As businesses recognise that people strategy is as fundamental as business strategy, HR earns its seat at the table

The role that people strategy plays in leading businesses around the world is an acknowledgment of the function that Jane Lewis, Director of People and Development at international law firm, Allens is happy to talk about.

“I feel like the value of HR has been a topic of discussion for as long as I’ve been in HR. My view hasn’t changed much – to have a seat at the table you have to earn it.  A people strategy that is intrinsically linked to a firm’s business strategy – that delivers engaged people and commercial success – is where HR’s value should be measured.

I feel like the value of HR has been a topic of discussion for as long as I’ve been in HR.

“In an increasingly complex and disruptive commercial environment, we all need to work harder to demonstrate our value. We should be asking, ‘What are the business’ goals and how do we harness the power of our people to help it achieve success?’”

In Jane’s opinion, HR has to be part of setting the business strategy. Assuming the business strategy revolves around making some sort of change to achieve an organisational objective or implementing a shift in some way, it’s clear that the organisation’s people agenda has to be a part of it. As Jane explains, understanding how to make an organisational shift is something that HR leaders are uniquely positioned to advise on. Leaving HR to only the back-end of implementation is not a winning proposition for an organisation.

I play an active role in conversations about business strategy.

So, is HR actually capable of contributing to the development of business strategy as opposed to working separately to build only a people strategy? In Jane’s experience, ‘yes’.

“In my current role I play an active role in conversations about business strategy and how all of the different functions will work together to affect change. And, sure, there might be more of a tactical people strategy that pops out at the end of the discussion – once objectives have been set, but by being part of the objective setting process I am much better equipped to help my team implement different projects to support the strategy”.

Of course, this isn’t the case in every organisation. Many companies still draw quite a distinction between what is business-related and what falls under the purview of HR. What can HR professionals do when they’re faced with these obstacles?

In lots of organisations, there’s a bit of a crisis of vision.

Jane believes that it comes down to the idea within many organisations that internal issues (like people strategies) are somehow separate from external issues (like business strategies). She feels that it’s not particularly helpful to the business to reinforce such binary positions. Instead, she recommends orienting an organisation’s internal capacity with what is necessary to be achieved out in the market. In a lot of ways, this comes down to communication and ensuring that everyone within an organisation has a clear narrative about how their role and contribution fits within the context of the business.

“There needs to be real clarity about the vision and purpose of the organisation, the shift the organisation is trying to achieve and what that looks like, as well as what’s being asked of people. I think in lots of organisations, there’s a bit of a crisis of vision. The more that HR can support leaders to be clear about that themselves and then articulate that in a cohesive and consistent way, the more glue there is for any strategy.”

“You know you’ve hit the sweet spot when a business has embarked on a change agenda with clear, measurable objectives.  You start seeing and feeling change and you know you’ve achieved that through true employee engagement built around sound strategy,” Jane said.

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