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Is HR your hidden strategic asset?   

Written by Nick Wakeman

Is HR your untapped strategic strength?

Over the last couple years I’ve noticed a change in how senior executives talk about people. For years, I felt like a lot of lip service was paid to this topic but not much else.

But that might be changing. More executives are talking to me about people and culture as a business imperative because the market is so tight and competitive.

They see keeping and retaining people as an important way to control costs and to maintain relationships with customers. It’s also critical to how institutional knowledge is captured and shared.

This was in my mind when I accepted the opportunity to moderate a panel at an event sponsored by the human resources group, WTPF, a business forum for HR professionals. WTPF used to stand for Washington Technical Personnel Form when it was founded in 1960. The co-sponsor was the Washington chapter of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources.

The theme was the Future of HR – a c-suite view. The panelists were Rodney Whitmore, senior VP and chief human resources officer for the Economist Group, David Fink, chief human resources officer of EADS North America, and Carrolyn Bostick, assistant administrator for HR management at the FAA.

It was probably the easiest moderating gig I’ve ever had because these three knocked it out of the park. The audience, of course, was primarily HR professionals, but the themes that these three talked about were core to the strategies and success of their various organizations, and would resonate with any business leader.

Some key takeaways about the value of HR:                           

HR as coach

Each talked about their role in helping their CEOs or agency leaders and peers be successful by being a resource for improving their performance. One even said that he had a CEO who asked for help with his temper.

Get to know the business

HR needs to work closely with other departments including business development, so they know when major opportunities are coming, and so they can have the structure in place to rapidly hire people. They also need to know what the company does. How else can they be effective recruiters?

Get out of the swim lanes

HR can be more than just benefits and compensation administrators. They should be involved in succession planning, corporate structure and new initiatives.

HR as mediator

In the c-suite and across business units, there are lots of competitive, driven people. There are going to be conflicts. There are going to be disagreements. HR can play a critical role in mediating these disagreements, and in finding positive resolutions. Listening is a critical skill.

Intelligence gathering

HR has an important role in looking at competitors and learning how they do business, how they recruit, where they recruit from, and what kind of advantages they have and how those advantages can be countered.

It was an enlightening session. Unfortunately, I broke with tradition and I didn’t have a notebook, so I couldn’t jot down a lot of the details, but I came away impressed by the role HR can play, particularly now that the role is becoming more prominent in the executive suite.

All three commented several times on having a seat at the table, and how that is an opportunity to help their company or organization succeed, particular in times when company succeed. That role means being an agenda setter as well as a facilitator.

In my work experience, HR was often seen as the catch-all for work no one else wanted to do, but perhaps they might become an example of how everyone in an organization should take a strategic view, and look for ways to help their company succeed.

Posted by Nick Wakeman