HR ‘not yet a strategic business partner’, say HR directors

Only a small proportion of activities carried out by HR departments are related to business strategy, according to research released this week.

A survey published by consultants Mercer, which polled 500 HR directors across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, found that only 15% of the activities carried out by HR departments are related to “pure strategic interventions”.

The findings of the report suggest that while HR might continually strive to be perceived as a core strategic business function, the opposite might be true.

According to Brad McCaw, co-author of the report, HR’s failure to be fully embedded as a strategic partner might be due to shortfalls in skills and management ability which damage HR’s reputation within organisations.

McCaw said: “This gap in perception and activities can be addressed by investing in the skills and training of HR staff, while also increasing awareness and people management skills amongst line management to ensure their activities encompass not only the day-to-day work that needs to be done, but also supports the strategic direction of the business. Measurement and analysis are also vital.”

However, Vanessa Robinson, head of HR practice development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, argued that HR’s strategic involvement may be underplayed in the survey findings.

She told Personnel Today: “There are always going to be elements of everybody’s jobs that are more transactional. People need to get paid, training needs to be booked.

“The volume of people involved in strategic activities doesn’t quite balance with the impact those people who do make a strategic contribution have on the business. From the research we’ve done it seems that HR is having an impact and they are getting involved in a lot more strategic activity.”

The report also found that transformation efforts have been a key focus of HR departments’ work during the recession, and more than half the respondents said that they will continue to engage in, or commence, transformation efforts in the year ahead.

Overall, there were fewer HR transformation activities planned in 2010 compared with 2006, the last time the survey was conducted. The most common types of planned initiatives last year included redesigning HR processes (42%), designing a new strategy for delivering HR services (39%), and talent development strategy for improving skills in HR (39%).

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