Author Profile Picture

Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more about Cath Everett

Best Practice: Four tips to help HR become more business savvy


If HR professionals want to gain in credibility, they must evolve from simply being deep subject matter experts to becoming business leaders with a people specialism, the CIPD has warned.

Although three out of five HR practitioners questioned for the organisation’s latest report agreed that the profession needed to increase its understanding of business issues, all too many found it difficult to comprehend what this requirement meant in practice.
Stephanie Bird, the CIPD’s director of HR capability and public policy, said that its research showed business savvy was “one of the three savvies” that HR practitioners, whether at junior or board level, had to have in order to contribute to providing sustainable organisation performance.
But “we also know that many HR practitioners find it hard to understand what business savvy really is and how to develop it”, she added.
Liz Ogden, HR director at security firm, G4S, agreed that developing business savvy was crucial in order to demonstrate professional credibility.
“People who are really successful have a curiosity about the whole business. Being really current demonstrates credibility, and so I read all the business papers regularly, picking up information about competitors, mergers and acquisitions and senior moves,” she said.
But she also made a habit of moving out of HR and into a line-of-business function every four or five years or so. “I see myself as a business person first, with an HR discipline – not as an HR director but as a business leader. I think if someone is really serious about a career in HR, they should get out of HR and into the business to really understand the organisation and get credibility,” Ogden explained.
The report entitled ‘Business savvy: giving HR the edge’, which was published at the CIPD’s HR Business Partner conference in London today, identified four key sets of behaviours that characterise a business savvy HR professional. They are able to:
  1. Understand the organisation’s business model in depth: It is important to understand where value is created and destroyed within the business and be able to identify people-related areas that can be improved upon in order to create value and enhance organisational performance.
  2. Use evidence and data to generate insights: The most effective HR professionals have the courage to ask questions and look for explanations, even when the knowledge that they are after seems to be hidden behind technical or professional jargon.
  3. Network with curiosity and purpose: It is imperative that HR professionals show curiosity about why and how the business operates in order to identify opportunities for improvement. They should not wait to be asked, but should instead adopt a proactive approach to networking across the business and collaborating at all levels.
  4. Lead with integrity and challenge the status quo: HR should serve stakeholders rather than power structures by taking on a strong stewardship role. This role requires courage in order to challenge whether short-term business goals should be pursued if they are detrimental to the organisation’s people and its long-term success.
Author Profile Picture
Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.