HR as a strategic business partner? Build a solid foundation first!

HR as a strategic business partner? Build a solid foundation first!

Source: Dr. Shalom Saada Saar - Driving Leadership and Culture in A Global Environment #pmk2014,

Source: Dr. Shalom Saada Saar - Driving Leadership and Culture in A Global Environment #pmk2014,

I was recently introduced to an insightful video by Chek Wee and what struck me were the 7Cs – conviction, comprehension, competence, communication, caring, courage and character, that would lay the foundation for HR leaders. To me, these 7 factors are key to help HR leaders build credibility and change the perception of the profession in the way it truly deserves. Before we proceed to think about influencing others in our respective organizations, we will first need to convince ourselves that what we do are credible and worthy enough to be called a strategic business partner


To get ourselves ready for the uphill task ahead, the first question to ask is, “Do you love what you do?” If the answer is yes, you are one step closer to helping HR unlock its potential in your organization!

With passion, you will be guided by a strong sense of belief and purpose when transforming the way HR does things. Your focus will be on people, not just tasks. You will understand that you need to engage people and only through that can business goals be achieved. As the saying goes, people are the company’s greatest assets. To walk the talk, HR professionals must strongly believe that people are what drives performance and only by unlocking their potential can a company truly succeed.

However, HR personnel (realize I didn’t use the word professional here) in many organizations tend to be very task-oriented and simply execute based on the instructions from the management and line managers. Regardless if that’s right or not, it seems as if HR’s purpose is just to be an extra pair of hands to get the job done. Such situations and culture can be demoralizing and without the passion to generate positivity, the battle will be lost even before we start.

As such, the very first thing is to possess the passion to make a difference in HR. Without that, there is really no need to go further.


To take HR beyond being “an extra pair of hands”, we will need to start understanding the business landscape and operations in greater detail. This means that HR needs to help the management and line managers understand how we are able to integrate into their strategic plans. In addition, we will also need to communicate the value of people-related decisions in relation to the bottomline and how it can meaningful be translated into a competitive advantage before the business leaders entrust HR with a bigger role in the organization.

That said, all these big plans will not take flight unless we can convince the rest that we truly understand the moving pieces of the business and key considerations that impact the business. Failing which, there will not be an opportunity to showcase the value of HR because even if we try articulate that, our credibility will be questioned.


A HR leader can only be considered highly competent if he/she possesses the 10 essential skills highlighted in the vide: Recruitment, Selection, Onboarding, Training, Deploying, Performance Management, Coaching, Compensating, Succession Planning and Exiting.

These 10 areas cover the entire employee life cycle and without the ability to competently run any of these, it will undermine the ability for HR to influence in an organization.

Besides being an expert, it is also critical to deliver on a consistent basis and beyond expection. That is probably more important than merely being perceived as an expert in the field. Business leaders will only start to take us seriously and start having meaningful conversations with us if we deliver on a consistent basis. That will take time, but it’s something attainable through constant experimentation and adopting best practices into the organization’s context.


Before getting the buy-in of the management team, it might be more important to first win the hearts of the people. To do so, HR professionals need to communicate effectively. That said, it is not merely about us saying our piece but rather, listening with our eyes, ears, and heart and putting ourselves in our employees’ shoes. Once our employees believe in us, they will then entrust us with their full support. The strong mandate from the people will in turn help HR leaders develop a greater sense of confidence when representing them.

In addition, only when we truly understand what our people need can we deliver the most effective initiatives to make them better at work. Whether it’s a better workplace or provide them with tools to make their job easier, all these cannot take place without effective communication. A lot of time commitment is required but with the right intention in mind, it will be time well spent eventually.


Besides understanding individuals, the next level of getting their support is by showing genuine care towards them. Dr Shalom shared the importance of investing in people’s emotional account in order for them to respond positively. One way to deliver that is by creating a warm and inviting environment, one that people are excited to be present.

Employees spend a large part of their time at work. If HR leaders can make the workplace a second home for them, it will greatly reflect the thoughtfulness and genuine connection that the organization wants to make with the people. That is the difference that HR can make unlike other functions, the human connection.


It is easy to go with the flow and not challenge the higher ups with honest dialogues. However, true value from HR can only be delivered when we speak truth to power. We must dare to voice out concerns and question decisions in order to guide leaders in making the right decisions for the organization.

It might be uncomfortable to start off, but with some of the above factors such as competence and mandate from the people, it should provide HR leaders with confidence that they are leading the conversation in the right direction. Of course, cultural context should be taken into consideration and provide honest feedback in the most appropriate way. Courage is essential for effective decisions, but being blindly courageous might just result in the opposite where you unnoticingly push business decisions in the other way.


Finally, we must ensure that we represent an upright character. This means that integrity is at the core of their actions and we must be able to consistently deliver what we promised to our stakeholders.

To deliver what is “hard and right”, HR leaders need to possess the courage mentioned previously. Failing which, we will find ourselves often compromising our beliefs and not honouring our promises to the people and organization.

To prevent HR from being seen as siding the management, we need to constantly balance between delivering organizational goals and being an objective and neutral party. This is a tough balancing act but an essential one to be a strategic partner while delivering value to the people and organization.

It is tough, but understanding that the very reason for the birth of HR is because of the people themselves should constantly remind us that we need to follow through our promises and do what’s best for them. Only by delivering to the people and with the people can the organization go far.

Closing thoughts

The 7Cs may not be exhaustive, but they form a good foundation for HR leaders who wants to take the profession to the next level in their respective organizations. It is definitely going to be a tough journey but with the proper foundation being laid, it is just a matter of time and commitment before HR is transformed from a mere administrator into a true strategic business partner.


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