HR as a Strategic Partner: The 2024 Planning Guide

hr as a strategic partner

When HR departments operate in a silo—and their programs are disconnected and misaligned with the business’ strategic goals—it's a missed opportunity for both HR and senior leadership.

In fact, 70% of CEOs expect their CHRO to be a key player in enterprise strategy, but only 55% say their CHRO meets this expectation.

HR is in a unique position to impact key performance indicators, including company culture and employee engagement. But without a strategic HR partner to guide those efforts, your impact will fall short.

 

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In this article, we’ll cover exactly what it means to be a strategic partner in HR, why it’s important, and how you can build a strategic plan for your HR department this year.

 

 

What is a strategic HR partner

 

The role of HR as a strategic partner is to develop and direct an HR agenda that supports and drives the overarching goals of the organization.

In other words, a strategic HR partner bridges the gap between the work of the HR team on the ground and the mission of the C-suite.

To do this, strategic HR partners make sure that the HR policy, procedures, and governance align with the big picture. Strategic HR partners ask, "How can HR help create an engaging, high-performance culture that drives the whole business forward?"

 

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How to move from HR Tactics to HR Strategy

Transitioning from the tactical role of HR manager to that of a strategic HR partner is pivotal in today's dynamic business landscape. While both roles are vital, they serve distinct purposes within an organization.

The HR manager has long been the backbone of HR departments, overseeing the day-to-day operations, ensuring compliance, managing payroll, and handling recruitment. HR managers are essential for maintaining the smooth functioning of HR processes, but they primarily operate at a tactical level, focusing on the immediate needs of the workforce.

Becoming a strategic HR partner marks a significant shift in HR's function. 

Instead of getting caught up in the minutiae of daily HR tasks, a strategic HR partner operates at a higher altitude, aligning HR initiatives with the overarching goals of the organization.

 

The roles of a strategic HR partner

Instead of getting caught up in the minutiae of daily HR tasks, a strategic HR partner operates at a higher altitude, aligning HR initiatives with the overarching goals of the organization.

  1. Strategic Advisor: Strategic HR partners act as trusted advisors to top leadership. They leverage their deep understanding of HR and the organization to provide insights and guidance on strategic decisions. This includes talent acquisition strategies, workforce planning, and initiatives to improve employee engagement.

  2. Problem Solver: They are adept at identifying and addressing complex workforce challenges. Whether it's resolving interdepartmental conflicts or devising innovative solutions for talent retention, strategic HR partners are the go-to problem solvers in the organization.

  3. Mentor and Coach: Beyond managing HR processes, they invest time in nurturing talent within the HR team and across the organization. They mentor emerging HR professionals, helping them grow into future strategic partners themselves. Additionally, they coach managers on effective leadership and people management.

  4. Independent Leader: While collaborating closely with HR departments, strategic HR partners maintain a degree of independence. This independence allows them to offer unbiased perspectives, ensuring that HR initiatives are aligned with the organization's best interests.

  5. Driving Alignment: The primary goal of a strategic HR partner is to ensure that everyone within the organization is pulling in the same direction. They work closely with HR departments and the leadership team to align HR strategies with broader organizational goals, fostering a unified and purpose-driven workforce.

Strategic HR partners are the architects of HR strategy, contributing directly to the achievement of organizational objectives. 

By shifting the focus from tactical HR tasks to strategic HR initiatives, businesses can navigate the evolving needs of the workforce, foster innovation, and drive sustainable growth. 

Embracing this transformation is not just a choice; it's a strategic investment in today's competitive business environment.

 

Why you should become a strategic HR partner

 

Too often, HR teams operate in a silo, disconnected from the conversations and decision making happening among senior leadership. This can create misalignment between HR and the rest of the business and hinders HR’s ability to support (and ultimately drive) strategic business outcomes.

Successful, high-performing organizations build alignment across teams and departments. And HR is uniquely positioned to enable and promote alignment when working together with senior leadership as a strategic partner.

HR is the glue that binds teams and organizations together—which means HR has the potential for high impact across the organization. From behind-the-scenes administration to internal communication, leadership training, and recruiting and onboarding programs, HR plays a critical role in company culture, employee engagement, and ultimately, business performance.

