Make Solving the Business Problem Your Anchor

I remember hearing myself when I used the phrase, “Let strategic and business be your anchor” with a group of HR professionals.

The famous phrase, “We’re in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people, was uttered by Starbucks founder and former CEO Howard Schultz. That was Starbucks’ anchor. Each of us has to decide what our anchor is.

An anchor is described as a heavy object attached to a rope or chain and used to moor a vessel to the sea bottom. This process allows the boat to stay in place regardless of the turbulence. This same should hold true for each of us as we navigate our careers or our role within the organization.

Do You Know Your Business?

I am always amazed when I ask fellow HR professionals how many can recite their company objectives for the coming year? How many could give a revenue breakdown of the product line? How many would know if the organization is on target to meet its goals?

The answer I normally get is a blank stare. And we wonder why we are not taken seriously.

If you are an HR business partner, what are the challenges facing the department; what’s the line of sight for your department to the organizational goal? Are you doing a talent audit at the end of the performance cycle? Are you using a SWOT analysis as part of your process in the department that you sit?

Where Is Your Anchor?

The anchor for our profession must be at the intersection of business and strategy. As an HR professional mentioned to me a while back, “We are business people that just happen to sit in HR.”

There was some research done a while back by an executive search association that said the growing trend in filling CHRO jobs is to hire business people as opposed to the hard skill of HR expertise.

If you and your department are process executors, it is only a matter of time, that with the advances in AI, before you can be replaced. Nationwide Insurance has created an app that will allow you to file an accident claim from the point of conflict. Imagine for a minute how many processes that eliminates.

In reality, we have no choice if we want to be successful in our profession: we have to understand our business and offer more problem-solving solutions to the challenges the organization faces.

When I run Strategic HRBP certification courses, I listen during the introductions for the industry and the challenge participants are facing. At the end of the 3 days, I ask them to recall their introduction and recite the challenge they said they were facing. Then I ask, “Based on our rigorous course work, how will you NOW approach this challenge as an HR consultant?”

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The Business Challenge And Your Approach

Each day in our work lives we are presented with case studies and situations, whether in a phone call, offline discussion, etc. However, we often do not take a professional approach to solving them. Yet, until you “solve something,” the brand value of your role will not increase.

If you are a newbie in the HR space, take some time each day to read more about what is happening outside your bubble. Understand your business and the overall challenges it is facing.

Providing Value to Your Organization

The most important lesson I learned was from a former CEO. I had prepared a presentation in which I laid out a problem we were facing. I did it to give her some insight as to how deep the problem was within the organization.

What she told me after I concluded was something I still go back to today: “I have enough problems that I am dealing with in this organization. Do not ever enter this door unless you give me the problem and YOUR suggested solutions. Then and only then can we continue the conversation.”

In other words, presenting a problem isn’t enough. What your CEOs and organizational leaders want is for you to make the business case for the approach you are recommending to solve the problem. That is where the discussion will begin.

So my advice to all who read this article, in order for our profession to prosper in this new and challenging environment, we have to develop anchors at the intersection of business and strategy.

In reality, we have no choice.

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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