Two Ways HR Can Rise Up

I spend a fair amount of time around the human resources (HR) profession. Sometimes, that’s in the form of consulting and problem-solving alongside HR leaders; other times it’s through research or teaching graduate students. I’m also an HR officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and I maintain my HR certifications like thousands of other HR people. 

But I’m often critical of HR. That’s not at all because I think HR people aren’t doing good work; rather, I think every profession should be critical of itself in an attempt to improve continually and stay relevant. We should all be on the lookout for how we can get better at what we do and how we do it. 

In particular for HR, I see two areas in which HR could improve substantially. This isn’t to say that HR people aren’t thinking about these things or that many HR departments are already well on their way. But it is to say that considerable room for improvement exists profession-wide. 

These two areas—or two ways in which HR can rise up—are:

  • Its connection to business strategy and
  • Its use of analytics.

First, HR must improve in terms of its connection to business strategy.  I hear about employee engagement committees focused primarily on planning company picnics. I hear about HR departments being the last to know about major organizational changes. I hear executives complain that HR in their own company is a gate-keeper, not a service provider. 

Being more strategic as an HR person or as an HR function implies special mindset. As Dave Ulrich writes, HR needs to understand the context of their business. They need to understand how their organization competes and wins in the marketplace. Such an understanding is critical because it informs, as Ulrich discusses, a stakeholder view of HR in which the HR function has five main groups that it serves:

  1. Employees,
  2. Line managers,
  3. Customers,
  4. Investors and the
  5. Community at large. 

With such a mindset, HR people can transform their conversation from one of the tactical and administrative to one of strategy and business results. If you feel that your HR function doesn’t get the respect it deserves in your organization, having a strategic mindset and aligning what you do as a function with the business strategy is a great place to start. 

HR professionals, in particular those who lead any HR function, should know and be able to articulate how their priorities and activities align with helping the organization win. 

Second, HR must embrace analytics. The world is awash with data, and it’s increasingly becoming apparent that HR must focus on analyzing the right data in the right way to inform decision making. It’s no surprise that the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology named “Leveraging and Maximizing Big Data and Applying the Correct Analytics to Make Better Business Decisions” as its top workplace trend for 2016

From my interactions, HR can improve greatly in this area, but it’s going to require many people in HR to become comfortable with data. It’s going to require them to, in many cases, obtain new skills related to the use of data and analytics. 

If you’re wondering what on earth HR analytics is all about, here are a few references that might be helpful in getting you started:

HR people and the HR function have, in my opinion, so much to offer their organizations. They’re becoming increasingly essential for organizations as they navigate the modern world of work, but to realize that potential, they’ve got to be strategic in focus and evidence-based in their decision-making. 

And so, I encourage everyone in the world of HR to adopt a strategic posture and embrace the world of talent or HR analytics. There are many ways, of course, that HR can add value in organizations, but these are two areas in which it seems that HR can, in particular, rise up. 

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit: