Strategic partnerships with human resources professional can be game-changers.
Your human resources professionals can be wonderful strategic partners and collaborate with you to achieve amazing results—but it takes trust and a solid relationship to get there.
Too many leaders miss out on the huge strategic potential of their human resources partnerships. You might not be aware of what your HR professionals offer. Or maybe you don’t know how to leverage those relationships. Perhaps you make mistakes that sabotage your opportunity to transform results.
Recently, I interviewed three human resources professionals from organizations where we partner to deliver long-term leadership development. Their insights will help you work with your HR pros more strategically.
Meet Your Human Resources Pros
Each of these leaders brings to their work a passion for their business and its people. They work in different industries. And each person has a different focus for their work. But despite these differences, all three shared similar insights to help you collaborate and lead more effectively. Meet your experts:
- Jessica Schwaller, Senior Director of Associate Performance and Development at Kforce. (Listen to Jessica’s full interview)
- Dan Kurmaskie, Director of Learning and Development at UFHealth Jacksonville (Listen to Dan’s full interview)
- Elle Marc-Charles is the Global Director of Inclusive Culture for Belden Corporation (Listen to Elle’s full interview)
What Your HR and OD Partners Can Bring You That You Might Not Know
One of the important insights these HR leaders shared involved the opportunities and resources your human resources, organization development, and learning teams can provide.
Marc-Charles describes how many leaders limit their thinking to the “assumption that HR professionals are only transactional” (eg: hiring, firing, or skill training). But your human resources professionals bring a wealth of knowledge that can help you achieve your goals.
Specifically, when you build a good strategic partnership, your HR teams can help support your business goals. She goes on to explain how human resources professionals are “conditioned to align people with the needs of the business, whatever your vision, whatever your vision is. We can help you.”
Knowledge and Connection
One of the most valuable resources in your HR teams is their knowledge, access, and awareness of the entire organization.
Schwaller described it this way, “We see things you won’t see. We hear things you won’t hear. We may know about an initiative in another department that you could leverage to save time or frustration.”
Marc-Charles highlighted that “we’re in a unique role with access to everything happening in the business. That’s why we can partner with you to support your vision and goals.”
Kurmaskie emphasized how effective human resource leaders are intimately aware of the organizations goals and how best to provide the people, training, and support that will help everyone achieve success.
Your HR teams sit at the intersection of everything happening in your business. That experience and knowledge brings a wealth of opportunity for connection, understanding, and insight to help you achieve your goals.
So, how can you benefit from that wealth of knowledge?
The #1 Way to Leverage Your Human Resource and L&D Relationships
Like every relationship, your partnership with your HR partners can improve with time. As you get to know one another your HR professionals will better understand your strategic goals and the resources needed to achieve them. You’ll build trust with one another and know how to work together.
Build the Relationship Now
That means you want to build the relationship now, before either of you has problems to solve or strategies to implement. In fact, this was the most common and urgent suggestion our HR leaders made.
When it comes to building strategic partnerships, Schwaller emphasized the smaller moments.
Look for times, she says, “when we can join their conversations [in areas] that maybe wouldn’t be typical things that HR would be included in. An opportunity for us to learn more about the challenges that they face daily, being a part of their stand-up meetings, or ongoing conversations.”
The more you include your human resources partners in these conversations, the better they’ll understand your goals, you’ll be able to move together to meet strategic needs more quickly, and they’ll have the trust that comes with knowing who you are and what you’re about.
If you really want to focus on employee engagement, Marc-Charles recommends that you build a strategic partnership with your HR team, and do it now. “That’s where the productivity really comes alive.”
Schwaller is quick to add:
That trusting relationship takes time and it really starts with listening and observing. This goes both ways and I want my team and I out meeting our leaders and getting to know them and their business as well. It’s too easy for all of us to get used to our little corner.
Come to Them Sooner
If their number one suggestion was to build the relationship now, addressing needs immediately was a strong second.
