Need to know: business support

Summarise the strengths and weaknesses of the business area you support.


Why you need to know:


It is vital to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the business area HR supports because it has such an impact on our ability to understand the business and what does or doesn’t make it profitable. In addition, you should also understand the goals of your business area and identify whether they are tackling the weaker areas of the business and making best use of the strong ones.


If you can understand these issues then you have a greater chance of being able to help to address them, which in turn then gives you a greater influence over the direction of the business and helps you give a better service to your clients.


Strengths and weaknesses can only really be measured by comparison, so you can only truly know your business area by comparing it with your competitors and with other divisions within your company.


The more information you have on competitors and on other divisions the better, but be strategic about the easiest ways to find this information: talk to key people – to your sales, finance or product development departments ask them what they think the business does well and what it can do better. They will be in touch with the business and will know what customers think about both the business and its products or services.


It’s always a good idea to read the trade press, so that you can find out about your competitors. You can also read analyst reports and customer reviews, but make it simple for yourself – set up internet feeds so the information lands on your desk rather than constantly having to chase after it. It is difficult to keep up with all the relevant press so find sources that summarise it. You can ask your PR department if they track your or your competitors’ activity, or you can set up a competitor tracker with websites like or ask your investor relations team to give you copies of analyst reports.


When it comes to understanding your own business, the best method is to build your networks within the business. Have lunch with the head of sales or your head of department. Everyone likes to be asked about what they think, so ask about the strategy for their department and how that aligns with the business goals.


Every HR person should know where a business is strong, where it is weak, how its strongest parts should be protected and its weakest parts improved. Being able to position your business and place it in a wider context will immediately sharpen your strategic position and ultimately make you far more effective in your role.


By Jan Hills, director, HR with Guts

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