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HR Business Partners: 10 Steps to Your Seat at the Table

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August 3rd, 2018

- Updated on

December 17, 2019 - 9:28am

Part Two of a Three Part Series on Strategic HR/HR Transformation

In our recent post, Dr. Steve Safier, AJO’s  Executive Vice President of Strategy and Impact, posed these two simple questions to HR professionals, “Do you have a seat at the table?” and, “Are we there yet?”
In this second post in a three-part series, we explore how as an HR professional, you can continue to develop your HRBP skills, grow your credibility and influence as a trusted advisor, thought leader, and partner within your own organization. We'll share supporting information from our short survey which offered heartening perspectives, suggesting that HR professionals and teams are making strides to align services with business strategy, partnering with and adding strategic value to operational goals of the business within their organizations. Yet, there's still much to be done.

We’re Making Strides – Is that Enough?

Yes, HR professionals are making strides in the right direction. Your responses show that there is still room for developing HR Business Partner skills to become trusted advisors to those in the operational side of the business.
This is especially true in the perceptions of leadership within organizations.

Although the Business Partner role of HR professionals within our respondents' organizations has improved over time, there is still a lag when it comes to leader’s perceptions of the HR role. What can you do about it?

If You or Your Organization Still Have a Way to Go – What Can You Do?

The Conference Board's recent report entitled, What’s Next for 21st Century HR? Continuous Strategic Transformation identifies the following six areas where HR professionals can impact business outcomes:
  1. Aligning HR with business strategy …how HR needs to be structured to deliver effective services and strategic insights to the business
  2. Delivering impact and value to the business … the merits of HR to the organization and stakeholders
  3. Applying HR technology … the use of technology to define, enhance, and deliver HR services
  4. Using human capital analytics …connecting systems or partnering with different resources for gathering data and developing insights to drive decision making
  5. Enhancing employee experience …HR’s focus and steps for building employee-engaging programs and initiatives
  6. Building HR’s strategic capacity… developing mindsets, skills, and competencies necessary for mobilizing efforts in each phase of the transformation and successfully navigating the 21st-century business terrain.”  
Each of these 6 elements can be applied to your own business’s circumstances, following a four step process using the transformational framework offered in the Infographic from the Conference Board’s report, shown below.
Conference Board: Four phases of HR transformation

Now, What About You?

In considering the question of what HR and an HR professional can do to enhance their strategic influence in the organization, AJO’s Dr. Steve Safier’s view is that HR plays at the intersection of business need and personality. The way that business gets done affects both behavior and emotion, so it is essential to keep that perspective in one’s view when making and communicating business decisions and developing business plans.
Any plans that stretch people to achieve business goals will also impact people and how they feel and perform. Therefore, how one communicates plans and strategies to incorporate the awareness of their impact on people and personalities is essential. Understanding both the business dynamics and the personality dynamics will promote clearer communication, and head off reactions so that players can arrive at a problem-solving state more swiftly.
HR professionals are uniquely suited for and positioned in the right place in the organization to design, pilot, measure and communicate people-focused business solutions that drive toward desired outcomes; achieving strategic goals while taking personalities and impact on employee engagement and morale into account.
10 ways for HR to earn a seat at the table
What can you do to prepare for this role? Dr. Safier recommends these ten principles:
  1. Learn the business. Nothing takes the place of experience, so as your HR career develops, volunteer for cross-training and rotational assignments, team projects that give you a perspective of the operational, financial and analytical side of the business both domestically and globally. Use the Internet to your advantage to backfill skills that you may be lacking.
  2. Grow your confidence to deal with the inevitable personal dynamics that any decision may engender. Once you’ve done your homework, have the confidence to hold and present your point of view.
  3. Maintain high standards for the traditional HR structures so that you can focus more strategically once solid structures are in place. Keeping your own house in order will allow you additional mental and emotional bandwidth to dig in more strategically to those knotty problems that will make a true difference to your business.
  4. Prepare for meetings. Be sure of your position, listen, then speak with calm authority based on facts in a neutral, way that engenders confidence in your knowledge and professionalism.
  5. Wade into challenges. Be open to learning from your management partners. Be open to testing new solutions and open to learning from successes and failures.
  6. Understand ambiguities. The ability to go forward when all is not certain is essential to operate successfully in today’s business environment. Failure may not be your favorite experience, but it is one of the best learning tools you may experience.
  7. Seek wise counsel. Align yourself with positive innovators who can share their expertise and their perspectives on the business and personality dynamics.
  8. Build extensive relationships. Find experts in areas where you may be weak and in areas where you need an innovative stretch. Offer your expertise in return. Partner with others, because you can’t have all the answers.
  9. Learn to tell the business story. Carefully build employee brand. Be the best ambassador for your firm and culture. Walk the talk in the small things, the big things will follow. Live and work using a combination of “heart and smart”.
  10. Pilot your ideas, then show how they can make a difference to the overall business strategy. Establish a beachhead, figure out what needs exist, and what needs to happen to make the business work. Constantly ask the question, “How do we solve for that?” Don’t be afraid to show value outside of the bottom line. People impacts do matter.

Are We There Yet?

If you have ever driven on a long car trip with kids, then you know the answer to that question. “No, we’re not there yet, but we’re almost home. Be patient and keep watching. We just have a little bit yet to go.”

We may not be there yet, but with hard work, innovation and some rational risk-taking, we’re getting closer all the time. 

HRBP at the Table Survey Results

Let’s take a quick look at what you shared so far. The survey takes less than two minutes to complete and we'll continue to update the results periodically with the latest total responses. Click here to share your opinion.
Results shown in the following infographic below were updated: November 2018. For the most up to date results dashboard, click here.
AJO's Infographic - HR Business Partner - Are we there yet?About the Survey respondents: Years in HR: 1-2 years- 1 respondent, 8 – 15 years – 4 respondents, 16+ years, 17 respondents
Size of organization (# Employees): <100-1 respondent, 101-1000- 4 respondents, 1001-5000- 8 respondents, 5001-10,000-2 respondent, 10,000+- 7 respondents
The third and final part of this series is titled, "Taking the Pulse of the HR Function. Is it Agile Yet?" in which we share the results of a broader HR Business Partner study conducted this summer among members of our Human Resources Leadership Exchange (HRLE). We explore how HR can become more agile with five recommended steps that can yield a more strategic impact on the business.

AJO Blogger Kathy Flora HeadshotKathy Flora is a Career and Executive Coach and AJO Blogger who is actively pursuing her life’s passion, helping others find and fulfill theirs. Known as a positive change agent, mentor and guide, she has assisted hundreds of leaders and their teams understand their strengths, collaborate effectively, and drive organizational success. She has a special affinity for working with virtual teams, using webinars, virtual meet-ups, and online collaborative communities to optimize communication and productivity. Her experience spans over 25 years in executive management and leadership, career development, facilitation, and consulting in private firms, state government, and in federal agencies.