HR: Building Internal Partnerships

Ron Jones

It is often said that HR should be a business partner with other areas of an organization. The focus of being an effective business partner is to ensure the HR function is relevant; that it is well integrated with the business and capable of delivering all of the required outcomes.

The problem is: where and how does HR start? If everyone else accepted the premise that it was good for HR to be more integrated, then the issue of how to form a partnership probably wouldn’t arise.

For HR to engage with other areas of the business in any meaningful way, then it has to learn to behave differently and demonstrate commitment by taking some initiative. Some areas where HR could begin the process of building internal partners include:

Review the HR structure

From time to time, every business area should examine its own structure and clarify how the structure delivers strategy. HR should take the lead and demonstrate a commitment to modeling behavior that focuses on the needs of the organization, rather than building empires. Invite comment from other business areas about the changes they think should be made. Evaluate whether payroll should remain in HR or go to Finance. Review the competencies needed for a future HR structure.

Set out some best practice processes

HR should establish and publicize a set of key performance indicators that demonstrate the willingness of the HR team to be held accountable. For example, identify key areas of business process such as recruitment, pay reviews, training and development activities, and set levels of commitment, e.g. two-day turnaround on lodging recruitment advertisements; same day processing of salary increases; five-day approval process for training. Having set some benchmarks, regular reports on their attainment should be distributed so as to build open accountability.

Publicize the HR team values, goals and objectives

HR should have its own goals and objectives that address the role of the team in progressing the organizations strategic plan. In implementing the strategies, HR should also have a set of values that clearly focus on what is important for HR in how it works with internal stakeholders. Promoting these establishes a firm base on which HR will engage with all staff across the organization and builds a framework for future partnership.

Develop a model partnership agreement

A partnership agreement enables business areas to clarify how they engage with each other. HR can develop its own template, setting out the things that are important to HR, such as ‘Wanting to be the best HR team’; stating what HR expects of others, such as timely delivery of process forms, or early engagement in workforce planning; explaining what HR commits to do— for example, keeping business areas informed on progress of selection processes; and clarifying how HR will share with others, for example through regular de-briefing sessions.

By taking a proactive approach to demonstrating how HR operates and wishes to operate within the organization, the team will build credibility and demonstrate its own capability in working with others.

HR managers should not be waiting for others to invite them to the table— they have to market their preparedness and willingness to take on the challenges. To do otherwise is to continue traveling down the same path of irrelevance.