing is easy today.

When I lived in the U.S. (I currently work in Dubai), I would always marvel at late night TV commercials. My take was that whatever it is that ails you, just turn on late night TV and you would invariably find a product that could solve whatever it is that ails you.

That same feeling comes over me as I browse the Internet. There are 5-6 or perhaps even 10 ways to solve engagement, get a job, increase performance, become a better leader. You name the organizational ills and somewhere in cyberspace, there is a quick cure.

In other words, the magic wand is still operable.

The mindset game

What we face today in our profession, as stewards of the organization, cannot be done in a few steps. The process is not the cure. The cure starts with changing mindset.

Have you ever noticed the look when you tell someone that you work in HR? Something as simple as an introduction gets you that look. If you are in HR and reading this article, you know exactly what I mean.

My thought is that many of the HR naysayers have somewhere had a horrible personal human resources experience.

They may have been passed over for a job or promotion, had a terrible performance review, or not been paid what they felt they deserved. They could have worked in an organization where the HR department did not show any real value but was simply a rubber stamp for the organization.

If that’s the case, they are all damning an entire profession by their own personal encounter. Not all CEO’s are bad or clueless just because you worked for one that was.

The 20-60-20 dilemma

Even within our own departments, we have those who want to cling to their old ways of doing business: Process paper and wait for the phone to ring to take an order.

Dave Ulrich talks about the normal distributions that exist in most parts of our lives: 20–60–20. When it comes to any change, 20 percent are already on board and early adopters; 60 percent can learn and change; and, another 20 percent are laggards who will never change

So, let’s take this out of context and super impose this over the organization that the bottom 20 percent is inhabited by the leadership. That is the conundrum we face,  because as we strive to become more relevant, we are (in a lot of cases) fighting an uphill battle both internally and externally.

In the end, our success on being relevant depends on changing the mindset.

Construction ahead

For each category, especially for the leaders in your organization, their respect and outlook is intertwined in changing their mindset to a new HR. I have encountered numerous HR people who are trying to be relevant, but for the most part, they are ignored. There are others who talk about trying to move the agenda forward, and they are also given the cold shoulder

What are you to do in this environment?

What we need to do will require a methodical approach and having offline conversations, because what you will find is not that everyone will turn a deaf ear. Find that listener and begin the conversation and about how you and your department can add value to the business. In a lot of cases, you can get them to run interference and act as HR ambassadors.

It is a technique called “surrounding the decision maker.”  To be effective and successful, your ideas and programs will need the sponsorship or anointment from on high. Let the peers of this decision maker take the initial discussion forward. This will serve  to soften them up and get them prepared.

The long climb

Getting leaders to see the value of HR can be a huge climb, but there is no way around it. This is the most important step in any initiative. The key is get one success under your belt, and once you do, they become like butter in your hands. But, get it wrong and the climb will just continue to get longer and harder.

In one of my prior roles, I had lunch with one of our Department Heads who was lamenting the difficulty of an organizational issue. I asked her to let my team get involved. At first she kind of hesitated about bringing HR in. I reminded here that we were all prior HR consultants and our approach would just the same as one would get from external consultants.

We successfully solved the issues involved and she was extremely pleased with the results. Later she was sitting in on an executive meeting and turned to me and talked about how we had come in and solved her problems. She gave us the most amazing seal of approval that we could ever have wanted.

From that point on, our phones were ringing off the hook. I told my team that all it takes is one opportunity, and when that comes into focus, you have to do your best work because if no,t you will be relegated back to the dust bin.

It won’t be easy

So as we approach this strategic mindset, and bring it to bear within our organizations, know this: It will NOT be easy

There are not just a few steps that will determine your success. You have to get past the gate first, but getting to the starting gate can be a huge effort in itself. Once that is done, and only when it is done, then can you proceed.

So hang in there and do not get disillusioned because it is not as easy as late night TV or the Internet will promise.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.