As the way people work changes, HR leaders must be prepared to take more risks and become strategy leaders in their organizations, people executives say.
HR Dive’s 2023 Identity of HR survey — an annual look at the state of the industry — found that while HR pros are well-regarded by employees, they say they’ve lost ground with leaders. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they felt highly or very valued by leadership, down from 58% in 2022.
Forty-four percent said they felt only somewhat valued, up from 34% last year, and 5% said they didn’t feel valued at all, down slightly from 8% the previous year.
Meanwhile, 85% of HR pros said they felt their department was somewhat or very favorably viewed by employees, a number relatively unchanged from 2022.
HR pros lose ground with leadership
To turn the tide, HR workers need to take more strategic risks, even if it’s a gamble that could have a detrimental effect on their careers, according to Andre Allen, chairman of the board of HRCI, an HR credentialing and learning organization. Business leaders make “career-ending decisions every day,” and HR professionals will be taken more seriously if they take a stand on what direction the company should be heading, he said.
“HR professionals are going to be challenged to really be more strategic even when their organizations place them in tactical roles,” Allen said. “I think HR has attempted to be strategic. I don't want to paint them as nonstrategic. Organizations have cast HR into a very nonstrategic position. It is a fight to get out of that from a professional perspective; you have to be very, very aggressive.”
For Dave Barnett, chief human resources officer at DeVry University, being strategic means following the data and making recommendations based on research.
“In my job as the CHRO, I have to be the pioneer; I have to be the person setting the strategy,” Barnett said.
He watches the markets, keeps tabs on what other companies are doing and analyzes internal leading and lagging indicators, such as engagement and voluntary turnover, to make recommendations to the executive team on HR initiatives. And, as the future of work is still being mapped out, that can mean making some mistakes along the way, he said.
“I think you have to be comfortable swimming in uncharted waters. We have to have a high degree of courage. We have to be willing to try things and gather data,” Barnett said. If those things don’t work, you have to be willing to change course, he said.
Barnett publishes monthly scorecards on turnover, contractor spend, engagement, benefits cost, recruitment numbers, open positions and colleague relations at the university level. He hopes to break those data down by discipline level in the future to provide even greater insight.
Leslie Tarnacki, CHRO of WorkForce Software, agreed that the key to showing the value of HR is embracing analytics, which she sees as paying off in the minds of leaders.
“I think it’s easier now to make the case because we have spent the last several years providing the data the business needs to make good decisions,” Tarnacki said. “We don't have to fight that battle as much as we potentially had to in the past.”