How HR Can Create Value For The Business

By Darryl Wee | July 9, 2018

In an effort to improve alignment and avoid the resulting frustration among HR and business functions, I would like to suggest two fundamental shifts in the way we look at value creation.

During my career, I have worked in HR and business roles, providing me insight into how value is defined and created from both perspectives. In cases where the definition of value is aligned between HR and the business, HR is perceived as a significant contributor to business performance. While one may assume that aligning HR to the business is a straightforward process, unfortunately, we see misalignment happening quite frequently. In an effort to improve alignment and avoid the resulting frustration among HR and business functions, I would like to suggest two fundamental shifts in the way we look at value creation.

Understand that value is derived from the receiver.

To illustrate this concept, consider receiving a Christmas present from a good friend or family and wondering, “How did they end up giving me this?” In this case, the value of the gift is derived from the perspective of the recipient and not the giver.

I have experienced similar situations in the workplace, when the HR function launched a key initiative and business leaders wondered why so much effort was necessary. The HR team could articulate all the value they believe the program brings to the business; however, they never verified whether these benefits really would make any significant impact the business or performance. The initiative’s intention was good, but it is not the giver that determines value.

Regardless of whether we are considering an HR or marketing program, if we never truly understand what business leaders, or recipients, deem valuable, would any initiative be compelling enough for the recipient to invest their time and money?

Link what we do to driving business performance.

At a recent meeting with a team of regional HR leaders, I listened to many HR directors share that they were frustrated that the business did not appreciate all they do, and that they were already working so hard in supporting the organization. A principle often shared by Dave Ulrich, became particularly relevant to our discussion, “HR is not here for HR but for the business.”

My colleagues and I used this discussion about HR’s role as an opportunity to perform a simple exercise and asked the team to list down all the HR activities they were delivering. The team then determined whether each activity was directly linked to delivering business value and performance within the organization. We discovered very few activities actually impacted the business. When we examined the activities that occupied most of the team’s time, many were developed by HR because HR felt it was the right direction for the business. We asked a few business leaders to join the discussion to get their insights on the impact of these various programs. It was not surprising that they suggested stopping many initiatives that they felt added work but did not make any difference to the organization. The business leaders, however, were very supportive of the few activities that they felt helped them or the organization deliver on their results.

When I followed up with the HR team a few months later, I was happy to learn they now focus on how any initiatives adds real business value. As a result of this change in perspective, the business became more engaged with HR and started to view HR more as a strategic partner, rather than an administrative function.

I am well aware that HR leaders and teams have the very best intentions when supporting the business. As a function we all want to add value and contribute to the business’ success. At a recent Strategic Business Partnering workshop, a CHRO took the opportunity shared the following John Wooden with her team, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” While we are all very busy, we must consider a key question, are be busy accomplishing work that is valued by our organization’s stakeholders and makes a difference to the business.

I invite you to learn more about The RBL Group’s Strategy Business Partnering Workshops on our website.

Darryl is the managing director of The RBL Group in Asia. He has more than 20 years of experience in business consulting, human resources and leading organizational change.

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