HR Hero Line

Insights from a CEO: HR can become a strategic partner

HR professionals know they have a lot to offer and deserve “a seat at the table” in the C-suite, but showing top management that their expertise is vital to an organization’s strategic efforts often is a tough sell. Tough, but not impossible. Dan Oswald, CEO of human resources information provider BLR, shared some advice for forward-thinking HR professionals at the recent 2012 Advanced Employment Issues Symposium.

We’re presenting a series of three videos from his presentation that focus on HR’s contributions from the perspective of a CEO. In the first video, Oswald stresses the need to speak the language of the C-suite. In the second installment, he focuses on shedding the cost center reputation, and in this third video, he addresses how HR can become a strategic partner.

HR professionals can start with a look at their own job descriptions. What do HR pros do? They work on hiring, firing, Family and Medical Leave Act leave, workers’ compensation, etc. “It’s function, function, function,” Oswald says. But just accomplishing a dizzying array of functions isn’t going to earn HR that “seat at the table.”

“You’ve got to stop thinking about functions and think about strategy,” Oswald told the group. He suggests finding out the top three initiatives for each of the executives on an organization’s management team.

Each department will have its own set of goals, and HR needs access to what those are. Maybe one manager is having trouble recruiting the right people to meet the department’s objectives. If HR can tell that manager how to solve that problem, “Suddenly, you become a strategic partner with a senior executive in the business,” Oswald says.

HR has the expertise to solve other problems important to senior managers, and they will be HR’s advocates once they see the contributions HR can make.

Dan Oswald writes The Oswald Letter a free weekly e-zine, providing readers with management and leadership advice and a look at how members of the C-Suite view the workplace. Sign up to receive The Oswald Letter at You can read past issues of The Oswald Letter at