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Human Resource Management: From Support Function To Strategic Partner

A Q&A with Prabhjot Kaur, Human Resource Director at Ericsson.

Strategic thinking is the potter's wheel on which the clay of strategic decisions takes shape. Strategic decision-making involves the ability to think on a large and small scale, short and long term, and into the past with a focus on the present. "We must proactively shape and position the role of HR as a strategic partner which creates value for the business by focusing on its core asset, i.e. people. We need to bring Human capital and social capital discussions to the forefront and unlock its potential for an organization's competitive advantage. HR professionals must understand their business, have an agile approach, and continuously up/reskill themselves to stay ahead of the curve," said Prabhjot Kaur, Human Resource Director at Ericsson. Managers and leaders must deploy strategic thinking to guide the direction of their teams and find answers to pressing business issues. They must set aside time to strategize, collect data, reflect on the past, develop a vision for the future, and instill strategic thinking in their team.

Although it's good to plan strategically on your own, you can't always achieve your goals by yourself. It would be best to have the agreement and backing of your superiors, co-workers, and staff.

Early Disclosure Invites Premature Closure

First, avoid unveiling your approach at the strategy meeting if you are still at the formulation stage. It may sound counterintuitive, but the most astute professionals know that meetings, where strategies are announced or presented are actually ratification meetings. The main effort is made in advance by methodically briefing key individuals to gather their thoughts and views and to allay any potential worries. You don't want to present your graft and strategy for the first time and have it derailed because your boss reacts negatively to it, a key participant misinterprets an element of it and lashes out, or someone springs a question you hadn't anticipated. Pre-meetings with everyone whose approval you'll need to make anything work can help you avoid that self-destructive anguish. Include key players in the process. It greatly increases the likelihood that they will be favorable towards your strategic inputs or, at the very least, be less displeased.

Kaur further went on to explain the process of strategic decision-making, "Strategic decisions are choices we make across different facets of the business. When viewed in isolation, these may appear disjointed and scattered pieces of a puzzle. So, firstly we must invest time to think strategically and have a clear vision. Secondly, we need to break the functional silos and have an end-to-end integrated approach. Thirdly, we need to make allies, collaborate and take steps that allow us to stay true to our vision and direction. That's how we'll be able to complete the puzzle cohesively."

Foreclose The Blows

The second crucial step in mapping out your strategy is identifying potential objections and coming up with thorough responses. Most of the arguments people will raise against you can be thought of if you put aside time to brainstorm. There is no excuse for not having a failsafe. For instance, if you projected the number of hires in a year. You can easily imagine a skeptical question about how you arrived at the number. So, you should be prepared with a thorough explanation about not just how you arrived at the number but also why your estimates are on the higher side. Also, you should thus be ready to confront any opposing players or those threatened by your proposition.

Another example is if you're proposing that HR should take over a function that the administration has always held, there's probably going to be some backlash over the perceived loss of control. By acting proactively, you can make concessions that would soften the blow or make the arrangement more agreeable. You might never totally win the objectors over if you step on their turf, but if you can at least reduce the level of rage from nuclear to dissatisfied, that's a victory.

Kaur explaining the importance of proactive preparedness, used the analogy of the football game, "While playing football, a player looks down to keep the focus on the ball. They must be present in the moment to deal with short-term goals/ challenges. The player looks ahead to have a line of sight on the goal and take a long-term view. They strategize their hits and blocks by being cognizant of the placements of team players and opponents. Explaining the analogy in the context - HR professionals need to look down, ahead, and around to be able to think and weigh all possible pros and cons and add value to the strategic goals of the business."

Partner with Leaders and Cohorts

Finally, you should set up a system to keep your team players accountable. On the most fundamental level, that would entail following up on each meeting with an email summarizing what was decided and who is in charge of what. On a macro scale, it entails regularly reiterating your timelines and the markers on the route and ensuring there is no slippage en route. Realizing your strategy is the fundamental aim of strategic thinking. And in virtually all cases, you'll need to enlist the support of your team to accomplish it effectively.

"Be agile, seek timely feedback, and always remember to close the loop with people by incorporating suggestions. Have double-loop feedback, if required. This ensures stakeholders know that you value their feedback, respect their perspective, and consider them as your partners in your journey of strategic pursuit," suggested Kaur.

Closing Thoughts

Step back and reflect if your strategy creates a value chain for people. Identify the value creation and destruction factors and determine what needs to be changed, repositioned, or redesigned. Make technology and analytics your supporting partner for designing and deploying solutions.

Prabhjot Kaur

Prabhjot Kaur

Director & Head of People

APAC Supply Ericsson

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