Of all of the major business functions, human resources may be the least understood and most underutilized. 

Smart CEOs, however, know that stellar HR pros are critical to the success of their employees and organizations.

In a recent HRCI/Inc. magazine survey, 79 percent of respondents said that their HR team “plays a critical strategic role and is well-respected.” Despite this, 68 percent felt that “we could do much more with HR at our firm.”

“The job of the HR department is not that of the principal’s office, or to say no to everything,” says Barbara Tiano, Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) for The Human Capital Group.

Its true role, Tiano notes, is to facilitate the “people” side of a company, so that business goals are met in a way that also satisfies the needs of employees, with as little risk as possible. HR, perhaps more than any other business function, must always be vigilant in mitigating risks to the company, especially risks directly related to personnel issues.

So just how can the C-suite elevate and empower HR professionals so that they are seen as true business partners by the rest of the organization, even as they address the concerns of the entire staff and mitigate risk?

What it ultimately comes down to is inclusion. The success of a business is driven by the quality of its people and nobody is more plugged in to the people than the HR specialist.

A highly skilled HR professional brings much more to the table than expertise in personnel issues. A trained, experienced and certified HR professional understands what drives business, revenues and profits, and the strategies that fuel success. 

Senior leaders needs as much input from HR as they can get. This means giving the HR head a seat in the C-suite or otherwise ensuring that they are involved in most, if not all, high-level business strategy decisions.

John Haynes III, PHR, serves as Executive Director, Human Resources, North America, at Johnson Controls, a company that creates intelligent buildings, efficient energy solutions, integrated infrastructure and next-generation transportation systems.

Haynes points out that HR pros are really “HR business partners” who are as invested in the company’s success as other business-unit leaders.

“HR business partners simplify the complex,” he says, “and provide solutions under less-than-optimal, multifaceted conditions,” such as when the competition has gone on the offensive, or mergers and acquisitions need to be broken down into execution plans. 

These solutions may be related to:

  • communications
  • people
  • marketing and identity
  • culture and change management
  • technology
  • policies
  • finance 

“[Look at] how to ‘eat the elephant’ and problem-solve organizational strategy,” adds Haynes. “That’s where your HR business partner plays a pivotal role." 

Natasha Bowman, JD, SPHR, Founder and CEO of professional training and coaching firm Performance ReNEW, points out that while CEOs are getting better at leveraging their HR business partners to make better decisions, they still have some way to go.

“Many C-suite executives fail to consider the ‘people’ aspect of organizational strategy,” says Bowman. And when a company fails to take full advantage of its human capital, she says, many promising initiatives fail.

How can the C-suite avoid this pitfall? By including HR business partners in strategy sessions early on and leveraging them when making key business decisions.

And once those decisions are made and initiatives are ready to be executed, HR should be a key part of the communications strategy.

“The more knowledge HR has about business operations, the more valuable they become,” says Bowman.

When HR business partners are part and parcel of the core leadership team, they can help CEOs anticipate human capital challenges such as labor contract interpretations and hiring needs, as well as the impact critical business decisions can have on organizational culture.