Transforming HR – My 2013 Wishlist – #3: From Business Partner to Business Leader

Transforming HR – My 2013 Wishlist – #3: From Business Partner to Business Leader

This is part three of my 2013 wishlist for transforming HR. For the intro, check out Wish #1.

My third wish for transforming HR in 2013 is: From business partner to business leader.

pic from creative commons - user ba1969

There is something about the title “HR Business Partner” and the description of HR as a function that “partners with” or “serves” the business that rubs me the right way. Maybe it’s because I think of HR as a business. In my mind we aren’t partnering with business leaders, but with OTHER business leaders. I know, it’s a small change in terminology, but I think it makes a difference.

In 2013, my 3rd wish for transforming HR is that we become seen as business leaders, alongside those in Finance, Marketing, Operations and other business areas.

One of my philosophies about HR is that If you don’t understand the business, you cannot lead HR effectively. This always came naturally to me – maybe because I started my career in operations, as a Manager with responsibility for opening restaurants from an operations and training perspective. I had to report financial results, manage labour and operating costs, and implement programs to improve my bottom line and customer experience. A lot of the things we did to improve results were actually related to human resources – training, coaching team members, and making sure we were sharing expectations and communication openly and effectively.

Later as I moved into Human Resources, I always stayed connected to the other parts of the businesses I worked in. I spent time in the field in every company I worked with. I worked on cross-functional teams. I partnered with marketing to develop people programs to drive their programs. I even offered myself up as a “reward” a few times for operations contests – the winner would get me working their shift and serving their customers for them for a day.

This closeness to customers, operations, and other functional areas kept me focused on how the people programs we were launching would be perceived, implemented and effective for our business and our customer experience. It also caused a bit of an identity crisis for me as an HR pro (which may be another blog post soon), as I continued to meet HR people who had never spoken to a customer, reviewed customer data or spent time with our internal customers, as they went along their way developing leadership training, compensation plans and more. I sometimes found I just didn’t fit with them, and was more comfortable talking business with the “other business leaders”.

I’m not saying everything I’ve done is right, or would work for everyone, but I do strongly believe that HR has to understand the business, the employee, the customer, and our impact on all of them. When we look at metrics, let’s dive deeper than turnover or engagement. How about measuring whether low turnover locations and teams produce the best results? Or measuring the impact of a pilot training program on customer experience scores, sales, or profitability? Or measuring the impact of high engagement in your organization and its effect on business results. Too often, we assume our HR metrics matter to everyone. I’m not saying engagement is not important – in fact, I think Culture and engagement are the most important things – but I think we need to do a better job linking them to the business metrics that keep us in business. Lead HR as a business, not as a service or partner to the business.

That’s why my 3rd wish for transforming HR in 2013 is for HR to be seen as Business Leaders rather than business partners.

What do you think? Am I way off here? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


  1. January 5, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Spot on, Pam. Everyone employed by an organization is a partner, a team member, an owner of the collective mission AND results of the organization. Just like a football team, we all have our talents, knowledge, special skills and specific metrics that the team is counting on us to bring every day. At the end of the day we are all executing plans that light up that scoreboard...the business metrics of sales, margins, service, etc. HR is no exception. We are not outside bolted on as a partner. The best HR leaders I know are "all in" business people.

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      January 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      Great analogy Sue! Thank you for reading and adding your thoughts.

      Reply »

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