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Ashadowsll too often the HR department is viewed simply as a team of firefighters, just called upon to defuse a crisis and then retreating to the shadows of the supportive “back office”. Businesses are quickly realising why this is unsustainable. If they wish to balance the books, innovate and manage talent and productivity simultaneously, HR has a key role to play. According to the CIPD HR Outlook leaders’ survey, innovation is now a leading business priority for a third of both HR and other business leaders. With common goals and an ever-changing business environment, the stage is set for HR to enter the spotlight and establish itself as a strategic business partner.

The transition from a supportive role to a strategic one won’t happen overnight. HR teams need to work hard to shed their administrative image and reposition themselves as key business stakeholders. The same CIPD survey also showed that despite 72 per cent of HR leaders saying that their current people strategy will help the organisation achieve its future priorities, just 26 percent of other business leaders agree. It is evident that HR must look at ways to innovate itself and more visibly demonstrate its enabling role as the workplace evolves. This should, over time, reduce this disconnect.

 People are the most valuable asset of every business and HR often bridges the gap between leaders and their teams. Business growth is determined by agility, innovation, attracting and retaining talent and ensuring productivity and cost efficiency. HR plays a crucial role across each of these disciplines. Such a spread of expertise and influence means the HR team should have a vital seat at the table, being included in strategic organisational and business decisions. Better collaboration and communication between HR and other functions will go a long way to facilitating this transition.

From an organisational perspective, HR can have a vital role in shaping a flexible workplace structure that can continually support an evolving business. HR directors can mould strategies for career and leadership development hand-in-hand with operational directors and the C-level team. HR leads must be seen as strong, valued business partners. This enables them to proactively collaborate with employees at every level to implement changes with strategic business goals in mind. By aligning the HR approach with the broader business model and showing how it can drive employees toward high performance, they will become more of a lynchpin and less of a support system.

The HR department also owns much of an organisation’s valuable data on its workforce. This offers a wealth of insight into employees, workplace trends and overall performance. Teams must become attuned to the value of HR data and work on investing time in analytics. Being armed with evidence-based arguments for people management decisions and processes enables HR to be more confident with their recommendations. Being perceived as a wealth of facts and figures will also help HR become indispensable to senior leaders, including the CEO. It allows them to act more as a right hand man than an invisible support. As Dr Jill Miller, research advisor at the CIPD said, “what gets measured gets managed”. Organisations will quickly benefit from a business-savvy HR department fuelled by data, shaping board room discussions and driving greater results. The challenge is to move from historical data to generating predictive analytics.

As the speed, reach and scale of business innovation becomes more ambitious, the HR department will come into its own. It will no longer fly under the radar, only called upon when something goes wrong. With a commitment to changing internal perceptions, HR teams can become central to business strategy and implementation. Organisations are becoming more mobile, globally spread, cross-cultural and generational, and are entering into battles for the best talent and specialist skills – HR is central to the success of each of these. The stage is set for the HR team to reposition themselves as strategic business partners. The question just remains will they take their moment, or be forever the business understudy.


Julie Downing is Executive Vice President, Human Resources, NTT DATA EMEA, Argentina and Brazil. Prior to this, she was the Vice President of HR for EMEA and Asia Pacific at NTT DATA. She joined NTT DATA through the acquisition of Keane in October 2010. Julie held the role of HR Director at Keane, a US-based IT services firm. Previously, Julie was Head of HR and Operations for Eastern Europe at Ajilon Services, the international technology and people consulting firm. Julie currently takes full responsibility for al HR activities across EMEA and South America. This includes employee relations, compensation and benefits and policies and procedures. She also takes the lead on the integration of personnel during NTT DATA mergers and acquisitions.

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