Managers Don’t Know What Strategic HR Support They Need

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Jun 15, 2021

Anyone building an HR dashboard is faced with the problem of what data to put in it. A seemingly reasonable approach is to start by asking managers what information they need. However, while they may give you some answers, in many cases the truth is that they don’t really know. 

Managers Don’t Want HR Data

Managers don’t spend their time thinking in terms of HR data. They think in terms of the KPIs on which they’re measured, high-profile deliverables, and short-term annoyances like someone canceling an important meeting.

HR business partners (HRBP) run into a similar problem. If they ask a business leader what strategic talent challenges they face, then the HRBP should not expect an insightful answer. Just as with HR data, most managers do not think in terms of strategic talent challenges. 

Ask someone which HR issues they want help with, and the manager is likely to think of immediate tactical headaches like completing performance reviews or expediting the hiring process for a particular opening. These answers will drive the HR rep toward low value-added tactical work when instead they ought to be addressing strategic talent challenges.

Finding the Link

Both HR analytics professionals and HRBPs need to find the link between the strategic issues on a manager’s mind and matters that fall within the realm of HR. The actions HR takes will fall in the familiar realms of talent development, hiring, compensation, and so on. 

The trick is for HR to get beyond thinking in terms of generic statements such as “we need turnover data” or “the business needs to develop their people.” Rather, the discussion with a manager needs to be along the lines of “I see that it will be tough for you to hit this productivity KPI. The reason it will be tough is that Tom and Marie are the only two staffers who can do the work. We need an HR program to develop junior staff so that we are not always relying on just a few people.” 

Now HR is addressing a business need, helping to hit a specific KPI, not doing HR for the sake of HR.

Enter Workforce Strategists and People Analytics Consultants

One solution some companies are taking to build the link between strategic issues and HR is to create a new role that might be called “workforce strategist” or “people analytics consultant.” The former focuses on any strategic talent issue, while the latter more specifically on finding the link between strategic issues and people analytics.

Now, it’s true that companies had hoped their existing HRBPs could do this on their own, but in many cases, the evidence shows this is simply not the case. 

Creating a new role designed to bridge the gap between business strategic issues and HR may be the most realistic approach both for improving HR’s impact and for getting more value from the investment in an analytics infrastructure. 

Perhaps one day HRBPs will be able to do this strategic linkage. Until then, adding a new role is an expedient approach.

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