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Strategic HR
Change the Perception to Change the Role

Many HR and HRD departments have embraced the concept of becoming “business partners” and “sitting at the executive table” yet most are still finding it difficult to make that happen. Their own management may even be the ones saying that this should occur yet progress is slow. All the name changing to “Performance Consultants”, “Talent Management”, etc. isn’t going to make it happen either. So, what’s the answer?

One dilemma comes from the organization expecting, at first, the role to be tactical. Often, the HR and especially the HRD function get created around requirements to hire fast, get us legally compliant, set up comp/benefits, train only for the most immediate job skills, etc. One HR manager said, “We have to pay our dues and get everything running smoothly before we can get management’s attention for the strategic aspect.”  Therein, is the dilemma. The department has been niched in this operational role and it becomes harder to change that image. The organization sees the function in this tactical role and finds it difficult to change that perception.

So what can be done?  Changing perception is challenging but it can happen. It’s about providing new behavior and information in front of people so that they begin to see and experience you differently.

Those of you still in “start-up” mode with your departments have some advantage, as you can develop the operational and strategic perspectives in parallel. The process, though, to change perception is similar no matter your department’s growth phase. First, create for yourself, a view of what the role needs to become. Have that picture in mind so that short term decisions are always building a foundation towards the longer, bigger view. Educate the executive team at every opportunity on how effective people management contributes to business performance. It’s always adding a strategic message while delivering the operational pieces.

Regardless of where you are in the growth cycle, an effective HR/HRD department needs two plans:

1.     The current year of delivering services and

2.     The longer range focus of positioning HR/HRD to add strategic value.

This second level plan requires a conscious campaign to show how effective people management creates an important competitive advantage for the organization. There are many studies and articles that can be summarized and shared with key executives on this topic. Anticipate what could come up and have data ready to share. Find a champion among the executive team that supports this view and make them a “sponsor” of this perspective. Use every opportunity for a “learning moment” about developing and retaining this valuable resource.

Another approach for doing this is to create an HR Scorecard. Top organizations are using the balanced scorecard at the corporate level to set a direction. Even if the organization isn’t using this approach yet, HR leaders can start the process and introduce the methodology. By creating their own dedicated functional scorecard, HR/HRD departments can clearly demonstrate how they are linked to the organization’s strategic goals. The process causes the involvement of other key leaders in the organization to set the direction for the HR philosophy and practices. This clearly becomes a strategic activity and a way to educate the executive team.

Will HR/HRD get invited to the executive table easily?  Probably, not without educating management on the value they can bring.  The education needs to start early and often to define the role.  It’s developing a plan to have the department be seen as a blend of operational excellence and strategic value.

 Sharon Lieder and her colleagues at The Lieder Consulting Group provide a number of services to support HR/HRD departments in blending the operational side of the function with the strategic focus.

Their approaches take a system perspective and are based on extensive research and studies on the link between people management and business performance.  Visit their website at


Published in the Training Trends June, 2003  ASTD – San Diego Chapter

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