Report: HR Still Struggling to be a Strategic Business Partner

What’s surprising about a new analyst report from Aberdeen is that in 2012, HR professionals still need to be reminded that talent management is as much a strategy as a tactic they should be captaining.

“HR still struggles to become a ‘strategic partner’ with the business, engaging employees and aligning integrated talent management initiatives with overall organizational goals,” write the authors of an Aberdeen Analyst Insight about developing a “Talent First” culture.

Drawing from an upcoming Aberdeen report, analysts Madeline Laurano and Mollie Lombardi say HR’s day-to-day work and the lack of support and buy-in from other business leaders and senior management stand in the way of developing the strategic approach that HR leaders say must be a part of their skill set.

Why integrated talent management matters

Yet there’s some sort of disconnect here. The analysts note that in Aberdeen’s Quarterly Business Review, the 1,300+ business leaders in the survey named workforce and talent concerns in half of their top 10 business challenges. However, 35 percent of the HR leaders participating in the forthcoming HR Executives Agenda 2012 complained of a lack of buy-in from their senior management.

Integrated talent management will help with this, say Laurano and Lombardi.

“An integrated approach to talent management can help organizations carry out key talent initiatives that will benefit the business,” they write, citing evidence from “Best-In-Class” companies. These are the top 20 percent of scorers on three Aberdeen metrics: Employee engagement, bench strength, and hiring manage satisfaction.

This Best-in-Class group reported improved retention, high employee engagement, and achievement of key performance indicators. Overall, 70 percent of the group credited their integrated approach to talent management with achieving organizational goals.

As the authors note, “integrated talent management is not a new phenomenon.” Fine tuning recruiting methods to the performance of workers three months, six months, even a year after hire has been going on for years. Projecting worker and skill needs into the future, based on company growth, workforce demographics, competition, and so on, and then using that intelligence to plan recruiting, is much more recent, yet hardly brand new.

A unified approach to talent

These examples are part of the drive toward developing a unified approach to talent within a company. Many, note the authors, have “succeeded in breaking down traditional HR silos.”

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“Without integration,” they add, “HR operates in one department, rather than spanning the entire organization.”

In many ways technology can hasten the integration. Besides shifting paperwork to managers or to the employee themselves, and thus freeing HR for more strategic work, it brings to line managers information once available only in HR.

Integrated talent management technology isn’t the determinant of a “Talent First” culture, but it does make big picture viewing easier, and sometimes even possible. “Analytics matter,” say Laurano and Lombardi. Technology makes it simpler to access the data that leads to business insights.

Tying talent management to business goals

“Organizations that integrate talent data with business data are three-and-a-half times as likely to achieve Best-in-Class as those that do not integrate data,” they write.

How should HR move forward in its quest for integration putting talent first? By first eliminating the silos and integrating management processes, while focusing on improving employee engagement. As the company becomes more sophisticated about talent management as a critical business strategy, the authors say, talent management must be tied to business goals, progress has to be measured and success defined.

To reach Best-in-Class status, analytics have to be a priority. “An HR professional today must keep analytics as the backbone of any talent management strategy,” conclude Laurano and Lombardi. “Analytics will help HR gain support for integrated talent management, and improve the reputation of HR throughout the organization.”

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


6 Comments on “Report: HR Still Struggling to be a Strategic Business Partner

  1. It makes a great headline, but I don’t think “HR” is failing at being a strategic business partner, I think individuals are failing at being that partner.  I meet so many great HR Pros around the country who are knocking it out of the park and getting it right everyday.  Organizations need to search out those types of individuals and stop allowing their HR folks who refuse to work in a strategic manner to continue to have a job. 

    If I’ve learned one thing in HR, it’s that changing adult learners is near to impossible.  You get what you get, all be it the rare exception you find an adult with the self insight and motivation to change.  Stop trying to make administrative, non-strategic business thinkers, into something they’re not.  Go out and recruit the competencies your organization needs, if your organization truly wants that as a skill set from your HR department.

  2. The Chamber of Commerce lobbies and protests against anti-business regulation. They have a seat at the table. 

    The online community successfully won the battle against SOPA. They earned a voice in the debate. 

    But when OFCCP adds another layer of red tape to burden American businesses, HR cries the ‘sky is falling’ and lobbies for more budgetary dollars to spend on compliance and training. The more resourceful HR types cry wolf and sponsor seminars to educate HR about the new regulations. HR whines about not having a seat at the table. 

    HR would get a seat at the table faster if HR demanded the government back down from all these regulations. HR should insist the government show many many jobs are sent overseas by excessive regulation. OFCCP can audit a firm and they must prove they’re not guilty. There is no presumption of innocence. HR should demand proof that EEO and OFCCP regulations do anything positive. 

    Sadly, too many in HR see government regulation as their guarantee of continued employment.

    Just sayin’…

  3. HR getting a seat at the table requires a transformation fueled by analytics and driven by vision. It’s said “that which gets measured gets improved.” Too few companies actually leverage workforce analytics in their business decisions.  Skills gaps, performance levels, and engagement are all potentially powerful tools. HR leaders with vision to create better cultures and improve organizational performance metrics are helping to build great companies. These people have a seat at the table and are highly valued.

  4. I agree w/ Tim. There are plenty of us who do “get it” and would leap at the chance to add real value in the right environment. However, there are far too many (to put it as nicely as I can) mediocre folks taking up space. They cling to the status quo as if a tornado is about to blast through and uproot them from their comfort zone. The only time they strategize is when deciding who should pass out candy to employees at the Halloween party. 

    The other point I don’t recall ever seeing addressed is the lack of infrastructure in most organizations that practically guarantees that competent HR pros have zero ability to crawl out from the administrative nonsense, baby-sitting and policy policing that gives us that bad reputation in the first place. How can someone be in charge of paycheck mistakes while simultaneously designing an integrated talent management vision based on best-in-class data inputs? 

    For example (employed or not) for as long as they have been in existence, I’ve left the job alert notifications turned on from various sources of HR jobs. Whenever I take a peek at any of them, they are littered with exactly the type of work that anyone with any remote understanding of how HR is supposed to operate would find repulsive. 

    We are expected to earn our seat (uggh – enough of that expression), understand business at least as well as the C-suite and BOD, yet who gets the call when someone stinks up the break room their microwaving their filet of fish?  

    KB @TalentTalks:twitter 

  5. Good comments here. The intent of my original post is that HR can begin to move into a strategic direction by taking a more activist role against oppressive government regulation (as other business professionals do). 

  6. There is a perception change that needs to happen, as too often HR is seen as the box ticking, policing (policy), keep the company safe from the risk of breaking the law type work. This is archaic and short sighted as that defensive approach leaves little room for creative thinking and coming up with talent management or employee engagement approaches that work. Seeing HR as separate from Business is in itself the problem. HR is not a Business Partner, it is part of the business strategy just as much as Sales is. You never hear mention of Sales being a Business Partner, or Marketing being a Business Partner, so the line drawing is creating false walls and expectations.

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