HR Leads Business

Sep 11, 2017 | Barry Lawrence, MBA, aPHR, HRCI Staff Writer

HR and the Art of Partnerships

The art of partnerships. It is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, competencies for human resource managers who want to drive business results.

"To operate more effectively, HR needs to develop and sustain partnerships with other departments and must realize an important truth: they cannot be all things to all people," says Bruce L. Calvin, J.D., the author of H.R.’s Partnership Challenge: Mastering the Art of Not Being Everything to Everyone. "Those who have been successful in HR know and practice the art of developing, driving and maintaining partnerships with their peers, counterparts and executives. Strong partnerships drive mutual respect, trust and inclusion. It can’t work the other way around."

Calvin’s advice coincides with recent HR competency research led by Dave Ulrich, a Professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and Partner at The RBL Group. HR professionals are most effective when they are credible, trusted and proactive business partners, based on the research published in the book, Victory Through Organization. (Read our blog: HR Professionals Get Invited to the Table as Credible Activists, to see how to become a Credible Activist.)

HR practitioners must be genuinely interested in others, balance humility and confidence, learn from success and failure, and demonstrate personal integrity and ethics, the research advises. Credible Activists "build relationships up, down and across the organization."

Creating Better Partnerships

In his book, Calvin, provides HR professionals with advice built on his more than 35 years of HR experience, with insights on creating better communication, improving perceptions, taking responsibility, adding value, connecting with people, building better relationships and embracing continuous learning. (See how HRCI-certified professionals stay on the cutting edge of HR practice by meeting HRCI recertification requirements.)

Great partnerships, he notes in the book, are built by HR professionals who subscribe to "managing by walking around." In other words, get up from behind the desk and wear out some shoe leather.

"I would always tell my team that if you go to someone else’s workspace and ask, ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘Anything we can help you with?’ this will star a conversation . . . that will lead to the beginning of a better partnership, and if those relationships are developed proactively, a mutually beneficial partnership is created," Calvin writes.

About poor communication, Calvin notes that lack of clarification is often the culprit. Workers often receive limited or insufficient information, and move ahead anyway on a project or initiative. "Without seeking further clarification of what their boss really wanted, the level of communication breaks down, or even worse, the individual puts a great deal of effort into providing what they thought was being requested, only to later find that it was not at all what their boss had intended."

It’s essential that HR professionals be responsible for improving employee relations and the creation of better partnerships, Calvin says.

"The reality is HR, by the nature of what HR does, is in everyone’s sandbox," Calvin told HR Leads Business." HR, he says, is responsible for developing and sustaining productive partnerships within an organization.

"HR is the hub of the organizational wheel [and] we just need to understand that our key role is really under the guise of advisor, administrator, facilitator, coach, coordinator, etc., depending upon the need. Here HR Professionals can successfully be the drivers of change."

At the same time, he warns, HR leaders must be clear that improving things like employee communication, morale and engagement in an organization should never be viewed as HR’s responsibility alone.

"The truth is new can’t do our jobs alone and shouldn’t have to," he concludes. That’s where the power of positive partnerships come into play. That often requires a higher degree of flexibility – and HR must work hard to shed perceptions of not being adaptable.

"Taking all of this into consideration and with great appreciation for the enormity of the tasks that must be performed in the HR department," Calvin says, "I respectfully submit to you that there are times when flexibility and adaptability are called for. As they say, ‘Never say never.’ There will inevitably be a time when a valid reason calls for an exception."

As always, work as an HR professional requires managing people — and that always comes with great ambiguity.

Bruce L. Calvin, J.D., is the President of Calvin Associates Inc., a global corporate advisory firm that works with CEOs, CFOs and executives to enhance team dynamics and workplace cultures.