That’s where HR as a strategic partner can really make a difference for both HR efforts and overall business success.

Strategic HR partners can help drive individual, team, and organizational performance using a variety of tactics.

 

1. Have CEOs refocus on talent strategies

Today's CEOs and senior leadership teams are increasingly recognizing the pivotal role of talent strategies in achieving organizational success. The need to attract, retain, and develop top talent has become paramount. HR, as the steward of talent management, needs to step into a strategic partnership to address this demand effectively.

 

2. Use workplace culture as a performance driver

Research from Quantum Workplace underscores the undeniable connection between culture and performance. High-performing organizations attribute their success to a culture that reflects their values and beliefs. 

75% of high-performing organizations say that their organization's culture reflects their values and beliefs. 70% of high-performing organizations say that their organization's culture drives desired organizational outcomes and business results.

organizations perceptions of culture


Such cultures drive desired organizational outcomes and business results. HR, as the cultural architect, plays a pivotal role in shaping this performance-enhancing culture.

 

3. Navigate complexity in the modern workplace

The contemporary workplace is a complex ecosystem, influenced by factors like globalization, technology, and shifting employee expectations. HR must evolve to navigate this complexity. As a strategic partner, HR can help organizations adapt, ensuring that their workforce remains agile, motivated, and aligned with strategic goals.

 

4. Performance and engagement are no longer in silos

The conventional approach of segregating performance and engagement strategies no longer suffices. Recent findings highlight a strong correlation between employee engagement, productivity, and performance. 

Engaged employees lead to satisfied customers, a critical driver of business success.

Almost all respondents (92%) agree that organizations with highly engaged employees have happy customers, with 72% in strong agreement.

 

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HR, as the curator of these strategies, must integrate them seamlessly to achieve these outcomes.

 

5. Rethink your organizational investments

Many organizations invest heavily in employee success with the primary goals of improving productivity and retention. However, according to Quantum Workplace research, only around a third have actually achieved these goals. 

More than half of respondents say the primary business goals for their investments in employee success are to improve productivity and retention (53% and 52%, respectively). But only around a third have actually achieved these goals.

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HR, as a strategic partner, can lead the way in reevaluating and redefining these investments to ensure they align with broader organizational objectives and drive the intended results. 

And the need to invest is greater than ever.

According to Brandon Hall Group, a significant number of organizations express dissatisfaction with their current performance management processes. 

62% state that these processes don't enhance performance, and 70% admit they don't drive employee engagement.

These figures underscore the urgent need for HR to step into the role of a strategic partner, revamping and realigning HR strategies for greater effectiveness.

 

6. Tie performance to your bottom line 

In the competitive business landscape, every aspect of an organization contributes to its bottom line. HR, when operating as a strategic partner, becomes a catalyst for enhancing overall business performance. 

By aligning HR efforts with organizational goals, HR not only positively impacts employee engagement and retention but also contributes significantly to the company's financial success.

 

What are the barriers to HR becoming a strategic partner?


It’s easy to encourage HR to become a strategic partner. But unfortunately, many organizations encounter barriers to success. In order to get the most impact from your HR team, you have to work to remove the most common barriers to success.

  1. Employee Success Is Not Prioritized: In some organizations, the broader business strategy may not prioritize employee success and engagement. This misalignment can hinder HR's efforts to contribute strategically, as the overall corporate focus may not align with HR's objectives.

  2. There’s a Resistance to Change: The resistance of teams and employees to embrace change is a common challenge. Even when HR introduces innovative solutions or strategies, the lack of buy-in and adoption from teams can impede progress. Some organizations may pressure HR to consolidate and make the most of existing technology and resources rather than investing in new solutions. While this approach can have merit, it may limit HR's ability to innovate and adapt to evolving challenges.

  3. Outdated Processes and Technology: Outdated, manual, or siloed processes, along with obsolete HR tech, can create inefficiencies that bog down HR professionals. The time-consuming nature of managing these systems can hinder HR's ability to engage in more strategic endeavors. HR teams need tools and technologies that simplify their work and streamline processes. This requirement extends to solutions that not only benefit HR professionals but also make tasks easier for everyone in the organization, from managers to employees.

  4. There’s a Fear of Added Chaos and Workload: HR professionals often operate in highly demanding and chaotic work environments. Balancing a long list of tasks, from recruitment and onboarding to policy enforcement, can leave limited bandwidth for strategic activities. HR teams may resist adopting new solutions because they fear these changes will add to their already overwhelming workload. The perception that new tools and strategies will demand more time and effort can be a significant barrier.

  5. They Lack Managerial Support: HR can't do it all alone. To become strategic partners, HR professionals need strong support and involvement from managers. Without managers actively participating in initiatives, HR's efforts to drive change and improvement may face significant roadblocks.

These roadblocks can make it difficult to see the desired impact. Despite their best efforts, barriers may cause strategic investments to fall short of expectations, making it challenging to demonstrate their organizational value. As a result, strategic initiatives may get pushed further and further to the backburner.

But there is hope!

Recognizing and addressing these barriers proactively and reactively is crucial for HR to evolve into a strategic partner.

 

How to become a strategic HR partner

 

While it may seem daunting, becoming a strategic HR partner really comes down to the right investment, the right leadership, and the right plan. While we may not be able to help you with the first two, our team of employee success experts put together a proven plan to help HR become a strategic partner. 

Below, we outline a 12-month HR plan that you can easily customize for your organization. While the months below are designed to start in January, it’s never too late to start working on your plan to become a strategic HR partner.

 

Ready to get planning? Follow along with our comprehensive CHRO planner that  allows you to set goals, take notes, and scale your strategy. Download the  planner here!

 

Month 1: Building a Culture of Employee Success 

In order to begin, you must work to bridge the growing divide between leaders and employees. The key is to invest in shaping the organization with a human-centered and data-driven perspective, unifying everyone around the common goal of employee success.

This month emphasizes the interconnectedness of engagement, performance, culture, and retention, highlighting three essential components: 

  • Enhancing the employee experience
  • Inspiring employee impact
  • Fostering organizational magnetism

It's an ongoing commitment to creating an environment where employees feel supported and engaged, ultimately driving the organization toward its goals.

 

Month 2: Becoming a More Strategic HR Leader 

As we mentioned, 70% of CEOs expect their CHRO to be a key player in enterprise strategy, but only 55% feel this expectation is met. Strategic HR leadership is essential, especially when business leaders recognize the need for HR to be agile and adaptable. 

To succeed in this role, understanding your organization inside and out is crucial. You must proactively plan for the future, be an agent for change, and base decisions on data-driven insights. 

This month's emphasis is on building an engaged, high-performance culture aligned with your organization's long-term goals. It's about earning the trust of the C-Suite by clearly demonstrating the connection between employee success and overall business success and guiding strategic actions accordingly.

 

Month 3: Empowering Everyone to Own Employee Success 

HR faces mounting challenges, with many HR leaders considering leaving due to the increasing pressure and responsibilities. To address this, HR must clarify its role as a driver and coach in engaging all levels of the organization in employee success initiatives. This involves partnering with leaders and teams to define, launch, communicate, measure, and adjust strategies, along with establishing the necessary processes, systems, and tools.

Leadership's role is key in advocating for employee success, as they influence organizational culture the most. HR should rally leadership to strategize and clearly communicate the vision and any associated changes.

Managers are vital in employee communication and feedback. HR should empower them with insights, tools, and resources to understand and enhance team engagement, trust-building, feedback processes, recognition, coaching, alignment, and team development.

Additionally, employees themselves play a pivotal role. 

HR should create safe spaces for them to provide open and honest feedback, share ideas and concerns, and collaborate with managers and leaders on developing solutions. This collaborative approach fosters a "culture of us," where everyone is invested in addressing challenges and opportunities, enhancing connectivity, trust, and adaptability, ultimately contributing to a thriving organizational culture.

Data is your friend. HR strategy should always be driven by data and evidence—not hunches or assumptions. Get comfortable pulling reports and reviewing and analyzing data.

Your ability to use data to identify key insights and tell stories that drive action on the right things at the right time is one of the most valuable contributions a strategic HR partner can make.

