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Taking the Pulse of the HR Function. Is it Agile Yet?

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November 28th, 2018

- Updated on

March 13, 2019 - 2:00pm

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

Throughout 2018, AJO along with our HR leadership colleagues has been examining the state of the HR Business Partnership. In this, the third blog of the three-part series, we share the outcome of the HR Business Partner study recently conducted among members of our Human Resources Leadership Exchange (HRLE) and explore how HR can become more agile. 

The bottom line, Chief HR Officers and Senior HR Leaders believe they operate as strategic business partners. They’re not sure the rest of their teams are, though – at least not as much as they’d like. 

So, what’s getting in the way and what can you do about it? In this, the final post in this series, Dr. Steve Safier, AJO’s Executive Vice President of Strategy and Impact, shares his recommendations essential for building an agile HR workforce. 

The State of HR Agility

In the first of two prior HR Business Partner blogs, HR Business Partner Are We There Yet? Is HR At The Table?, we defined the HR Business Partner (HRBP)  as “one who can deliver business value toward strategic goals that are responsive to the internal and external context in which the business operates, acting as a true internal consultant and credible strategic advisor.”
In part two, HR Business Partners: 10 Steps to Your Seat at the Table, Dr. Safier recommended 10 principles to prepare for an HR Business Partner role. They included, among others, maintaining high standards for traditional HR functions; raising expectations for HR Generalist strategic performance against corporate goals, not just HR department goals; preparing well for meetings with operational partners across the enterprise; seeking wise counsel from innovators across the profession and within the organization. Our senior HR Leaders (largely CHRO’s) colleagues have added their own perspectives to this list.
AJO’s HR Business Partner Survey results and follow up discussions with CHRO’s and others clearly support the need for reconfiguring HR training, HR career paths, and HR roles if those in the field are to keep up with the urgent demand for business agility.
The full presentation and results are in the SlideShare above. In a nutshell, here is what the CHRO’s had to say:
  • 100% stated that HR teams today are asked to do more and have more impact, with fewer and fewer resources.
  • HR still has a long way to go to be viewed as a strategic partner by others in the enterprise. This is particularly true of those in the middle ranks of the HR team.
    • Mid to lower level HR team members have often been mired in administrative and tactical demands, leaving little time for projects or initiatives that would have a strategic impact on the bottom line.
  • CHRO’s believe it is essential that they present and promote the HR strategic message to all levels in the organization, not just the C-suite.
  • Focus on skill building for those in the HR Generalist role.
    • HR Generalists are too few, under-developed and too harried to think and act strategically
    • Redefine and support a new model of the HR career ladder to enhance skills.
    • Development is essential to achieve an enhanced state of HR agility.

Essential HR Business Partner Skills and Competencies

Business savvy, financial analysis/business data analytics ♣ Strategic planner/thinker ♣ HR technical skills i.e. basic employment law, compensation administration, performance management ♣ Influencing skills, listening skills, communication - written/verbal, ♣ Leadership and employee development strategies ♣ Coaching and political astuteness ♣ Collaboration; Partnership

Let’s Get HR Agile, Quickly!

Depiction of agile HR leaders - Is Human Resources Agile Yet?
Very simply, HR teams have some significant barriers to overcome to be able to have a more strategic impact on the business. When faced with overwhelming transactional demands, maintaining the current HR structure and administratively heavy HR functions are no longer workable. Transactional functions currently absorb too much staff time and leave too little mental energy or time for developing the essential HR Business Partnership skills. HR agility requires fast turnarounds and just-in-time solutions to human capital problems when or preferably before they become business results roadblocks. What can HR leaders do about it?

How Can HR Become More Agile?

AJO’s Dr. Steve Safier recommends employing a multi-faceted solution: 
  • GO DIGITAL: Apply state-of-the-art technological solutions to increasingly overwhelming transactional functions, relieving HR staff for more strategic approaches to their work.
  • REVIEW COMPETENCY MODELS: Rather than creating yet another set of HR competencies, ensure that HR staff members understand the relevancy of the current competency model to the business and the impact strategic HR functioning can have on the bottom line. Add to or edit the competency model, if necessary, and – if one doesn’t exist – create one, but quickly and efficiently based on available research and expertise.
  • ASSESS AND DEVELOP: Institute Individual Development Plans (IDPs) that correspond to the competency model. Once skills are assessed, build developmental opportunities into the professional’s day-to-day work. This might also include some formal training and certifications for specific topics like data analytics, or employment law. But development should come primarily from experiential learning opportunities.
  • PROMOTE PRACTICE OPPORTUNITIES: Use a scalable, project-based model to gain exposure and enhance skills. Pair HR team members with external experts who can guide and mentor them on short-term, strategically impactful projects. Give HR team members exposure across the other business functions while experiencing how to operate and garner powerful business results using hands-on, HR agile skills. 
  • ANALYZE AND DOCUMENT OUTCOMES: Credibility as an agile HR Business Partner comes when the analytics prove a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line, cultural initiatives, and deeply rooted organizational challenges. Track the impact on employee turnover, employee engagement, employee retention, productivity, and the ability to attract the best talent. 

With a strong analytic approach, fully competent team members, and clear messaging on program impacts, HR professionals can gain traction in their quest to retain their seat at the table in the decision-making ranks of their organizations.

AJO Blogger - Kathy Flora - Headshot
Kathy 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.