Six ways to become a significant strategic partner

What must HR do differently to earn a place among the decision-makers?

In 2005, the corporate ground shook as Keith Hammonds published 'Why We Hate HR' in Fast Company. In the article, he outlined the reasons why the HR function had such a shaky status, placing the responsibility on HR managers themselves.

His message was clear: to become a strategic and decisive partner in organisational discourse HR managers must make a 180-degree turn in the way they function and how they manage organisational knowledge. They must step out of their administrative, technical, rigidly-standardised comfort zones and acquire economic and business languages. They must make decisions regarding organisational knowledge that are not based on easy and shallow performance but on value and return on investment (ROI).

Hammonds' article sparked public outcry in the corporate world. Some sympathised with him, some disliked him, but no one could ignore his radical column. But, though 14 years has passed since the article was published, nothing seems to have really changed.

Researchers such as Ilan Meshulam, Itzhak Harpaz and the Hay Group consultancy firm have continued to find that the status and influence of HR managers are still perceived as low, and that HR's contribution to the organisation is still questionable and subject to criticism.

The HR function still chooses procedures over value and results over substance. Therefore it loses focus on the most important aspects of the job – finding and nurturing talent, investing in constant learning, and creating a market-leading and valuable work environment.

In the ever-changing landscape of business, HR must agree to learn management languages as a precondition of receiving a seat at the decision-makers' table and must leverage organisational human capital for a competitive advantage using this newly-acquired knowledge. Change is not optional.

How to transition from HR managers into significant strategic partners:

1. Speak financially. If you want to sit at the decision-makers' table you must present development and work plans in an economic language that speaks in terms of ROI and relates to finance, marketing, technology and operations. If you prove that your plans have a guaranteed return, senior leadership will take you seriously, increase your annual budget and allow you to invest in developing human capital knowledge.

2. Measure. You cannot prove a guaranteed return with satisfaction surveys. You need to use measurement and evaluation technologies and develop tools that rely on financial analysis. A quality HR measurement system will enable managers to create a logical understanding of the relationship between organisational investment and strategic decisions that follow.

3. Step out of the office. To build and present good plans you need to step out of the office and understand how the field works. For example, if you are an HR manager in a factory you must venture out to the production floor, understand how the machines work, the concept of human engineering, the atmosphere, the verbal and non-verbal messages and the needs that arise from the field. The better you know the field, the more innovative and smart the solutions you can offer.

4. Look employees in the eye. To improve organisational knowledge you must speak to the employees who live and breathe organisational culture, study their work routines, challenges, and knowledge shortages. Often they will tell you what is lacking and what they require to do their job better.

5. Embrace initiative. In most cases employees who are seeking education do so to drive change and improve their own performance. Embrace these individuals, understand the added value of the new knowledge they are seeking to learn, allow them to acquire it, and later pass it on to the organisation. Results will follow, the investment will return and the continued foundation of organisational knowledge will advance.

6. Dare. If you have followed steps one to five and you have the financial knowledge and ability to make a profit on investment in relation to your actions you are a responsible manager who speaks the managerial language. As such you deserve to receive a mandate to manage your budget independently, without having to rush back to the CFO. Identify the knowledge needs of individuals or groups in the organisation, exercise discretion and make your own decisions boldly. The more you do so, and the more you are able to convey the business rationale for your actions in terms of profit, the more you will be valued as a true professional partner in the company leadership. Greater resources will then be allocated to you and you will be trusted to lead the organisational knowledge.

Ravit Oren is an organisational leadership expert, an academic lecturer and researcher, a corporate HR executive, a public representative of the Israeli Labor Court and a board member in public and governmental companies