 

Month 4: Assessing and Improving Your Culture 

While most executives agree on the importance of a strong culture for business success, there's often confusion about what culture truly entails. This lack of clarity hinders meaningful change.

To invest wisely in this area, leaders must first gain a comprehensive understanding of culture, recognizing that it's not just about rituals and norms but deeply embedded in daily workplace practices. Culture encompasses how decisions are made, communication styles, celebrations, behaviors, and how employees are rewarded and recognized.

A healthy culture should primarily foster employee engagement, which hinges on connecting employees to their work, teams, and the organization as a whole. When assessing how work gets done, leaders should consider how each aspect contributes to or detracts from employee engagement.

Performance management is a critical component of culture. By adopting effective practices, leaders can drive alignment, motivation, growth, and engagement within the organization. Conversely, a flawed approach can lead to toxicity, distrust, and burnout. Hence, performance management should be wielded as a tool to strengthen and enhance organizational culture.

 

Month 5: Predicting and Preventing Turnover 

In Month 5, the focus is on predicting and preventing employee turnover. Unwanted turnover can be expensive and detrimental to productivity and morale. However, by investing wisely, you can build a culture that retains top talent. 

Begin by gathering data on why employees are leaving and staying, and where issues are most pronounced. Actively listen to your employees through various channels, from formal surveys to informal one-on-one conversations. Data is your ally; it helps you understand the intricacies of turnover, empowering you to make informed decisions. 

By embracing predictive analytics tools, such as Quantum Workplace's flight risk tool, you can proactively address turnover concerns, turning your talent into a competitive advantage.

 

Month 6: Making Your Culture a Magnet for Talent 

It’s month six! Congratulations on making it to the halfway point. (You deserve a coffee, if you ask us!)

In Month 6, the focus is on making your culture a magnet for talent. Retaining top talent becomes even more critical when labor market conditions are competitive. To achieve this, strengthen your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) by aligning it with what matters most to your employees, such as career growth, flexibility, recognition, and meaningful work. 

Continuous EVP enhancement is essential as it reflects your organization's commitment to meet employee expectations. Invest in employee growth and development, as stagnation often leads to disengagement. Equip managers and employees with tools for mapping and tracking development together. 

Regular and meaningful 1-on-1s provide an opportunity for you to cultivate a culture of connection, highlight core values, and provide recognition. Finally, stand out in the talent market by benchmarking your EVP against competitors and crafting a unique proposition that sets your organization apart.

 

Month 7: Building Your Employee Listening Strategy 

This month, the focus shifts to building your employee listening strategy. While annual employee engagement surveys have been standard, today's dynamic business environment demands more frequent feedback. 

Research shows that regularly surveyed employees have higher engagement levels. Effective employee listening is essential in navigating ongoing challenges and uncertainties.

It provides valuable insights, dispelling speculations and identifying knowledge gaps. To invest wisely, adopt a flywheel approach to employee listening, continuously improving and gaining momentum. Move away from the once-a-year survey mindset; instead, aim for at least four feedback opportunities per year to drive continuous improvement. 

Ensure your strategy is based on a proven employee engagement model, offering a comprehensive understanding of engagement drivers and measurement techniques to implement timely, targeted strategies.

 

Month 8: Analyzing Your Survey Data 

In Month 8, the focus shifts from collecting to analyzing your survey data effectively. While employee survey data is invaluable for improving engagement, performance, and retention, it can be overwhelming. 

To invest wisely, you need to understand the data thoroughly before taking action. Start by grasping the big picture—assess overall favorability, identify key engagement drivers, and track trends over time. 

Next, zoom in on specific areas and demographics to pinpoint overlapping or differing perceptions. 

Extract insights from open-ended survey responses to add depth to quantitative results. Benchmark your results against industry or regional standards. Grant managers access to survey results, enabling them to provide valuable insights and work with their teams to prioritize engagement. 

Help employees understand their role in improving engagement by providing reports with individual recommendations for enhancing their workplace experience.

 

Month 9: Making Post-Survey Action Easier 

Month 9 is all about optimizing post-survey action, a critical yet often challenging phase. Many organizations struggle to effectively act on employee survey results, risking trust and engagement breakdowns. 

