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It takes two to tango: how HR can increase its influence by learning to be a better partner

Like in dancing, effective partnerships in business are about close collaboration. HR’s influence within an organisation comes down to its ability to connect and be an effective business partner. Here are four ways to improve on those skills.

Collaborative leadership and the facilitation of ‘partnerships’ within business are being discussed in many boardrooms right now, but how can you effectively collaborate when one partner doesn’t know what the other is doing?

There’s nothing like stepping into someone else’s shoes to understand the same reality from a different perspective.

Silos between HR and other departments are not a new dilemma. As a matter of fact, the relationship between these two parts of the business has become even more complex now that the HR function is trying to reposition itself from being seen as an in-house administrative provider to a strategic business partner.

We know that silos impact productivity, innovation, employee engagement and ultimately the bottom line. So, why is the business so reluctant to welcome HR on board?

  1. HR comes across as lacking of business acumen and industry knowledge.

  2. HR is perceived as being more concerned around the adherence of processes, policies and procedures rather than the business results.

  3. HR is inwardly focused and busy creating tools that mainly work for them.

On the other hand, line managers don’t always embrace taking responsibility and accountability for their people and tend to delegate all HR related activities to HR, such as having difficult performance conversations or even creating job descriptions for the roles in their departments.

During the period of intense upheaval we are all experiencing now, however, it’s more important than ever before for everyone to work together effectively. As the saying goes, ‘it takes two to tango’! If we all want to dance to the same tune, there are some practical techniques you can adopt to encourage collaboration between these different sides of the business.

1. Role swapping

There’s nothing like stepping into someone else’s shoes to understand the same reality from a different perspective and break departmental silos. By assuming each other’s roles, both line managers and HR can get a taste of the challenges their colleagues encounter daily. This will increase the appreciation for one another, which in turn will result in a greater cooperation among these departments and employees.

HR might argue that they handle sensitive information or confidential employee relations issues and therefore role swapping is not always a feasible option for them. Nonetheless, there’s nothing to stop HR from spending a day in the field, or line managers spending a day with talent acquisition or talent development teams at least. Success comes from trust and collaboration and this can’t be achieved if departments work in isolation.

A specific area within the HR function that particularly benefits from a good cooperation between HR and the business is recruitment, for instance. When HR and its business partners work hand-in-hand on selection and recruitment processes, they have a higher chance of succeeding and hiring the right candidate. What’s more, a collaborative hiring process is highly attractive to candidates, who will benefit from a clearer understanding of the people working in the company, along with its culture. So, this collaborative approach is a win/win all around.

2. Educate HR to put its marketing hat on

Whilst HR and marketing have been understood for years to be different functions on opposite sides of the corporate spectrum, we are slowly beginning to understand that both HR and marketing have a hand in creating the brand of the organisation. The marketing department communicates the brand of the company to consumers, while HR communicates the organisation’s brand to employees. Both teams share the responsibility of communicating the brand to the pool of potential talent in the marketplace. Therefore, marketing and HR have a shared mission to create a universal brand message – one that applies to existing employees, candidates, and consumers.

Marketing and HR are essentially different sides of the same coin and they must work in total synergy if HR aims to enhance its recruitment effectiveness and create a stronger culture. All of this will undoubtedly impact the bottom line and contribute to the overall business success.

HR must work towards repositioning itself into the function where customers and employees integrate.

3. Coach HR to gain greater influence by adopting a holistic customer-centric approach

In the past HR could get away with pushing processes that were mostly convenient for their own department but weren’t necessarily focused on what employees wanted and needed, but those days are long gone. In the current socio-economic climate, people are a company’s most valuable asset and we can’t afford to ignore them – the service that HR provides has to be second to none. If companies really want to be ahead of their game, they need to work with customers to create practices that help reward, train and retain employees. As David Ulrich explains beautifully in his book HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources, “Almost every HR practice can be filtered through the eyes of the customer”.

Ulrich urges HR professionals to spend two to four hours per month going with salespeople on customer calls. “At first, salespeople are worried that they are being assessed, so HR needs to be clear that the excursion is for information,” he advises. Once there, “Say to the customer: we don’t just want you to buy a product. We want you to be a part of creating the systems that will result in better products and services”.

HR must work towards repositioning itself into the function where customers and employees integrate.

To become a truly credible and influential force in the business, HR departments need to look outward and foster links with other teams.
4. Train HR to connect business outcomes to HR metrics

Most HR departments position themselves in the business as experts in ‘people and human behaviours’ and, as such, they get away with being the only unit in the business whose performance is hardly being monitored. If they don’t have metrics, fail to evaluate their performance and are not able to measure the impact they make in the business, how can they position themselves as a credible business partner? HR must shift its mindset into one that measures its own performance and talks business results.



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