Here at the HR for (y’)all headquarters (my kitchen table) and our satellite offices (a corner booth at Chipotle), we (meaning me) have been puzzling over the big question that plagues so many HR Pros – how do we become truly Strategic Partners? There are a good many HR Pros out there (yes, I am talking to you) who think that once they have that coveted seat at the table, the non-strategic work, and more specifically the work that does not directly involve the leadership of the organization, is not in their wheelhouse anymore. The challenge with this line of thinking is two-fold. First off, someone has to handle the keep-the-lights-on stuff or you will find that after you have worked at keeping the regulators and lawyers at bay, you will barely have time to conduct the exit interviews you will be doing. Second, and this is something that so many of us HR Geeks simply don’t get: you cannot simply step into a strategic partner role. It has to be earned. Sure, you may be replacing someone who had achieved that status and therefore you are by default elevated into that role, but it will be short lived if you do not cover the other aspects of HR.
So what I have set out to do is try and uncover the types of work we, as HR Pros, do and delve into why the work matters as well as why it is critical not to neglect any of these areas.
To illustrate, I am attaching a diagram that I am calling the HR for (y’)all Mother of all Matrixes. (It is my matrix, so I can call it whatever I want.)
First off let’s look at the part that no one really wants to talk about, and that is the Tactical/People quadrant, down in the lower left corner. For whatever reason, this is the piece that everyone wants to skip because it is where a lot of the “Administrative” work lies. Yes, this is the employment verifications, the chasing down I-9’s and the “my prescription for medical marijuana was a few ounces short” calls to Benefits comes in. But before you skip it, remember, this is also the listening quadrant. This is where you build your street cred with the folks you are genuinely supporting. Ignore it at your own peril.
Move with me now to the upper left corner, the People/Strategic quadrant. This is where you take your listening and apply it to help the folks you are supporting. To be successful here, you need to know what they do, and that is harder than it sounds. This is knowing their strengths, their weaknesses, and finding how they can leverage them for their best interest. It means career development for the high-potential associates and career maintenance for the good but not great ones. Sometimes it means maintaining dignity for the rest when their number is up.
Next, let’s zig a little and look at the Tactical/Leadership quadrant. This is where you execute on the initiatives set out by the leadership of the organization, as well as fix stuff. As much as we try, there are always going to be fires that need to be put out. Don’t handle this and you lose street cred as well, only this time it is with the people who can actually fire you. The problem with this quadrant is that it is easy to confuse it with it’s more mature and buttoned up sibling, the Strategic/Leadership quadrant. Be careful that you don’t confuse “doing something for (insert high-ranking executive)” with “doing something *with* (insert high-ranking executive).” It has to get done, but if it is all you do, you may find that you are not as indispensable as you thought.
Finally, let’s take a look straight up and get to the Strategic/Leadership quadrant. The golden circle, as it were. If you are new to a role and try to jump straight away into here without ensuring you are at least covering the other three, you will be dead in the water. Sure the honchos may appreciate the discussion, but when the rubber meets the road on what you all agree needs to get done (Tactical/Leadership), or someone complains because their home loan was rejected on account of the employment verification being too late (Tactical/People), or the high-potentials are leaving and the duds are staying (Strategic/People), your strategic street cred is going to take a big hit.