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Gauging HR’s strategic role: Survey shows progress, but more can be done

That elusive “seat at the table” the human resources profession has been craving for years is now a reality in some circles but still a challenge in others, according to HR professionals responding to a recent survey. So what can HR do to make more progress as a strategic partner working side by side with top-level management? That question will be among the issues explored in the THRIVE 2017 conference set for May 11-12 in Las Vegas.

The “2016 Strategic HR/HR Metrics Survey” from Business and Legal Resources gathered responses from 843 participants representing an array of industries, business types, organizational sizes, and locations. Among other things, the survey asked HR professionals about their strategic influence within their organizations and about their priorities for 2017. The survey results show that 42.8 percent of those surveyed say that they have “an influential seat within the inner circle.” Another 27 percent say they have a “major role outside the inner circle.”

Those numbers are in contrast to the 23.7 percent of respondents who say they have only a minor role and 5 percent reporting they have “no role” in determining strategy.

The survey also explored how HR professionals think they are perceived by management. Survey results show that 35.1 percent of the respondents believe they are viewed as “a strategic partner,” and an additional 29.5 percent believe they are seen as a “credible business partner.” Other participants were more pessimistic, with 30.8 percent saying they are viewed as a “provider of administrative functions” and 2.2 percent as “not really needed” or “unnecessary/window dressing.”

Getting in the driver’s seat
HR speaker and author Lori Kleiman wants to see more HR professionals realizing their strategic potential. She will present a program called “Five Steps for Putting HR in a Driver’s Seat for Enterprise Growth” as part of the 2017 THRIVE conference. In addition to her five-step process, her program will offer tips to HR professionals still striving for a strategic role and help those already influential with management strengthen their position.

Especially when organizations are growing, HR and senior management need to be on the same page, Kleiman says. Growth centers on the organization’s people, and that’s where human resources professionals come in.

Without HR in the driver’s seat, growth efforts can fall flat, Kleiman says. “People are the backbone of every business,” she says. “If you don’t think so, look at your annual budget. Generally, over 50 percent of expenses have to do with employees—including the rent to house them, benefits to keep them happy, and insurance products to meet your compliance obligations. Someone has to be watching out for these things.”

That someone should be HR, the department that needs “to stop waiting for an invitation to join the leadership conversation and step up to the plate,” Kleiman says. HR professionals should create visibility so that they are in front of new, effective initiatives instead of “trying to implement something that doesn’t make sense for your team,” she says.

Finding the starting point
When planning a growth strategy, organizations need to keep employees in mind and recognize that needs change, Kleiman says. “Every part of the HR equation changes with growth—from recruiting talent, compensation philosophy, training and development, and even HR technologies,” she says, and HR should be the one watching all of that as an organization grows.

So where does HR need to start? “The starting point is to form informal alliances with your leadership team,” Kleiman says. Forging alliances will help HR gain authority by being trusted, influential, and credible.

“You’ve got to work on yourself first,” Kleiman says, “and others will see where you want to be.”

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