Back to Posts

5 Ways for HR to Play a More Strategic Role in 2020

It’s time for HR to step into the realm of strategic planning and employee support. Here are five ways to do it

Key points:

  • A summary of the evolution of Human Resources. 
  • HR is no longer just an administrative function or “the police” of an organization.
  • Employee engagement and retention is at an all-time low, making it essential for HR leaders to support strategic initiatives and inspire employees to do their best and be happy.
  • 5 ways for HR to play a more strategic role in 2020. 

The history of HR reaches back to the early 20th century when businesses were figuring out how to reduce turnover and get the most out of their workers through compensation systems. The newly-appointed HR department led exit interviews and collected employee grievances about issues that caused early departures or opened the door to unionization. 

Business owners wanted to avoid unions and HR played a pivotal role in achieving that goal. Maintaining a satisfied workforce was the trick to keeping the unions out. As a result, HR developed a reputation for being employee advocates and it remained this way until the early 1970s.

In the 80s, union memberships declined and workers lost their voice. Therefore, HR’s focus shifted to compliance with newly-passed worker protection laws. Companies weren’t interested in hearing about what their employees wanted, they had bigger things to worry about (at least from the business owner and executive perspectives). 

During this time, HR’s priorities moved to administrative tasks and protecting the company. This is when the (now lingering) perception of the HR department as “the police” of an organization emerged. HR became compliance cops: keeping workers obedient on issues of discrimination, sexual harassment, and similar matters. 

Forced into an administrative box constructed to protect a business from its employees, HR professionals no longer had the time or voice to inspire great work or lead an outstanding culture. 

On the rare occasion that HR played the role of employee advocate, it happened only in cases of discrimination or harassment from managers and only to protect the business from a potentially damaging lawsuit. The protective actions taken by HR departments explain why so many workplace harassment claims were settled outside the courtroom. 

While things have changed, it’s hard to earn a new reputation. Too many employees and companies still treat HR as a tactical function with little to offer in the way of supporting strategic initiatives or the company mission. 

The modern (and strategic) HR department. 

The modern HR department (and HR professional) is strategic, forward-thinking, and focused on inspiring current employees to do their best work. They must carry these themes through the hiring and onboarding experience as well.

In this era of accelerated change and increasing competition, having a thoughtful and strategic HR capability gives your business a distinct advantage. While HR must be concerned with compliance, their primary concern needs to be whether or not their company has the best talent to be competitive. Successful companies understand that they need exceptional employees to win, and those employees need to be inspired and engaged. 

Contemporary HR leaders often have an aptitude for business on par with their C-suite peers. Their teams build strategies informed by data and address employee challenges before they become a crisis. 

Strategic HR professionals are critical to the success of a business and are embraced by executives and peers. Instead of fighting for command and control over employees, they are focused on enabling and empowering. 

If this isn’t the way your company views the HR department, all is not lost. You will get there. Here are five ways to help you do it. 

5 Ways for HR to play a more strategic role this year. 

1. Improve your recruiting strategy.
Too many HR departments use outdated legacy systems that include paper-based workflows and analog methodologies for problem-solving and recruiting. This approach is slow, hard to measure, and makes it nearly impossible to create a stable candidate pipeline. To move past this problem, HR needs to implement software to streamline and automate the time-consuming tasks that overwhelm their teams. 

2. Get to know every aspect of the business.
To have a strategic insight, you have to know your business inside and out. Learn how your company makes money, familiarize yourself with every aspect of your products and services, dive into financial models, and learn how people tie into the outcomes and goals of your business.  

3. Transform your performance reviews.
Performance reviews are a lingering aspect of HR’s past and both managers and employees express a distaste for the practice, but they are useful. Instead of abandoning performance reviews altogether, improve the process by taking a different approach. Conduct frequent, informal check-ins, leave compensation out of the conversation, and invite an open dialog between you and your employee. 

4. Go paperless.
Paperless systems make it possible for HR professionals to play a more strategic role in their companies by saving time, automating essential tasks, making compliance easy, and giving employees a self-directed environment to manage aspects of their own data. 

5. Be patient.
Don’t expect to implement sweeping changes overnight. Create a reasonable timeline with achievable monthly benchmarks and you’ll witness a healthy and sustainable HR transformation. 

It’s time for HR to have a seat at the table. 

We are living in a complicated era with new topics, modern sensitivities, and a call for equal pay and more diverse and inclusive workplaces. 

Despite the changes, some things remain the same – HR is still the stewards of information and people. But this doesn’t mean HR professionals have to be stuck in the weeds of managing paper and processes. In fact, it means the opposite. Modern HR tools and principles open the door to a more strategic HR department focused on improving employee engagement and building an outstanding culture. 

Get in touch for a demo of SentricHR and play a more strategic role in your business this year!