by Erika Andersen
I hang out with a lot of HR folks. Given that much of what we do at Proteus is in support of employees’ professional development – executive coaching, management skills training, team development – we very often work closely with the HR teams in our client companies.
Over the past ten years or so, I’ve noticed that ‘being a strategic partner’ has become a kind of mantra for HR people everywhere. Generally, they seem to mean, “we’d like to be included the conversations where the future of the business gets determined, and have a real voice in those conversations.”
Lately, I’ve observed that the IT folks, the finance people, and the communication and PR groups are saying the same thing. And I suspect that younger people in any function who want to advance in their careers are thinking or saying some version of it, too.
So, how do you get invited into those organization-critical conversations? And – perhaps even more important – what does it take to become an actual participant in them?
One way NOT to do it: force yourself in. I’ve seen people try to do that in all kinds of ways: get the CEO or some other senior person to mandate HR’s inclusion; wangle it into the company policy; use various threats and/or forms of coercion. This never works long-term. Never. People will simply have meetings and “forget” to invite you, or pointedly ignore you at the meetings you do attend.
The best way I know of to be treated like a strategic business partner is to think and act like one. Which means:
- understand the business. Know what makes your company work and what gets in the way of its working. Get clear about how all the different parts operate together, and – again – what gets in the way of their smooth operation. Become knowledgeable about the competition, and understand how your company is better and worse than they are. Be able to articulate your understanding.
- get out of your box. If you look at what the company needs only from the perspective of your own function (HR, IT, marketing – whatever it is), you will be seen as tactical at best, and an impediment to the business’ success at worst. Step back and think about what would best serve the business overall. Speak from that vantage point.
- be useful in a big way. Help the line business people in your organization meet their goals. Either do stuff that makes it easier for them to achieve those goals, or come up with and share ideas that support their achievement of them. If good things happen for the business as a result of you being involved in projects, you’ll be invited back.
- listen. The best way to do all three of the things I’ve noted above is to start by really, truly listening. Get deeply curious. Summarize to make sure you’ve understood. When you get new information, listen very carefully to hear how it relates to what you already know and what it says about the person who’s speaking.
Finally, remember that reputation and influence are built over time. If you start behaving in these ways, you’ll begin to be seen as a great person to have around. The more you fulfill that positive expectation, the more it will be reinforced.And eventually, people will be saying they want to be a strategic business partner just like you…