Building Strategic HR Partnerships

Written by Larry Fehd, CEO & Founder / HPS

Joseph Heller was one of the first to describe the current dilemma facing many HR professionals when he wrote the bestseller Catch 22. Today’s HR professionals are struggling to manage the day-to-day functional activities of their departments while simultaneously trying to build credibility and influence as strategic partners to CEOs, presidents, and senior leadership teams.

This situation is often exacerbated by the fact that CEOs, presidents, and other senior leaders may not fully understand or appreciate HR’s potential contributions to driving business results. In essence, a significant gap exists between the needs of top-tier leaders and the potential contributions of the HR function.

An article, What CEOs Really Want from HR Leaders, which appeared in the March issue of Leadership Best Practices, provides some important background information. If you did not have an opportunity to read this article, please take a moment to review McKinsey and Company’s research findings describing how CEOs, presidents, and other senior leaders view strategic HR partnerships. McKinsey’s research clearly identifies the gap between what HR is and what it can be in terms of strategic partnering.

Recognizing the gap is just the tip of the iceberg and only raises awareness of the issue. Building strategic HR partnerships requires a clear focus and results-oriented plan, including some very different and unique behaviors. Building strategic HR partnerships requires individual and team self-discipline and drive coupled with the capacity of the HR professional and staff to function in a partnership role.

During a recent HR Best Practices Forum™, two HPS colleagues led a process called Performance Blueprinting. These two masterful facilitators blueprinted the behaviors of a highly successful HR strategist. Our exemplar currently serves as VP of Human Resources in the high tech industry and was selected based upon her unique partnership approach and record of success. Her success includes both HR leadership as well as having earned influence and credibility with the CEO, president, and other senior leaders. One of the most striking comments during the blueprinting session was when our exemplar described herself as follows, “I am a business partner in an HR role versus an HR professional trying to learn the business.”

There were many unique behaviors and competencies that became evident during the blueprinting process which differentiated our exemplar from many other HR professionals. By the way, the forum members differentiate HR strategists from generalists by describing generalists as operating in a vacuum while keeping focused on internal processes only. Our exemplar strategist described her role and day-to-day activities in very different terms in contrast to generalists. Our exemplar:

  • Understands how the business works and can define key metrics for business success, which are the same metrics as those of the CEO, president, and senior leadership team.
  • Conducts regular informal needs assessments with senior and middle-level leadership throughout the organization to determine where HR can make the most significant contributions.
  • Develops and sustains personal relationships with key players, including knowledge of their personal interests and mutual outside interests.
  • Offers solutions and solicits advice from trusted colleagues outside the HR function on issues which significantly impact the business.
  • Organizes daily activities to support maintaining relationships, identifies present and future issues, analyzes how these issues could impact the business, and proactively recommends solutions to either prevent or resolve the issues.
  • Cultivates an environment of optimism for all employees and celebrates both small and large successes.
  • Models exemplary leadership, is viewed as an equal business partner, and regularly takes her turn at the helm.

The most encouraging outcome from the blueprinting session was that building strategic HR partnerships is a learned skill provided that opportunity, motivation, and capacity are present. Each of three elements must be present for successful change to occur and be sustained. Learn more about HR strategic skills development.

Larry Fehd

Chief Executive Officer & Founder / HPS
Executive Leadership & Business Optimization Advisor

M: (512) 415-0748

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