strategic hr

HR Strategy: How to Work ON Your Department, Not Just IN Your Department

One of the challenges with HR strategy and strategic HR is that it’s often talked about in vague terms, which means it isn’t always easy to understand for some individuals. There’s a great metaphor for this concept in the world of entrepreneurship put forth decades ago in The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. Here’s the core of it:

When someone starts a small business (even if it’s a sideline HR consulting business), they do so because they want to do a certain task: writing, painting, consulting, and so on. The problem comes when that person realizes they are actually doing two jobs: the product/service they are selling AND running a business. Many small businesses fail because they are great at working IN the business but not working ON the business.

Hopefully you can see the application of this in the world of HR as well. Many of us are really great at doing the core components of HR:

  • Recruiting great candidates
  • Delivering high quality training
  • Supporting leaders with coaching and development

But we often struggle when it comes to this strategic stuff. It’s not because it’s hard. Most of us are smart enough to lay out a game plan for the year with objectives and then work towards it. No, the problem is that we’re so darn busy doing the day to day work of HR that we can’t find ways to get to the strategy. We never really arrive.

If you’re not sure if this applies to you, here’s a simple test:

If you’re spending your days, weeks, and months churning through tasks and never really working on improving your function, team, or department, then you’re probably missing out. 

This actually played out last week in a conversation during the Alabama SHRM state conference. The audience was talking at their tables about obstacles for HR, and the group at my table talked about HR’s bad reputation for being the “no” police, for caring only about compliance, and for never leaving the office to do anything more meaningful.

I know, I know. A lot of this connects to the HR to Employee ratio at your company, as I’ve written about before. If you have a thousand people for every HR professional, it’s going to be very transactional. There’s no way around it other than picking up technology to help automate what you can and personalize to the highest degree possible.

I actually spoke with an HR executive recently that offers some incredible insights into this problem. If you don’t listen to the podcast regularly, you are missing out. In the upcoming episode I speak with Michael Stambaugh, Chief Human Resources Officer for HJF, about how to seize the opportunity for strategic leadership in HR. He tells a compelling story and it’s one I highly encourage you to listen to.

What are your thoughts? Does this problem of overwhelming tasks IN your HR role prevent you from working ON your HR function? How have you tried to overcome it?

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