HR as a strategic partner 3: finding the fit

 Last year Sharon Proberts conducted a training needs analysis for HPMA London Academy. The overriding message from HR deputy directors was that they wanted their HR teams to act strategically and be treated as a strategic partner by the rest of the organisation. In a series of articles, Sharon explores how to make that happen.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, Start with Why makes a powerful case for getting people to connect with an organisation. If HR is going to complete the transition to strategic partner, how we talk about the organisation’s strategic objectives and link it to the what and how of the day job is critical.
Sinek talks about the ‘golden circle’. He maintains that we need to talk more about purpose – the ‘why’ rather than starting with the nuts and bolts – the ‘what’ and ‘how’.
When we talk about strategy and HR’s contribution from the outside of the golden circle, we start with the ‘what’ and ‘how’; thinking about policies and processes, all of which are important but tend to keep our thinking and actions at the transactional level.
When we talk about strategy and HR’s contribution from the inside out, we start with ‘why’ and the purpose of what we seek to achieve. This connects not just with people’s heads but also with their hearts – and that’s were motivation and engagement live.
Daniel Pink talks about purpose in his book Drive. We all know that extrinsic motivators will only take people so far. In a sector like health care, I suggest that people are motivated beyond pay and benefits and what’s important for them are the intrinisic factors such as the three that Pink identifies:
Purpose – to know how their job role contributes to the success of the team and organisation
Autonomy – to have the freedom to make day to day decisions without the need to constantly refer upwards
Mastery – to have the opportunity to achieve depth or breadth of knowledge and skill (depends on role) and the opportunity to apply and practice their learning in the workplace without fear of blame
Finding the fit – how are you doing?
Fundamental HR activities enable the organisation to achieve its strategic objectives:
·         Talent management
·         Performance management
·         Leadership development
Effectiveness is measured by managers and front-line staff in the way they perceive how the processes support their work. An effective HR process is one that doesn’t create interference with performance.
How often do you take a temperature check with the organisation and find out what they think about HR and how the processes support their achievement of organisational objectives and strategy? It’s a bit like looking into a mirror on why we do what we do and how it could be different.
The HRM strength assessment designed by Bowen & Ostroff looks at the HR system from three perspectives:
·         Distinctiveness
The extent to which the HR system is visible and accessible to the whole organisation and how it creates interest in what it does.
·         Consistency
       The extent to which there is a consistent HR message shared across the organisation; people understand what HR does.
·         Consensus
There is a clear HR strategy, understood and accessible by all. HR processes are perceived to be fairly and consistently applied.
Here are some questions to help with a HR strengths assessment:
·      How easy is it to access HR services?
·      How easy is it for a new staff member to find processes and procedures relevant to their work area and job role?
·      How many clicks to find forms that need to be completed such as starter, leaver, request to recruit, annual leave etc
·      How many people can name the HRD?
·      How many people know which HRBP/Manager covers their area?
·      Are the processes clear, transparent and easy to understand.
Legitimate authority
·      Where are HR decisions made and by whom?
·      How are policies used to support performance and achievement?
·      To what extent does the HR system demonstrates congruence and fit with organisational goals?
·      How effective are HR processes in setting expectations and managing behaviour across the organisation?
·      What are the messages around expected behaviours or performance standards?
·      Is there a clear perceived link between what the processes say they do and what they actually do in practice.
Consistent HRM messages
·      How do managers act in applying procedures vs the organisation’s stated ‘right way’.
“It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you do it.”
Agreement among principal HRM decision-makers
·      Who are the decision-makers?
·      How long does it take for decisions to be made and communicated across the organisation?
·      The extent to which all staff, regardless of band, gender, ethnicity etc perceive the processes to be fairly operated.
·      What does the staff survey tell you?


Adapted from ‘Understanding the HRM-Firm performance linkages: The role of the strength of the HRM system.’ Bowen & Ostroff 2004

A weak system means that people are creating their own interpretations of the behaviours that are expected and rewarded; which creates a shadow culture.
A strong system is one where HR practitioners focus their efforts towards the three areas of an organisation where transformational change can happen: Strategy, Leadership and Culture (Burke-Litwin).

 The questions to ask yourself and your team are this “Where are we focusing our attention; why are we doing that and is it getting the right results for the organisation?”