Learn Your Company's Business so You Can Drive Solutions

HR drives business through effective use of communication, relationship building, leadership

By Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP July 16, 2020
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Learn Your Companys Business so You Can Drive Solutions

​The job title "HR Business Partner" is common in many organizations. What does it mean? How does an HR business partner impact the organization? As we begin to return to the workplace in the COVID-19 era, HR is acting as a key business driver. Our decisions and actions as HR professionals are having a tremendous impact on organizations throughout the world. HR must continue this momentum. 

I'm always hearing the phrase "HR needs a seat at the table." If HR professionals want that seat, we have to go out and earn it—or take it. By aligning our HR departments with decisions that impact our organization, we will have our place at that table. We must take the time to fully understand what the business needs to ensure that the decisions we make are sound and reliable.

I believe that any high-level HR professional should be able, if the need should arise, to take over for the CEO immediately. That means taking a disciplined approach to embracing a business-driven HR department that produces effective results in the organization.

Here are a few things that HR business partners ought to know:

  • Accounting and finance. Every HR professional should have a solid foundation in accounting and finance. Know more than the finance person at the table. Take the time to embrace budgeting, profit and loss, statements of cash flow, and net income. You will eventually be involved in an audit or in developing a department budget. Build a relationship with your finance and accounting team. Ask for projects that financially impact your organization. The only way to fight for money for training and projects is to understand how that money will work so you can sell your ideas to leadership. Developing your skills in data analysis, communication, relationship building and leadership will play an extremely important role in your strategic decision making. See the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK) and its description of these competencies: Business Acumen, Critical Evaluation, Communication, Relationship Management and Leadership & Navigation.

  • "The customer is always right." Customer service is a simple concept: Treat people the way you want to be treated. It really is that simple. In HR, customer service relates to how we engage with the workforce and address their issues and concerns. It also has a tremendous impact on recruiting top talent. (If you treat applicants poorly—not following up, waiting six months to send a rejection letter, ghosting applicants, etc.—you will lose top talent.) Learn the needs of the organization and use a customer-service approach. While we all know the customer is not always right, being ethical, communicating and exercising leadership will ensure success for the HR department. See the SHRM BoCK's descriptions of the Ethical Practice, Communication and Leadership & Navigation competencies.

  • Operations and supply chain. As we have learned over the past months during the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply chain is critical to any organization. Whether an organization is for-profit or not-for-profit, it has an operations and supply chain component. Develop a sound understanding of what your organization produces and how services are delivered. This will support your decision making by helping you align the needs of the organization with the mission of HR. Taking the time to understand this aspect of the business will improve efficiencies in your own HR department. Again, communication, relationship building and leadership form the theme. 

Every HR professional should be ready to learn, evolve and make business-driven decisions.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting LLC in Elmira, N.Y., and co-owner of Labor Love LLC, is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board.

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