However, taking action is essential; employees witnessing feedback action are 12 times more likely to stay engaged. To invest wisely, create a scalable process using the AFTER framework:

  • Analysis: Share results early with leaders and managers.
  • Focus areas: Highlight high-impact areas for team focus.
  • Team ideation: Empower managers to facilitate team discussions on survey results and actions.
  • Execution plan: Assist managers in identifying best practices and creating measurable action plans.
  • Reminders: Communicate changes and progress throughout the year.

Don't let fear or uncertainty paralyze progress; focus on using feedback as a roadmap for improvement. Encourage everyone to participate actively in understanding and acting on survey results, empowering leaders and managers with frameworks, processes, and tools to ease administrative burdens and facilitate team action planning, as it's key for employee success.

 

Month 10: Evolving Your Approach to Employee Performance 

Don’t stop just yet. Here is where the real growth and impact starts to happen. Month 10 highlights the critical importance of redefining employee performance management, as a staggering 70% of organizations admit their current processes don't engage employees, and 62% don't enhance performance. 

Performance management is the foundation of building a highly engaged and productive workforce. 

To make the most impactful investments, organizations should first determine their unique objectives for performance management. Organizations should prioritize empowering managers and teams while acknowledging that the approach should evolve over time. 

Investing in the right technology is key. When choosing a technology, focus on reducing HR's administrative burden, enabling managers to drive performance, and meeting employees where they are in terms of technology adoption.

 

Month 11: Empowering Managers as Performance Coaches 

Managers are the pillars that hold your employee success strategy in place. But all too often, they don’t receive the support and coaching they need. 

Month 11 focuses on empowering managers as effective performance coaches, addressing the fact that 57% of managers feel unprepared for their roles and lack training. 

To tackle this challenge, HR and organizational leaders need to provide support, tools, and resources for managers. Simplifying the performance management process is essential, ensuring managers fully understand each step. Building managers' confidence through training and communication is crucial, not just a one-time explanation. 

Additionally, providing managers with essential tools, such as recognition, 1-on-1s, feedback mechanisms, goal-setting capabilities, and talent reviews can enable them to effectively engage and develop their teams for business impact.

 

Month 12: Planning for the Future

A whole year in the books! You’ve made it! But you’re not quite done yet. 

Month 12 focuses on planning for the future by addressing the challenge of identifying and developing top talent. With nearly half of organizations facing difficulties in recognizing top talent and a significant portion of managers lacking effective development conversation skills, this month emphasizes the importance of nurturing top performers and preparing for talent turnover. 

Organizations are encouraged to start by defining future business needs, identifying critical roles, and understanding the skills and traits valued most. Building an agile and collaborative talent review process that assesses talent gaps and opportunities is crucial, with regular reviews supported by objective data. 

Integration with a succession plan ensures the proactive development of key talent for future roles, with personalized development plans for candidates. 

Continuous plan updates based on evolving data and organizational needs round out the strategy.

 

Investing in impact: getting the most from strategic HR planning


In the ever-evolving landscape of HR, the road to success demands more than just good intentions. It requires strategic investments in impact—choices that drive meaningful change, engage your workforce, and empower your HR team. 

The days of assumptions and guesswork are gone. Today, it's about confident decisions, data-backed insights, and targeted actions. It's about efficiency and simplicity, freeing your team from clunky tools and empowering them to be true coaches. It's about energizing partnerships that provide the support and expertise needed to propel your HR initiatives forward.

As you embark on this transformative journey, remember that your success hinges on these critical investments. The path to becoming a strategic HR partner, one who not only influences but drives your organization's success, lies in your ability to harness the power of impact.

To guide you through this strategic HR journey, we invite you to download our complete CHRO Strategic Planner

This comprehensive, hands-on 12-month strategic HR planning guide will help you turn these principles into actionable strategies, paving the way for a future where HR isn't just a function but a force for positive change. 

Don't wait—invest in impact today and lead the way to a more engaged, productive, and successful workforce.

 

2024 CHRO Strategic Employee Success Planner

Published April 6, 2021 | Written By Natalie Wickham