The research says reset: Now is the time to redefine HR-business partnership

HR professional partnering with managers

I'm going to take a wild guess here — you're all sick of hearing about disruption. I know, I know, that wasn't much of a limb to go out on, but I'm sure it's true. Just like you're probably sick of every article you read in 2020 somehow managing to connect to the pandemic, business continuity, contact tracing, social distancing, or any number of other topics that would've seemed strange a year ago but are now household terms, especially for HR professionals. And that fatigue you're feeling is totally normal. In fact, that's what happens when uncertainty becomes normal.

So that's why today I'm not talking about disruption. Instead, I'm going to talk about opportunity.

Before we get into it, no I'm not crazy, and yes I realize we all have a lot on our plates and are doing the best we can just to stay above water. But the truth is HR teams have a chance right now, perhaps more than ever before, to redefine how they partner with their businesses and collaborate with people managers in ways that embrace our new reality of constant change to drive success.

Don't worry, I'm not expecting you to just take my word on this. Instead, let's look at some of our latest research to see exactly where these opportunities exist.

Resetting to thrive in a resilience economy

There's one key question we've all been forced to confront this year — how do we balance the need to keep pace with rapid change with influencing and delivering on our organizations' strategic goals? Through research we recently conducted in partnership with HCI, we came up with an answer that might not be what you expected, but is good news all the same. You don't have to choose

The reality is that change is now constant. That's why we call the post-COVID-19 business world the resilience economy. In order to thrive in this kind of environment, HR has to move beyond just reacting to the various uncertainties that arise day in and day out. Instead, the goal needs to be to anticipate the needs of both your organization and your people. The only way to do that is through continuous collaboration and communication, which requires a reset of the traditional HR-business partnership.

Our research uncovered three key challenges HR teams have to address in order to get there:

  • Ensuring your organization has confidence in you and sees you as a credible resource by growing your strategic HR capabilities
  • Supporting the needs of your people managers while also helping them develop their HR knowledge
  • Finding the right data to measure your organization's success, as well as the tools you need to collect, analyze, and communicate that data

We focused our research on not only finding evidence of where these challenges exist through our survey results, but also on helping overcome them and move forward by comparing some of the steps that high-performing organizations are taking against those taken by others. I'll take you through some highlights to show you what I mean.

Takeaway 1: Connection to business strategy makes a huge impact

There were three stats from our research that really stood out to me in terms of illustrating a major difference between how high-performing organizations approach HR-business partnership versus others. Take a look — the first survey number is from HR professionals at high-performing organizations and the second is from other organizations:

  • 84 vs. 56: Percent of HR professionals who feel confident explaining their organization's vision, business strategy, and goals to their people
  • 76 vs. 39: Percent of HR professionals who feel they know how their organization's talent strategy drives its strategic goals
  • 73 vs. 36: Percent of HR professionals who feel they can explain their organization's top three strategic priorities

That's pretty striking, right? And it impacts how HR professionals think about building confidence and credibility with people managers and leaders at their companies. High-performing organizations tend to see HR's role as one that should influence key business decisions and be able to consult and collaborate with managers. HR needs to bring the right people insights to executives to affect business goals, then translate the results of those conversations into actions that resonate with people managers.

We see the difference this mindset makes in the importance high-performing organizations put on certain types of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Here's the top three:

  • 76 percent of HR professionals at high-performing organizations feel consultation and collaboration skills are of high importance.
  • 69 percent of HR professionals at high-performing organizations feel coaching and team development abilities are of high importance
  • 58 percent of HR professionals at high-performing organizations. feel maintaining knowledge of trends and evidence-based practices in HR is of high importance.

These three areas all help grow HR's ability to connect with others at their organizations, get in on important conversations early, build trust with managers so business goals get executed on, and find the right pieces of data to make a difference for their organization and its people. Convenient how all those line up with the other two challenges we talked about earlier, right?

Takeaway 2: HR and people managers must be confident in each other

Another critical area where HR professionals at high-performing organizations showed a clear difference from others in our research was their confidence in the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the people managers they work with, especially in a few key areas:

  • Business and financial acumen: 56 percent of HR professionals at high-performing organizations were very or extremely confident in people managers versus 36 percent of others.
  • Consultation and collaboration skills: 49 percent of HR professionals at high-performing organizations were very or extremely confident in people managers versus 31 percent of others.
  • Project and change management skills: 51 percent of HR professionals at high-performing organizations were very or extremely confident in people managers versus 15 percent of others.

Clearly there's still more work to do on these relationships, but this is another very striking gap. This area is one where HR technology can make a huge difference, as it can help HR automate in some best practices for managers around key areas like communication or change management. This also takes some of the administrative work off people managers' plates, which helps them get out of the weeds to look at the strategic picture HR is trying to present and builds trust in HR processes.

Takeaway 3: Tools are only as effective as the way you use them

HR technology helps in more ways than just improving HR's relationship with people managers, and the final area where high-performing organizations really stood out in our research was in the ability to leverage the technologies at their disposal to generate positive outcomes. Overall, HR professionals at high-performing organizations were more likely to rate a variety of the tools they use, such as performance management, background check, or learning management tools, as very useful when compared with others. Even basic spreadsheets and templates were rated very useful by 60 percent of participants from high-performing organizations as opposed to just 23 percent from others.

High-performing organizations also drew on a wider variety of key metrics to create evidence-based reasons for when and where they should improve. This is where a unified approach to HR technology can make a huge difference. Think about it — if all your people information is in one place, it makes it much simpler to compare across different important metrics, see how they affect each other, and be confident that you're looking at accurate data since it's coming from a single source of truth.

Conclusion: Change isn't going away — so HR strategy needs to adapt

Our research with HCI uncovered far more than I talked through in this article, but the main theme that kept coming up was that in order to continue on the path toward better organizations that put people first, HR has to stop reacting. It's time to step out ahead of uncertainty, proactively build your strategic impact, and be counted among the high-performing organizations in your industry. To do that you need to build trust with people managers, with executives, and in yourself. If you'd like to learn more about how to do that, I highly recommend you look at our full Great Reset report.

Download the Great Reset Research Report