Report: HR Really Is Becoming More Strategic

Back view of businessman
Back view of businessman

We’ve all been hearing and talking about HR professionals becoming better strategic leaders and business partners for years, so there’s no real surprise here.

But in this report from the Cranfield Network on International Human Resource management, in collaboration with the Society for Human Resource Management and the Center for International HR Studies in the School of Labor Employment Relations at Penn State University, we do have new numbers. And they’re worth noting.

The report, Human Resource Management Policies and Practices in the United States, outlines the results of a survey of almost 700 senior-level HR practitioners in organizations with 200 or more employees.

It finds HR is more often on an organization’s board of directors or executive team and taking sole responsibility for major policy decisions than in years past.

Specifically, in terms of leadership, 70 percent of responding organizations said HR has a place on the board now, compared to 63 percent in 2009 and 41 percent in 2004. Also, two-thirds of responding organizations (66 percent) said they have a written HR-management strategy. As the report states:

“The HR department appears to be moving away from working jointly with line management in terms of where the responsibility lies for major policy decisions across a whole range of HRM activities such as pay and benefits, recruitment and selection, training and development, industrial relations and workforce expansion/reduction.

“In most cases, there has been an increase in either the HR department taking sole responsibility for these activities or line management taking responsibility (but at a much lower absolute level), with a concurrent reduction in the number of cases where both parties collaborated on the activity led either by HR or by line management. On average, line management is most active in the area of training and development, and least active in establishing pay and benefits policies.

“This trend implies that HR and line management roles may be becoming institutionalized, with each party focusing on its own responsibilities. The increasing regulatory environment may be playing a part here, with firms needing clear guidelines around responsibilities to ensure compliance with regulations and standards.”

This last sentence certainly underscores what we’ve been hearing lately as well!

The report also confirms the use of technology as a foundation for increased strategic HR leadership, with 83 percent of organizations using HR-information systems or electronic HR-management systems and 67 percent using employee self-service options.

Interestingly, according to the report, HR departments remain involved in the development of business strategy, either from the outset or through consultation, although their involvement has declined slightly (ranging from 80 percent in 2004 to 78 percent in 2009 to 76 percent in 2014/15).

Also, interestingly (and it’s hard to pinpoint what’s behind this), there was a decrease in the percentage of HR departments not consulted when the organization was going through a merger, relocation or acquisition between 2004 and 2009 (8 percent in 2004 and 4 percent in 2009); however, in 2014/15 the percentage returned to 9 percent, a level similar to that reported in 2004.

On a more positive note, though, the report states …

” … more than one half of HR departments report that they are consulted from the outset in such situations, which has remained stable since 2004 at 54 percent to 61 percent (depending on the type of organizational change), an indication that HR continues to be involved in processes vital to the success of organizations.”