HR and the Quest to be Strategic 

There are some days that the Business Partner/People Officer/Strategic HR Ninja title doesn’t live up to the hype. Some days, you’re knee-deep in Excel and filing. There are weeks when you feel all you do is listen to the issues that Accounting Bobby has with IT Johnny warming up his leftover fish in the common area. Many days, you stroll in wanting to play the role of Superman and end up doing the work of Jimmy Olsen. Administrative, reactive, transactional work. And such is the life in HR, and many other corporate roles. Not every waking minute will be full of strategic rainbows and butterflies.

Take a peek at the HR conference circuit or read many of the fantastic HR blogs in this space and you’ll find no shortage of topics and content around strategic HR. Messages and stories about how HR is being left behind and the true HR survivors will be those who don their strategy suits, program robots, and are well-versed in AI. The true HR pro’s of the future will have the direct line to the C-suite, outsource every administrative HR task, and speak the language of the business. Their HR technology game is unmatched.

I read a lot of this and there are days I really question the type of work I’m doing. Where does this Holy Grail of HR strategery exist? Who are these HR gods and goddesses of the strategic holy land and how can I get a ticket? I start to feel like I’m letting the future of HR down when I process a job change for a leader or help an employee navigate the new HR system to add their newborn to their benefits. Isn’t this work beneath me in my quest to be that true business partner? Does every piece of actual paper I touch take me 2 steps back on my road to HR nirvana?

The truth is, no job is 100% strategic. Especially in HR, a lot of what we do is reactive. We can’t control when humans do extraordinarily awesome or stupid things. Our strategic paths are often blocked by issues beyond our control. Sometimes those road blocks lead to a dead-end and, other times, they lead you down a path to some very meaningful work. And that is part of the job. It’s those days that make this job what it is. A big ol’ ball of strategic, administrative, operational fun.

What is your goal as an HR professional? Do you want to be that strategic advisor? If so, how are you taking those administrative tasks and turning them into some analysis. Don’t just press “export” on that report. Take a look at some of the data and trends. Is there a story there? Can you find a different approach or identify some cost savings? Is there a process that just doesn’t make sense and you feel you have a better way of doing it? Speak up.

Just because you’re not currently doing the work that makes David Ulrich proud, doesn’t mean your work is any less meaningful or important. People need to get paid. They need benefits. They need the protection from unfair practices and harassment that still happen in the workplace. Your job may not make the headlines of the company newsletter or you may not be raking in the “employee of the month” awards, but the work you do everyday matters.


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