The APQC Blog

HR Bartender Sharlyn Lauby: Strategic HR Partnerships—Why They Matter and How They Can Be Developed

In conjunction with the release of our Strategic HR Partnerships Best Practices Report, APQC is conducting a series of interviews with people who have experience with and are thought leaders on the topic of strategic HR business partnerships. This first post in the series features Sharlyn Lauby, author of the blog HR Bartender and president of ITM Group Inc. (a training consulting firm), sharing her views on the topic of strategic HR partnerships—why they matter and how they can be developed. 

APQC: Why does the strategic HR business partner topic matter?

Sharlyn Lauby: Businesses rely upon strategy to achieve their goals—strategy in terms of their marketing, operations, product development, finance and people. The human resources function is a critical part of the discussion.

Every function within an organization—not just human resources—needs to be able to talk about their role from a strategic standpoint.

APQC: Why aren't all HR functions already operating as strategic business partners?

Sharlyn Lauby: I believe there are three reasons some HR functions aren’t considered strategic business partners.

  1. They don’t want to be. We often make the assumption that every human resources professional wants to be a strategic partner. I’m not sure that’s true. There are plenty of HR pros who are completely bogged down with the daily operation; they don’t have time.
  2. The skills aren’t there. Not every HR pro has the skill set to be strategic. There—I’ve said it. It takes an investment of time and resources. Some people and companies will make the investment and some won’t.
  3. They aren’t allowed. Some companies view the HR function as “the department that hires, fires, and keeps the beer cold at the company picnic.” HR isn’t given the opportunity to demonstrate how much more they can offer.

I don’t want to say that any of these situations are necessarily bad or wrong. They are what they are. HR pros can spend the majority of their careers in a primarily compliance-driven role and have very successful careers. And companies can focus human resources on tactical responsibilities and still be profitable.

That being said, I believe if human resources professionals do make an effort to become more strategic and companies embrace human resources as a strategic function, they will do better and be more successful.

APQC: What are 3 actions that an HR professional can take to foster strategic HR business partnerships?

Sharlyn Lauby: The key word here is partnerships. Building relationships takes time. And it doesn’t always happen in traditional business settings. I found as I moved up the ladder, it was important to hang out with my colleagues—grab a morning coffee, have drinks after work, or drive the golf cart.

Reach out to key stakeholders. Understand who the players are and realize influence and job title don’t always go hand in hand.

Find out what they think of human resources. Be open to hearing what other people and departments think of HR. Just listen. Don’t justify your position. There will be a right moment for that. But allow people to tell you what they think.

Ask “What would you like to do?” Before telling people what they should or have to do, I try to find out what they want. Because sometimes, that’s possible. And we all like feeling we’re in control.

APQC: What are 3 actions that an HR leader can take to position his or her function to operate as a strategic partner to the business?

Sharlyn Lauby: Learn the business and industry. It’s important to understand how the business works and makes money. It’s also essential to know what’s happening in your industry. I spent much of my career in very competitive industries and I was expected to know who the players were, legislation that impacted my industry, and consumer trends affecting the business.

Attend meetings and conferences not related to human resources. While it’s necessary to stay current with human resources, we can learn a lot by attending industry events or reading trade publications. If we want our operational managers to understand HR then we should be prepared to understand their function.

Understand what keeps senior leadership up at night. One of the ways HR can operate as a strategic partner is by acting as a coach/consultant to the C-Suite. That means being in a position where they tell you their concerns and challenges. Building relationships (see #3) and knowing the business positions HR well for those conversations.

Sharlyn Lauby is president of ITM Group Inc., a consulting firm which focuses on developing training solutions that engage and retain talent in the workplace. The company has been named one of the Top Small Businesses in South Florida. She is also the author of the blog HR Bartender, a friendly place to talk about workplace issues. The blog has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Business Blogs Worth Reading by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and SparkHire’s Top 25 Must-Read Blogs for Employers. She currently serves on the Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility expertise panel for SHRM. And her personal goal in life is to find the best cheeseburger on the planet.

Follow Sharlyn Lauby on Twitter.

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