Whether it’s a poorly delivered salary benchmarking discussion, a delayed offer letter or a one-sided disciplinary hearing, a shining new HR star can fall faster from grace than a falling star in the sky.
The behavior of the HR team in the delivery of operational work is always looked at from under the microscope, and in that sense its simply is a ‘hygiene‘ factor in HR‘s road to success. Those of us who do end up mastering operational HR delivery, and have that ambition, have been urged to become more “strategic”, to become business partners and to focus more on how we can contribute to corporate profitability and shareholder value.
But what does ‘strategy‘ actually mean and can you really become a business partner? It is a particular challenge for those who have previously worked only at an operational level and for those whose roles still demand a fair amount of ‘firefighting’ at the sharp end, but it’s far from insurmountable.
Being a conscientious practitioner, you may be waiting until day-to-day HR activities are dealt with before tackling more strategic issues. But you can become more strategic right now: find a few activities that will be easy to do and will have a big impact on your organisation, and start doing them. For those who get it right, there is enhanced credibility and influence and the opportunity to make a real difference.
1. Get your Work in Order
If you’re working flat out on operational issues and there are problems with basic HR services, you will not get the time, space or opportunity to think and act strategically. For example, if people are not being paid, managers will understandably expect you to solve these problems first. This will keep you immersed in the very transactional activities that you want to reduce.
2. Move to Cause from Effect
If you find yourself overloaded with absence issues, discipline interviews or grievances, in most of these circumstances you will mostly be operating on a reactive basis. But if there are lots of these in specific areas of the business, it gives you the ideal opportunity to stand back and look at the bigger picture. For example, why are there so many grievance problems? What is the reason for this manager having to recruit a large number of new staff in a hurry? By identifying and working on the root causes, you can begin to reduce the level of operational activity required. Examining the reasons for these problems and finding solutions will add value to the organisation, and you will find yourself working more proactively and strategically.
3. Use what you already have
Many organisations collect lots of HR data on absence, exits and performance management. Identify a key issue for the business, analyse the data and look for trends and hot spots. Explore the underlying causes of the problems and identify quick wins and opportunities to explore and engage with the business.
4. The Strategy of the Organisation,
the industry or sector and the stage in its life cycle will mean that certain HR approaches are more important than others. For example, a company that provides bespoke solutions for its customers will have different processes from those that are trying to produce the cheapest products on the market. One will require a careful selection process to find skilled and experienced individuals needing tailored development solutions and a reward system that reflects their contribution. The other usually recruits individuals who have minimal skills and puts them through a standard selection process and an identical training programme. Find out what the organisation really wants to achieve, identify how HR helps these needs to be met and ensure HR processes are aligned.
5. Make the most of your People and Team
How often do you hear people say that “our employees are our greatest asset” and then proceed to treat them as numbers? Look at the roles of all your staff, the skill sets they have and the skills your organisation will need in the future. How can you use the skills of the people you have? How can you develop them further? Help managers to make the best use of their people and to treat them as individuals. Create an audit of skills and develop processes to identify and deploy talent across the organisation.
6. Help Managers to be Strategic
Development of organisational strategy is not a traditional HR area, but it is a key skill and there are many opportunities to help not only the senior team, but also line managers to develop their own strategies. Find simple strategic tools and learn how to use them to facilitate workshops with managers. These could include Pest and Swot analysis, stakeholder analysis, scenario planning and competitor analysis. Map the strategy process and find ways to improve it. For example, if it is all top-down strategy, work out how you can better communicate it to others and help them to see the relevance of their job in achieving it. If it is a strategy that emerges from lower levels, then find ways to get key information to the people at the top.
7. Demonstrate your Added Value
There is little point in making improvements to the business if you cannot clearly show the value you have added. Look at the measurements of people-related issues such as staff surveys and focus groups, and find ways of identifying the data that is not collected. Take pre- and post-measures and publicise every success.