Company Leaders Tell HR: Know the Business and Be Relevant

By Beth Mirza Nov 2, 2011

​CEOs and other top business leaders want HR professionals to know the industry and business in which they work—how the organization makes its money, and how the HR department contributes to the organization’s financial goals. They want HR to “stop saying ‘no’ ” and instead offer solutions to the company’s challenges.

At the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources conference held recently in Washington, D.C., top HR and business leaders told attendees that expectations of HR professionals are rising as businesses weather the rocky economic climate.

“I want HR to be a business driver, not a business partner,” said Debbie Pollock-Berry, senior vice president of HR and chief human resources officer, XO Holdings, during a conference session. “You have to know the business” you are working in, not just the ins and outs of HR. “Understand how your organization makes money. If you don’t contribute to the revenue, you’re not a benefit to the organization.”

Once you know the business, you can offer HR solutions to problems other business leaders might be struggling with. Center your discussions on the business—not what HR “allows” you to do. Solutions are more appreciated than constant negative feedback, speakers said.

“If you show up as a naysayer, you’ve lost the battle,” said Artell Smith, global head of HR, Aon Hewitt. Most business leaders can think of why they shouldn’t do something, Smith added. As an HR leader, hone your ability to drive and shape the business by offering ideas of how to accomplish the business’s goals. Don’t say no without offering alternative solutions. “Present yourself as part of the team, solving challenges together. You’ll lose credibility if you talk solely in HR-speak,” Smith said.

Jon Love, former president of Pitney Bowes Government Solutions, reiterated this point during a luncheon panel discussion.

“I don’t need the HR police,” Love said. “Sit side by side with me, understand the real issues, get the talent in place and inspire and motivate them.”

Business leaders are leaning on HR departments to help them through challenging times. Troy Cromwell, group president, global strategic services, Verizon Business, said HR leaders can make or break mergers and acquisitions.

“Mergers and acquisitions fail when HR decides to work only with the other company’s HR” to match up processes and policies, Cromwell said. “They don’t get to know the businesses, the synergies or the culture. That’s how you can really destroy a great acquisition”—when you lose the intrinsic value of the acquired company. It falls to HR to preserve that intrinsic value, he said.

Love agreed that HR was invaluable in mergers. “Don’t just be a partner. Help me plan this. I need someone with a nose for the talent base, how we’ll integrate workforces to achieve goals.”

Beth Mirza is senior editor for HR News. She can be reached at


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


The SHRM Member Discounts program provides member-only access to discounts on products and services you can apply to your life and career, and share with your company.



Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect