Business strategy matters. It is an organisation’s means of laying out its mission, its values and objectives, as well as being the key to unlocking growth.
Everyone's role within an organisation is influenced by the direction of its strategy – what they do, what they don't do, and how they do it. Successful strategy requires all levels within a business to be able to buy into it. To get where you want to go, everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction. They need to be personally invested and have a clear understanding of how they can contribute. People make the strategy happen, and HR owns the people territory.
So why is it a struggle for HR to still be seen as a strategic leader?
From our own research we know it is not enough for strategy to be rational, logically robust and practically doable. It must engage both head and heart. We also know HR often remains locked out of the strategy process, not seen by its peers to be adding value to strategy making, with finance, marketing, operations, sales, and even IT seen to add more value. Unlike these other functions HR is rarely seen to be at the core of a company's strategic vision.
However if people are to commit to making strategy happen it must motivate and connect with them personally. Engaging people in strategy making drives better strategies and delivers better results. People will only get on-board if it is made clear how they can make a difference.
And who has a better understanding of the people in the business than HR?
HR should be able to measure the heartbeat of the organisation. Acting as the honest and unbiased voice of the workforce, breaking down silos, 'joining the dots’ of strategy, building alignment, and connecting the wider workforce with senior management. But all too often business strategy planning takes place in an HR vacuum, excluding the people who often know the organisation best.
Businesses have undergone a rollercoaster few years with economic downturn and slow growth, leaving the future looking rather uncertain. From an HR point of view, in many cases this has put the brakes on further recruitment initiatives, as well as the scaling down of ongoing and anticipated training programmes. For the wider business this has focused thinking on short-term survival, not long-term growth.
As we begin to turn the economic corner now is the time for HR to step up and demonstrate the key role it can play in business strategy development. HR should be doing everything it can to ensure engagement in strategy is broad, deep and active. It’s all too common that many organisations have strategies that fail even to engage with those who created them. Our previous research also found that, only 25% of managers find their organisations strategy exciting. Even among top executives this figure barely exceeds 50%. As we return to growth, organisations need to manage people and resources effectively.
HR must THINK like business leaders
HR professionals need to think like business leaders, not just HR specialists: championing and making the business case for training programmes, promotions and new hires across the organisation, and taking their lead from the business commercial agenda. This necessitates having a broad understanding of the business and its challenges, and linking these to the HR agenda.
HR leaders need to speak the language of the CEO, COO and CFO or they will never be part of the core group. HR must learn to talk commercial outcomes and impact not just people and processes.
Historically HR has struggled to find its voice. Now more than ever is the time for HR to speak up and be heard at the strategy top table.