It’s Time for HR to Finally Get Serious About Becoming Strategic

Let me state right up front that I’m a huge fan of yours, HR. But it’s time for you to get serious about making some very long-overdue changes.

I’ve spent the better part of my career as an advocate and unabashed champion of the HR profession, and nothing has changed there. What you do is important, it matters, and your work likely impacts your organizations in profoundly positive ways, whether your leadership acknowledges that or not.

But that’s precisely the problem –- too many CEOs and senior leaders still question your strategic value to the organization. In fairness, many leaders do appreciate your role and have come to understand your value, but they’re still in the minority and you have to take responsibility for that.

There’s no more finger-pointing or denying it any longer; HR is in its current uncertain state because HR professionals allowed it to happen.

This is the harsh reality of your profession, and I implore you to pay serious attention to that reality –_ not to hurt you, but in order to save you.

Brutally defining the problem

Research from CEB forecasts that fully 50% of you currently in the profession will be gone in five years. Not transferred to another HR role – gone.

Advances in technology will eliminate some of your roles. Re-defining and re-aligning the profession will cost more of you your jobs. And the largely unanswered pleas from frustrated CEOs to be more strategic will result in even more of you being asked to exit the profession.

This begs the questions – are CEOs not making their expectations for HR clear? Are the conversations not happening? Is HR unable – or unwilling – to address what they’ve been told?

Whatever the case, CEOs are losing patience. Research from Deloitte found that 40% of new CHROs now come from departments other than HR.

Most of you are keeping your heads down and focused on administrative tasks, when CEOs clearly want you to raise your sights to strategically impact larger segments of the business. Why are you not racing through the door you’ve worked so hard and so long to pry open?

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If you don’t significantly course-correct soon, it may be too little too late.

What needs to change – now

Given that much has been written about (and endlessly presented at HR conferences for years) the need to transform from HR leaders into business leaders with HR expertise, the failure to step up to the challenge is disheartening.

At SHRM’s recent conference, one of the prevailing themes was having the courage to take action on making a broader impact throughout the company. Speakers encouraged HR to stop devoting time and resources to activities that didn’t deliver organizational impact. SHRM’s CEO, Henry Jackson, spoke of HR’s inability “to escape the forces that are dramatically reshaping work,” and urged HR “to influence change and weigh in on the strategies that will keep your company competitive today and in the future.”

Fence-sitting is no longer an option, nor is passively waiting for the change to come to you.

You must take charge in a definitive leadership role once and for all, or resign yourself to forever ceding control of business issues to others. You can’t expect to save yourselves if you don’t become more proactive and strategic…. soon!

This post appeared in a somewhat different form on

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry and to the Employee Engagement Power 100 list, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished international speaker, author, and strategist on performance improvement. A respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, talent and employee engagement, she’s a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Michelle speaks and writes about what she knows first-hand – as a former executive of a Fortune 100 global conglomerate, and as a researcher and strategist. She passionately shares new insights and tools for leaders to confidently, effectively and strategically lead their organizations to success.

Michelle is the Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University and President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association. Michelle was the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine, and has been featured on Fox Television, the BBC, in Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and other global publications, and contributed to the books Bull Market by Seth Godin, Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk, and Social Media Isn’t Social.   




2 Comments on “It’s Time for HR to Finally Get Serious About Becoming Strategic

  1. Michelle, thanks for sharing a much-needed perspective. Not much to add other than: YES!

  2. It amazes me many CEOs and senior leaders question HR’s strategic value. If they do then HR executives and professionals should find another employer. HR are the gatekeepers of talent and have the ability to decide who enters the organisation, who stays and who leaves. There’s no question HR should have a seat on the board and in executive management.

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