For the longest time, the human resources function, has struggled to gain acceptance as a strategic contributor from business leaders including CEOs. HR practitioners themselves are also responsible for this as they tend to isolate themselves from the heart of the business. Very often, they are inward looking and function centric. This approach could have been acceptable in the evolution phase of the industry but with the economy growing and a rise in the availability of resources, this needs to change. Today, there is a growing tribe that supports the idea of bringing HR to the forefront. What needs to be seen though is whether HR leaders are ready for this paradigm shift.

One of the biggest challenges for HR practitioners to transition into a forward-looking practice is the ability to understand how a business is being run. While hiring HR leaders, CEOs now expect that they walk in with an understanding of the organization’s business so that they can help convert a business strategy into effective HR strategies. 

The backbone of any organization is its people. Talent and culture can be the key differentiators between two organizations. HR practitioners can play a crucial role in shaping an organization’s culture. In every organization, the leadership champions certain values, and beliefs which define the organization’s culture and this should be supportive of the business strategy. By understanding the nuances of culture, the HR function has the potential to facilitate change. They need to keep asking themselves; are we supporting the right business values, right structure, right strategies, and do we have the right shared values to support those strategies? Are the HR systems and output from the HR systems reflecting what the business is and what the business strategy is. 

The Chief Human Resources Officer today, is expected have a deep understanding of how a business is run, its implications on people, processes and the culture. 

If we focus on where HR stands today, there is a gap between what needs to be done and what is being done. This gap stems right from the educational level. There is considerable difference between what is being taught and what is actually practiced in organizations. It is time we start providing management students appropriate industry exposure taking into account the evolving roles within businesses. There is also scope to evaluate the options to bring in non-HR people into the function. 

For instance, employees who come from a marketing background can bring in a different business perspective into HR. These are values that are often under-leveraged. Similarly, bringing HR leaders into strategic-business discussions, can help in getting insightful recommendations about various aspects of the organization like skills shortages and how the issue can be tackled.

Besides investing in developing in-house talent that is now par for course, HR leaders can also help in building multi-generational teams that bring in a fresh approach. HR leaders can pursue a culture which encourages multiplicity of perspectives and ideas from multi-generational teams leading to innovative and creative output. It also decreases dissent within the organisation and results in well-rounded decisions on any business objective.

Insights provided by HR leaders can help in realigning key business goals, addressing staffing issues, and creating programmes that bridge the divide between an employee’s aspiration and the organisation’s business goals. As per the Aberdeen Report 2013, the most critical skill of an HR leader is the ability to connect HR initiatives to the strategic initiatives of the business. Effective integration of multigenerational-team engagement techniques by the HR leader into the organization’s existing processes serves to link their aspirations with the organization’s key business goals thereby creating a win-win situation for all.

Sameer Wadhawan is the former Head of HR for Coca-Cola India. He is now heading the ‘Franchise Capability and Business transformation’ function at Coca-Cola India