Being Strategic Is Not Optional

There is no question. HR professionals must become valued business partners.

By Henry G. Jackson Nov 1, 2015
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HR Magazine November 2015There is no shortage of advice from both supporters and critics of HR about what our profession must do to get to the next level in business. “Rebrand.” “Split up.” “Blow up and start over.” The list goes on. Two years ago, the Korn Ferry Institute suggested that HR’s evolution hinged on our profession’s decision “to be or not to be strategic.” Today, this is no longer a question.

New research shows that HR is, indeed, operating at a more strategic level. A report by the Cranfield Network on International Human Resource Management, in collaboration with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), revealed that HR is now more likely to have a place on the board of directors or a similar executive team (up from 41 percent in 2004 to 66 percent in 2014-15); two-thirds of responding organizations have a written human resource management strategy; and a majority of HR departments remain involved in the development of business strategy either from the outset or through consultation.

And when SHRM asked non-HR executives in the C-suite whether they see HR as having a strategic role in their organizations, a majority of them said yes.

This is likely because many HR professionals are committed to further developing as strategic thinkers and thus business leaders. We know these colleagues when we see them. They apply the business lens to every decision they make. They don’t equate activity or busyness with meaningful results. They think about the future and anticipate challenges and opportunities along the way. And they ask questions of themselves and others. In my role at SHRM, I’m privileged to come across these individuals every day.

So the question is not if HR must be strategic, but rather how to scale up the number of HR professionals and teams who operate this way.

This is the challenge SHRM accepted when we developed the SHRM Competency Model. Our profession required much more than another critique or commentary on how to evolve. We had to have a way to focus en masse on the skills that lead to effective performance from HR practitioners and successful outcomes for businesses. Simply put, we needed a clear path to get HR to its rightful, more strategic leadership position.

Only three years after launching this model, we have made great progress. Our suite of diagnostic tools is now helping HR professionals and teams assess their strengths and opportunities. Our competency-based behavioral interview guide is being used to select talent for a variety of HR positions. Nearly 65,000 HR professionals have earned SHRM’s new certification. And businesses are asking for the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP credentials on HR job postings. They are recognizing that, in addition to HR expertise and knowledge, SHRM-certified HR professionals have the business acumen, critical evaluation and other competencies necessary to guide the strategic thinking of their organizations.

Being strategic is not reserved for C-suite executives. It does not come with an office or job title. In fact, the pace and nature of business today means we need more strategic thinkers at every level, across every function—including HR.

SHRM and tens of thousands of HR professionals are no longer asking for a place in business leadership; we are focusing on the proven skills to get us there. I invite others to join us.

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