HR leaders take on strategy

February 1, 20166:20 am466 views

In most companies today, where job responsibilities, KPIs and work priorities vary so frequently, the difficulty of recruiting and retaining staff is receiving increased recognition amid this shifting scene. Additionally, the needs of employees, especially millennials, are changing, and employers must respond. It all adds up to a bigger, more complex role for a company’s human resources function than has ever been seen before.

Human capital is king

Most corporations scale or fail based on human talent, as innovation and productivity increasingly rely on collaboration and cognitive thinking. “People are now at the centre of organisations,” says Professor Lynda Gratton, Programme Director of the London Business Schools’s HR Strategy in Transforming Organisations (HRST) course.

According to a 2015 World Economic Forum study, half of employers globally expect their business performance to suffer due to gaps in talent. The recipients of Fortune’s most recent “100 Best Companies to Work For” award, for instance, named employee development as their single biggest focus over the last year.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about people,” declares Debbie Kemp, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Bankrate, Inc., the web’s leading aggregator of financial rate information.

A seat at the table

Kemp was recruited by Bankrate’s CEO to its headquarters in New York City earlier this year as part of a process to elevate HR from a personnel administrative function to that of a business partner. The same is happening in many organisations as establishing positive work cultures moves higher on the agenda. “There are still companies that haven’t unearthed the capability of individuals. But forward-thinking companies are asking how HR can play a role here,” she adds.

Playing an effective role necessitates occupying the same level as other C-suite leaders—witness the relatively new title of Chief Human Resources Officer. “The best HR role is that of a peer-based relationship with the CEO,” says Gratton, who notes there’s constant anxiety among HR managers that they don’t have the ear of company leadership. Kemp stresses her strong links to Bankrate’s CEO, CTO and CFO as the key to success: “If we’re not working together, it’s not going to work.”

A head for business

It is crucial for the modern-day HR leader to understand a company’s business strategy and the market in order to align their planning to meet overall business objectives. For someone who has focused solely on traditional personnel management responsibilities, however, this represents a learning curve. Programmes like HRST show participants how to match up their HR strategies to business goals by first guiding them to understand their organisation’s business processes and culture. INSEAD’s Business Strategy for HR Leaders, for instance, prepares participants to contribute to the executive team by instructing them on the essential stages of corporate strategic decision-making. The University of California Irvine offers the Advanced Program in Human Resources & Business Leadership with emphasis on providing HR professionals the tools to become strategic partners on the leadership team. The executive education programme HR Strategy and Effectiveness at Rotterdam Management School takes a similar approach.

Looking forward

Gratton’s executive education programme at London Business School, which typically includes 40 participants from up to 20 countries, puts an accent on teaching participants “futuring skills”, or understanding the forces shaping the world of work. For example, data show that millennial men want to spend time with their children, yet most parental leave policies are still focused on women. Meeting their needs might give a company a competitive advantage in attracting talent. Gratton calls HR leaders the “guardians of the future” because they are the ones who prepare an organisation for the next decade by taking on the responsibility for fostering collaborative cultures.

Kemp sees opportunities everywhere for HR to contribute to Bankrate’s strategic goals. She is currently overseeing the development of an internal mobile app for employees to connect to the HR system. An important, secondary goal is to encourage employees to think and operate “mobile” in an effort to move product development in that direction. Kemp advises others in HR leadership positions to network in their companies in an effort to find out how they fit into the picture, and to ask themselves: “How you are going to add value to the company?”

The end product of executive training should be an HR strategy that effectively looks at business targets within an organization and ensures that the talent needs make them possible.

Browse HR Strategy programmes now >>


Kate Rodriguez is a former senior career search researcher and government analyst who covers career development and higher education marketing for The Economist Careers Network.

This article is first published on The Economist – Executive Education Navigator

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