When Did Service Get a Bad Name?

Somewhere along the line, the idea of serving the business got a bad name in the world of human capital management. I think it was somewhere in that period where we were all numbed by ongoing conversation about getting a seat at the table, but I can’t be sure. But I’ve had several conversations with senior HR leaders lately who seem to agree that serving the business is a noble calling – and is far different than being subservient to it.

Now, I’m all for business/HR partnership, and early data from our current Workforce Management Survey shows that over half of organizations say they do a good job of implementing an HR business partner role. But at the end of the day, if you’re not an HR outsourcer, the work that makes money (or serves your mission in the case of a non-profit) for your organization, is not HR. That work couldn’t happen without HR – people have to get hired, paid, trained, and reviewed. But all of this good work is and should be in service of the business and its priorities. And really, what could be a more powerful position than being the part of the organization that can find, deploy, develop and pay the workforce, while also mitigating the massive financial and legal risks associated with labor law compliance, tax issues and your employer brand?

I’ve risked being called a “non-warm and fuzzy HR lady” in the past because my focus has always been on results – business results. But I’m ok with that, and I think a lot of smart, high-performing HR leaders are too. They are proud professionals with deep expertise in various facets of HR, workforce and talent management that do difficult work. And they take great pride in serving and enabling the businesses they work in, by having a clear understanding of business priorities, and using their expertise to make sure that the talent is in place to execute that strategy. And really, this level of service to the business requires the strongest of partnerships between HR on the business. They must be joined at the hip so that everything HR does helps move the organization toward its business goals.

Being an HR leader isn’t just about being a “people person.” It’s about being a business leader. A business leader who brings skills and expertise that enable business results, and serve business needs. What do you think? Is service the most noble calling? Is HR ready to be a true partner by embracing its ability to enable the business? Or is the business keeping HR on the sidelines? Let me know in the comments and I look forward to the discussion.

Mollie Lombardi, Vice President of Workforce Management Practice
and Principal Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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