Wouldn’t it be great if change were easy? While we might not be able to switch gears like turning on a light bulb, it’s not as hard as you might imagine. But it does take courage and curiosity.

I’ve been working in recruitment a long time; for the last 15 years, I’ve focused on developing successful working relationships with HR professionals across all industries, specialties, and divisions. What’s become painfully clear is that HR professionals don’t get the respect they deserve in the workplace. For many, evolving HR functions make them feel swept aside. Certainly, most feel they’re programmed to respond reactively instead of proactively, in a business environment where successful realization of business objectives is closely tied to a proactive HR strategy. Instead, the contributions to organizational success are almost an afterthought. 

What has to happen for HR specialists to find their power and stand shoulder to shoulder with decision makers and strategists? The solution starts with you.


get curious

Here’s what I mean: dig deeper, ask relevant questions, and listen actively. You’ll develop greater understanding of the objectives – and reasoning – behind a requirement. This understanding is how you enhance HR’s capacity as trusted advisor, minimize missteps, and create an environment where HR is an active, reliable planning partner. Making curiosity an integral part of every HR strategy is how you shift a paradigm. Taking time to think and pushing boundaries takes courage; it’s worth it, especially as the future of the world of work hurtles toward us.   

put your curiosity to work

How can you promote company objectives if you don’t fully understand them? How can HR teams be active strategic partners without a clear understanding of the business and how it makes money? With over half of organizations measuring and reporting ROI and performance of initiatives only once a year, how does an HR department know where it stands? How do its members – you and your colleagues – gain the deep understanding that’s so critical to your organization’s success?

The best way I know to develop understanding is to ask questions.  The following questions test depth of knowledge regarding corporate goals and requirements, and highlight areas where further investigation may be required.

(I’ve highlighted the first question because, without this knowledge, everything else is moot.)

  1. How does the company make money?
  2. What are the other performance goals of your organization?
  3. Which departments within your organization need to grow more?
  4. Why is this important to the company?
  5. How will business achieve the required level of performance?
  6. What are the deadlines for achieving these objectives?
  7. What are the performance objectives of your contact person? Upon what criteria are they evaluated?
  8. What is the desired end result?

Questions like these are the starting point of a real "Talent Architecture" that creates value because it provides more in-depth understanding of organizational drivers, goals and vision for the future. In doing so, opportunities are created for your HR team to vigorously involve itself in the organization’s realization of its business objectives. Once an HR department defines itself as an active partner aligned with corporate strategy, it becomes an invaluable contributor to the organization and its success. Its value cannot be denied.

succession planning is critical

If you’re an HR generalist who deals with management, development and talent acquisitions, you need to clarify objectives before initiating a search. A critical element for longevity, productivity and stability is a strategy for succession planning, especially when, the entire baby boomer generation (or those who are born between 1945 and 1965) will have reached the age of 65 by 2031. The following questions and others like them will add clarity.

  1. Does the department have the necessary skills to function productively?
    Does the organization have a knowledge transfer strategy in place?
    What skills are missing?
    How many additional resources are required to fill the skills gap?
    When will they be required and at what cost?
    Where is this talent?
    Are salaries well aligned with business needs?
  2. Are future leaders identified within teams/departments? 
    Is there a development plan in place to ensure seamless succession when the time comes?
    Do the right tools exist to provide employees with what they really need for development?
    If not, is there a strong, proactive leadership succession plan in place to recruit outside of the organization?

the time to develop leaders is now

HR plays a pivotal role in developing leaders, a critical part of any organization’s success. Too often, however, organizations depend on "pipelining", a reactive process that only begins when the need becomes dire. In a proactive approach, development begins as soon as potential is identified in an individual. This is how you groom an individual to competently, confidently step into a role when the time comes. At the same time, you enhance employee engagement and provide seamless performance integration and sustainability. These are crucial elements for future individual and organizational success. It’s a place where HR professionals can shine.

who’s training who? 

Through discussions with HR executives, I’ve discovered that in many organizations, business determines training needs. This thinking is backwards. If training helps increase competency in order to improve performance or solve a problem, that means in those organizations where business dictates training needs, the business that presented the problem is responsible for solving it. 

In my experience, only a few companies include needs based on business objectives as part of training. Still fewer organizations have even created a training role, in spite of the value it would bring to the organization and its impact on organizational success.

Instead, HR experts – that’s you! – need to own field work, communication and systems evaluation that ensure users' needs are aligned with strategy and priorities. You need to develop and enhance existing training processes that respond effectively to organizational needs. In short, you have to become the designers and architects of the training that will be required in the future. This is how you gain ‘cred’ as strategic partners and advisors. 

it’s hard not to feel misunderstood

HR divisions sometimes become defensive or ‘hunker down’ when they feel they’re misunderstood or undervalued. I believe the way to counter this response is to ensure the sustainability of HR functions within an organization by establishing and asserting their value within the organization and to its future success. Meaningful relationship building and communication benefit everyone. They’re the way forward.  

have courage

It’s not easy to change the world. As an HR professional, you may sometimes forget the impact you have on your organization and the power you have to affect meaningful change. Continuous improvement and growth are not just nice-to-haves; they’re a direct result of your efforts and commitment. In fact, pursuing them is your responsibility. 

In a future paper, we’ll address the role of universities and their students in this process. In that paper, I’ll again be addressing self-reflection along with a healthy dose of curiosity. This is how HR will transform itself, become the executor of progress and add value to the organizations it serves. This is how you become the HR professional you were meant to be.

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