Better Together: Areas Where HR and Business Leaders Can Align in 2016

All the great partnerships have their ups and downs. Lennon and McCartney, Kirk and Spock; even Laurel and Hardy didn’t always see eye to eye. While working together may mean sharing common goals, it doesn’t always mean total harmony and an appreciation of the other’s strengths and overall contribution. It may come as little surprise, then, to learn that business leaders have mixed views about what their HR counterparts bring to the table.

According to a new report, close to 75 percent of HR leaders surveyed believe they have the right people strategy in place to help the organization achieve its future goals. However, this confidence is not shared by other business leaders, with just a quarter agreeing with this statement.

These findings, from The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Workday’s “HR Outlook for 2016,” come at a time when HR and the broader business leadership team should be thinking about working even more closely together.

The good news is this year’s CIPD report, which surveyed HR and business leaders’ current and future priorities, found HR and the wider business are generally aligned on most of the important issues. Yet, there are clear differences of opinion on HR’s overall contribution to strategic business priorities. These disconnects present a clear opportunity for HR professionals to demonstrate how they are strategic partners in achieving business objectives. I encourage you to read the full report. Here are a few of the findings that caught my eye.

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Innovation flying high on HR agenda

HR and business leaders are both in agreement that innovation is a major priority. The research shows that HR leaders are moving technology innovation from a “consideration for the future” in the 2013 report to a top five priority in 2016. This suggests HR is shifting towards a much more strategic outlook with innovation at the core.

Of course, innovation comes in many forms, and an increased appetite for HR analytics is one clear example of how innovation can help drive better decision making and increase HR’s value to the wider business. The report shows that while organizations are at different stages in terms of using analytics to gain greater insights about their workforces, more than 92% of HR leaders are actively engaged with analytics programs. Despite strong uptake there remains a mismatch between the views of HR and other business leaders around the value of HR analytics both now and in the future.

Rethinking talent management to increase HR’s wider business value

The disconnect between HR and business leaders about the effectiveness of HR’s people strategy is particularly evident in relation to attitudes towards talent management. HR leaders ranked talent management second in terms of priority whereas their counterparts within the wider business placed increased customer focus as their main priority, with talent management down in fifth.

Historically talent management has been about finding and developing future leaders. However, the report suggests that in a world where employees at all levels are more likely to job hop than in previous generations, talent management is a priority for the whole business and can only be truly achieved when an organization makes it a priority and deploys systems that place the employee at the heart of the process.

HR must do more to help the business understand how engagement initiatives matter, given that this was not an area of focus for other business leaders in this year’s report.

At a more granular level HR and business leaders are actually working towards a number of common goals when it comes to talent management. The report shows that they prioritize similar areas when it comes to meeting future talent requirements, such as up-skilling, succession planning, and investing in young people.

HR must now do more to help the business understand how engagement initiatives matter, given that this was not an area of focus for other business leaders in this year’s report. HR leaders must connect the dots: Strong employee engagement is critical to achieving business leaders’ main priority of increased customer focus.

Disconnect on the role of technology for transformation

Perhaps one of the most surprising disconnects between HR and other business leaders was around the importance of replacing aging legacy technology. While 41% of HR leaders said they understood the importance of replacing outdated or inflexible HR systems, the same topic was not a top five priority for other business leaders.

If HR is to better serve the business and place innovation at the heart of improving the customer/employee experience then building a strong business case for changing these old systems is critical. New systems can improve the HR experience for all employees and allow HR to be a more strategic partner to the business while providing the tools to deliver the innovation, agility, and talent management prized by business leaders.

Getting the partnership right and building more connections between HR and the rest of the business will become increasingly important in 2016 as organizations look for new ways of attracting talent while retaining and motivating existing employees.