One area to bring to your HR pros sooner is obvious: people problems. All three HR pros had the same stories of talented leaders and team members who left or lost their jobs. In Schwaller’s words: “I wish we could have had the conversation sooner. It could have turned out differently.”
As Marc-Charles explains: “Leaders so often wait to connect HR only when something’s gone wrong. You end up having this reactive relationship … we can help you with a holistic approach and engage outside of the fire drills.”
Talk with your human resource partners before problems become acute—when you first suspect something isn’t working. “There [will] always be clues. And sometimes we can see them and head things off before they become a problem or we lose a good person.”
Hiring and building teams is another place you can benefit from engaging sooner. Kurmaskie and Marc-Charles both emphasize how your HR partners can help during the hiring process. Work together to prevent problems by ensuring you’ve identified the right skills and competencies for the role.
“When you put a team together or you’re restructuring your organization, these are things we can look at holistically,” Marc-Charles points out. We can suggest approaches you might try “because this is what I see around the corner.”
Mistakes that Sabotage Your Human Resources Relationship
While your human resources partners can be awesome strategic partners, there are some common mistakes that will undermine or frustrate your relationship.
Three mistakes came up frequently in our conversations: abdicating leadership, magic-wand thinking, and not doing your own work.
Your HR partners can’t replace your leadership. One of the most common ways this happens is that a leader has a team member who behaved poorly.
Kurmaskie describes how a leader “won’t want to provide real feedback … and [thinks] I’m gonna go ahead and train all of my team, hoping that those one or two people are going to get it.”
This is a credibility killer for you and for HR. Everyone knows what happened and they know you won’t deal with it.
Don’t bring in HR to do your leadership work for you. Directly address the individual with a clarification of expectations or an accountability conversation, the manager calls in HR or Training. And whatever you do, don’t drag the entire team through the conversation.
Another common mistake that’s closely related to abdicating your leadership is the expectation that your human resources partners will somehow wave a magic wand and make everything better.
Kurmaskie emphasized how your HR or “training and development can come in and do things to a department, but that doesn’t change anything” without a leader’s engagement.
Your partners can help equip people with skills and the fundamentals of a positive culture, but what you model, encourage, and hold your team accountable for—that’s what lasts.
This is one reason we emphasize the role of leaders as teachers in our signature leadership development programs.
Not Doing Your Work
Another mistake that can undermine your collaboration with human resources is failure to invest in yourself. When you think about going to your HR team for help, be aware that the help you need might not involve your team—it might be for you.
As Kurmaskie says, “When a leader comes to my team saying, ‘this person is a problem,’ the first thing we do is ask the leader how comfortable they are with their own coaching. Sometimes,” he says, “that question is met with crickets.”
Astute HR pros can also recognize that your immediate desire doesn’t align with the organization’s strategy. It can feel frustrating when your partners don’t immediately help you do what you want, but these are opportunities to invest in your leadership and influence.
One of the best things we can do, Kurmaskie says, “is to have a conversation with a leader who wants help and talk through how their goals with their team tie back to the organization’s strategy. What goal are you trying to achieve?”
When it comes to initiatives like diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, you have work to do. You can’t outsource leadership or culture to your partners. In these areas, Marc-Charles encourages you to, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Ask, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ Make sure every voice is heard—especially those that tend to be overlooked.”
Doing your leadership work means making mistakes. And that’s okay.
Schwaller says it well:
We sometimes forget as leaders, the importance of vulnerability and how people can really learn from and appreciate that we’re not perfect. Sometimes we get very caught up in that we have to set a good example … but just as important is vulnerability. We learn from the times that we have missteps.
Your human resources professionals have so much more to contribute to your team and organization’s success than ensuring that people fill out the right forms.
Savvy leaders partner with their HR teams, build mutual relationships focused on achieving strategic objectives, and work together–quickly–to prevent problems and achieve goals.
We would love to hear from you. If you’re an HR pro—what is one way you like to collaborate with leaders to better achieve business goals? And if you’re a leader, how have you partnered with your HR team to improve results and build relationships?
Here are more insights from another group of Chief Learning Officers regarding how top organizations invest in leadership development: