HR, get your act together! How HR can be a strategy thought leader

I think it’s close to being a total cliché; ‘people are by far the most important asset within my organisation’. Ever heard a business leader say something similar?

Let’s do another one; ‘attracting and retaining talent should be our top priority’. Sounds familiar?

In any case, piles of HR survey data point out that talent & skill shortages are a structural concern amongst c-level executives.

So, if people really come first and all other assets are considered to be replicable; HR, the keeper of the people function, can only be a key influencer in the organisation, right? I suspect most of us will agree that this is rarely the case…

Isn’t it striking, to say the least, that the HR function is often spoken of as a necessary evil, instead of an essential business partner? Why are HR professionals still seen as fee burners, and not as co-shapers of the company’s strategy?

Are HR professionals capable of being a strategy thought leader? Or is the HR team just a necessary support function that looks after administrative work and your regular workforce compliance checks?

Are HR professionals capable of being a strategy thought leader?

Big questions… Let me first say this; I do not claim to have a final answer, but I do see tons of potential for HR!

To begin with, we have a business challenging us. And yes, they ask a lot… HR is expected to be ‘data driven’. We should provide insights and analytics that help management execute business strategy. Fair enough..

Also, we need to deliver a swift and fun employee journey. All people processes and tools should be idiot-proof, fun and accessible on any device, 24 hours a day. Shouldn’t be a problem…

Finally, HR should keep the personal touch and drive employee engagement. We are expected to really connect with the employees, truly understanding what drives them and their teams. Still with me?

Not an easy job all together. In my view the CFO’s assignment is more straightforward. In fact, I’ve never heard of ‘the finance journey’ requiring financial reporting to be visually engaging and simple. Then again, finance processes do simply not impact everybody in the organisation.

In any case, we, the HR team, have got work to do. But, look at the bright side; there is explicit demand! A bare minimum requirement for any successful service offering…

I’ve never heard of ‘the finance journey’ requiring financial reporting to be visually engaging and simple.

My view; HR’s ticket to strategic business partnership are HR Analytics. I mean, look at what we have at our disposal. Data around employee benefits & payroll, employee engagement surveys, resource planning, everything around new recruits, internal mobility & learning consumption. The list goes on and on… So far however, we seem to be unable to bring this data together and dig a story out of it that truly impacts business strategy. What we’ve been doing is drawing up an infinite amount of lists and slide decks full of separated old school HR metrics that makes the HR team look productive and relevant.

But really; what does an absence rate of 3,2% tell a business leader? Should management really care if we hired 47 people last month? Aren’t these just isolated numbers without any context? Floating figures without a business objective tied to it? Maybe they are…

The moment we learn to bring it all together and produce vital insights around the company’s people processes, we have our foot in the boardroom door. When we’re also able to visualise our findings in an engaging way, triggering our audience to ask questions, HR is put on the agenda to stay on it.

I’m sure every business leader will follow the advisor who has the numbers telling him what training investment to spend on what groups of employees. Or telling him what skills to hire in order to facilitate successful global expansion of the company. The good news; we have all required input for these insights somewhere on our desks.

Maybe we should take a break from our daily operational activities and spend some time on truly understanding our clients’ business issues. With the right time and attention I know we are able to crunch the numbers and formulate answers addressing these issues.

In the end it’s all about credibility and arguments that are supported with facts & figures. And when we take full advantage out of all the people data we have available, we’ve got the company’s best story to tell!

Jochem is founder of Cloudwatch, an Amsterdam based independent DigitalHR specialist. Cloudwatch helps HR teams to get the best out of their HR systems and develops custom HR dashboards combining every possible HR data point.