Many ‘experts’ criticise HR professionals for a lack of involvement in
business strategy. HR’s response should be to help one another become more
influential at senior level, writes Louise Allen
Can I be the only person in the field of strategic HR who feels a wave of
frustration wash over them every time an ‘expert’ highlights the shortcomings
of HR professionals?
It is criticisms about our lack of understanding or involvement in business
strategy that I find most tiresome. I agree that to work in the field of
strategic HR and not understand the importance of business planning is a waste
of everybody’s time. As HR professionals, we are obliged to recognise that
these are clear development needs and opportunities because we have to be able
to make a difference and to measure what we contribute.
But we should challenge those who criticise so freely – providing
constructive suggestions is a lot more difficult.
There are great HR directors and managers out there, who take their seat at
the executive table with great confidence and produce innovative people plans.
However, there are also many organisations where this is not possible.
Cultures in these employers are often dictated by a lack of acceptance and
understanding by senior line managers who refuse to have anything to do with
‘soft and fluffy people stuff’.
These can be the same senior managers who often reject the notion of
business plans as a waste of management time. Typical phrases include: ‘we have
the budgets – what else do we need?’ and ‘anyone who doesn’t know what’s
expected of them round here, doesn’t belong’.
Where these prejudices exist in organisations, the opportunities for HR
professionals to make a realistic contribution are much diminished. There are,
however, ways and means to ensure that the HR team is doing everything it can
to position itself well even when barriers exist.
It is vital to understand your business. How well do you understand your
business’ key performance indicators? It is important to be able to engage
other managers about business performance and related issues.
There also has to be clear business links in the HR strategy. Can you
demonstrate business benefits for all your activities? It is also important you
are prepared to be held accountable for success measures in exactly the same
way other business managers are.
HR has to be able to lead and manage business change. How confident are you
that you can support and lead managers through the constant challenge of
The implementation of an innovate people strategy will only be achieved if
you understand the role your HR team plays. Are you and your HR colleagues
focused on the improvement of business performance, or do you get caught up in
enforcing rules and regulations?
Influencing and leadership skills are also important. Are you able to
confidently present and represent the people issues? It is vital you can
influence the business debate in your organisation to ensure people values are
fully reflected in the resulting business plans. HR professionals need personal
skills around ‘intent’ and ‘impact’ to be effective.
While none of these suggestions are solutions in themselves, in my
experience they will provide opportunities to make a difference.
Rather than HR criticising itself, we should be looking to help each other
learn to be influential with senior managers. We need to make more
opportunities to share best practice through networking and the like.
These are just some of the ways to overcome our deficiencies. I know this is
an area the CIPD is keenly aware of and I – like many others – await its
deliberations with interest.
In the meantime, we are in the development business – so let us stop criticising
each other and focus on support.
By Louise Allen, a director of Cedar International