HR’s job: help line managers

by 08 Jun 2007

ONE OF the main jobs of HR professionals is to help line managers execute their strategy, according to Dave Ulrich, professor of business at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

However, HR professionals all too often focus on developing their own functional expertise without linking it to business outcomes or line manager priorities.

“Our job in HR is to help our line managers execute their strategy. That’s it. It’s fairly simple,” Ulrich said.

“If we engage our managers in the outcome of what we’re talking about, my sense is then that desire to be a business partner is not something we have to say, because we do.”

Speaking at the AHRI National Convention in Sydney recently, Ulrich said HR professionals often held themselves back in their bid to get a seat at the table.

“We don’t engage our leaders around what we deliver, and what we deliver can be around people,” he said.

“If the company values service and quick response time in relation to customers, we should value service and response time. Whatever the company sees as valuable, we should see as valuable. If we can connect that, we become leaders through HR in what we do.”

HR has to take a step back and look at how it can create value for the business, he said. “That’s the challenge for those of us in HR. If we’re going to create value, we start with what our business leaders want. So the test I’d ask you is, what’re the top two or three issues your business leader is worried about?

“They may be worried about things like finance, marketing, strategy, how do we serve customers, how do we compete in the changing world.”

The job for HR then is to link its goals into what business leaders want.

In the process, HR should become increasingly customer focused, he said. “Often when I go to a HR group I’ll ask the question: who are the customers of this HR department? Still about 80 per cent of the time the answer is the employees of the company.”

Instead, Ulrich said HR’s customers were not internal employees, but external customers and investors.

“What we do is we try to involve HR to link the external customer with the internal employee. Let me just say I think this is where HR is headed in the future,”he said.

“We don’t want to just talk about being a business partner. We go and find what those external customers might want.”

Ulrich said HR could play an important role in linking employee behaviour with customer expectations? “If we do that for our targeted customers, we begin to take HR outside the company.”


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