How to Become the Business Partner You Want to Be

This time of year has always been a time of reflection and prognosis for the year ahead.

I remember years ago being asked by an HR publication to give my thoughts on 2009. I think I pretty much nailed it, as the feedback was on point. However, for 2017 there is but one item that must be an HR driving force.

Do you know your organization’s strategy?

As I speak at conferences and run master-classes throughout the world, I always tend to ask my audience, “What are your organization’s strategic initiatives for 20**?” What amazes me is that, for the most part, only a few hands will go up. So, my comeback is, “You want to be a strategic partner but you do not know what the strategy is. How are you maximizing your workforce and talent to fit into those objectives? What is the human capital component to each of those initiatives?”

If we are the experts in this space, we should provide wise counsel on all things related to talent within the organization to enable it to reach its goals. You say you want to be an equal business partner, but you do not understand where that business is headed or your role in the equation.

Build the HR consultancy within

The strategic goal for any HR department going forward is to build an in-house consultancy that understands not only what an organization’s goals are for the upcoming year, but also becomes consultants to the organization. More importantly, it must understand its role in building a workforce around those goals.

If you are the architect in charge of building out the workforce to align with the strategic initiatives and you do not know what they are, you are driving blindfolded.

Problem solving is the Holy Grail

This is easier said than done however. It means no longer solving and solutioning over a phone call. It means developing more rigor in our approach to an organizational problem. It means developing and using a consultancy model in our professional approach.

Every consulting firm has a model in its approach to analyzing business challenges. They use that model in basically every given case. Follow the model and you build a professional approach. You give a solution over the phone or in conversation, it ultimately brings no value as it was not approached from a professional vantage point.

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Problem solving: The new competency

Problem solving is an essential skill for the HR strategy consultant. Without good problem solving skills, it is impossible to perform well as a consultant. Six steps make up the problem-solving process:

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  1. Defining
  2. Identifying
  3. Understanding
  4. Generating solutions
  5. Analyzing
  6. Choosing.

What steps will you take? What will be your approach? You can look high and low, and under every bush in sight, but unless you’re using a methodical approach you will never find enough pieces of the puzzle to solve a difficult problem. Even the most worthwhile effort will lead to naught if you’re not using a problem-solving process that allows for a professional approach as opposed to “Solving from the hip.”

Problem solving is about defining the pieces of the puzzle and trying to put them together to solve the problem:

  • What are the pieces of your puzzle?
  • How are you going to find them?

You’ve got to earn it

This whole line of thinking about getting a seat etc. is not a winning proposition. You must create enough brand value around yourself and your practice that you are seen as a valuable partner and recognized expert.

This will have to be earned. The way that you earn it is to solve something. Once you are seen as a solution provider, the pathway is pretty clear. What happens going forward is that your phone will ring off the hook. You begin to build your practice. Your organization is provided wise counsel and your talent management strategies and solutions further the success rates of organizational initiatives.

Solve it and they will come.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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