How HR can step up to the strategy plate

HR professionals need to be more confident in their ability and clear about their responsibility for proactively impacting key business areas such as organisational transformation, developing leadership and change capability, according to a global consulting firm.

The changing operational nature of HR has been something both practitioners and the profession have grappled with for a long time, and HR leaders need to “stand up and drive transformation and change in organisations,” said Jon Williams, managing partner of people consulting and services for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“I think HR leaders need to figure out and be very clear on what their role is in the organisation. For a long time we’ve still been grappling with issues around personnel versus HR versus IR and so on,” he said.

“I think HR has come a long way, but it still has got some way to go. So HR really needs to look at what role it is going to play and not delegate responsibility for stuff that’s hard to them.”

Leadership, change capability and strategy
Williams said HR’s role is to develop leadership and change capability in organisations and to manage underlying systems that will allow organisations to be successful – but not to be the individuals that actually do the people-related work or content.

“We’re actually the people that should own this space. There’s a real tension in the industry about this, because I think many of the people who have gone into HR have gone into it because they like dealing with people on a day-to-day basis.”

Over the past five years, he said there have been an increasing number of heads of strategy moving into senior organisational roles, and many heads of strategy end up in CEO positions.

“The HR folks should be all over the strategy and transformation space, not allowing it to be owned by someone else – and then they can provide the people support to enable the strategy,” said Williams.

“It’s a perfect role for the person that best understands the culture and style of the organisation. Increasingly the culture and style of organisations are going to be the business performance differentiator rather than the strategy itself, so why shouldn’t the person who best understands this step into a role that drives strategy, rather than someone who responds to strategy changes?”

Educating other business executives
Educating leaders in other parts of the business about expectations of the role HR should play is equally as important, Williams added.

“For example, who does the CEO trust or involve in decision making? Over the past few years, they have tended to revert to the CFO as their key confidant or influencer, especially when they face tougher economic times,” he said.

“I think CEOs need to recognise that there’s a bigger role for HR leaders to play, and this would then help allow HR to play that bigger role too.”

Williams likens this shift in role to the change where heads of data processing roles 20 years ago have now evolved those of the CIO. “They own all the information in the organisation and are incredibly important and influential on strategy, and you’ve got CIOs becoming CEOs,” he said.

“We need to take the whole HR profession and put it through the same transformation, because they actually should own the capability inside an organisation to change and respond to the new economy” he said.