Ready for a Strategic HR Leader?

JL Baker, Senior Vice President, Chicago

Clients often ask us when is the best time in their company’s evolution to bring a strategic HR leader onto the executive team.  Do they need one from the start? Are strategic HR leaders only necessary when the organization is undergoing major workforce issues?

Our answer: A strategic HR leader is an indispensable player any time a company is experiencing an important transformation—offensive or defensive—that requires sustained commitment from the workforce.

A move into new markets, expanding products or services, managing explosive growth, navigating intense competition, a major reinvention or an infusion of capital to scale the company—these are just a few of the points when it makes sense to bring on a strategic HR leader. Put another way, the right time to hire strategic HR leadership is when the organization needs HR to move from “a seat at the table” to “a voice at the table.” HR is a lynchpin of transformation since getting the workforce elements right in transformation is critical to success.

When organizations are new, HR focuses energy on building the basic infrastructure — from shaping the benefits package, to establishing payroll services, to setting policies for everything from paid time off to pets in the workplace. But after establishing the foundational elements, virtually all organizations will need to call upon HR to shape a culture that motivates and retains employees through transformation – the only constant in business today.

Most life science and technology companies recognize the importance of strategic workforce leadership. These industries rely on the ingenuity of a limited group of highly specialized scientists, MDs and engineers with specific educational credentials. Both tech and life sciences are businesses where risk-taking, teamwork and personal ownership serve to make or break the cogs of the business. Talent is often the difference between success and failure.

Yet, in virtually every industry today, success requires strategic workforce leadership. This new reality redefines the HR function. Dave Ulrich, author and professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, summarizes three critical roles for HR leaders in his recent article in The Balance. The first role he identifies is “strategic partner,” a contributor to the development and accomplishment of organization-wide business plans and objectives. Second, he identifies the “employee advocate,” who must shape a work environment in which employees choose to be engaged. And last, he describes the “change champion,” who motivates the workforce to adapt to the strategic needs of the organization.

Does your company need a voice at the table to lead workforce transformation?  If so, it’s time for a strategic HR leader.