Bridging the HR and Business Worlds – Is It Give and Take?

July 7, 2015

Hey, your business acumen.  Make sure to understand and manage the delicate triangulation of business results, stakeholder expectations and people performance.  Oh, and manage your business within the context of the broader environment - or be a ‘strategic positioner’ (according to one of the foremost thought leaders and influencers for the HR, Dave Ulrich).

Those are all the demands of today's HR leaders...and, all are highly reasonable.  In fact, in my own lexicon, I describe this as ‘business leader first, HR leader second.'  I recently shared my views of the strategic HR business partner role in a podcast interview as a lead up to the 2015 Human Capital Summit in Orlando.  There are clearly non-negotiables around knowing the business – articulating them is tantamount to stating the obvious.


We’re business leaders because we have no choice in the matter.  Period.  That means more than knowing how to read financial statements.  It means understanding the nuances of your business – the revenue streams, new markets, acquisitions, customer net promoter scores, and how to hold onto the intellectual capital in our companies.


If all of this is true, why is there growing popularity with the concept of building business knowledge in HR by hiring non-HR managers from the business to staff HR roles?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cross-pollination.  But, why is no one suggesting a give and take strategy – where HR leaders are provided the opportunity to work in the business units?


According to Edmond Mellina in his April 2015 post in the blog section of HR People & Strategy, hiring managers from the business side to work in HR is being used as a development opportunity.  This, as Mellina believes, “bridges the HR and business worlds.”  I'll expound more on that concept at another time.


If bridging these two worlds is a goal, then the reverse should be equally as desirable.  HR mid to senior level leaders should partner with their CEOs to orchestrate rotational assignments for HR (and other functional) staff looking for direct business experience.  Functional areas such as marketing, communications, and core program or product areas should be part of these rotations. 

In that scenario, this would have multiple benefits:

  • It would bring the strategies and operations of the business to life for HR leaders - beyond meetings, report outs and the more typical sideline participation

  • It would sharpen the skills of HR leaders now required to do more than know – but to ‘touch and feel’ with the appropriate coaching and shadowing

  • In turn, it would infuse the business with the type of HR transformative leadership and talent management expertise that it often urgently needs

In its most literal sense, a bridge provides a passage over obstacles.  In effect, it is a crossing or walkway to somewhere else. 

If senior leaders are increasingly seeing the value in crossing into HR for a deeper understanding of a pivotal business function, then this traversing should apply in the opposite direction. 


And, let’s not forget - business leaders newly equipped with HR knowledge can very easily return to the business side and advance to new career levels.  But, what’s the path to the C-Suite roles for HR leaders?


I submit that a viable path to the various roles in the C-Suite for HR leaders can be shaped and facilitated through rotational assignments from HR to business units.

Do you have examples of rotational assignments provided to HR and other functional leaders designed to increase their exposure to business units?  Would love to hear about them.



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