"Stay in your lane!"  This demand often makes sense while driving but incredibly constraining in other walks of life. However, much like driving, you can't get to many places without changing lanes from time to time.  The lane HR typically gets placed in, or perhaps chooses for itself, is one of support. In and of itself, this isn't a bad thing unless it stays in the narrow lane of seeking compliance or administrative tasking.  The promise of digital technologies whisking away administrative drudgery, freeing up mental space and energy to focus on more "strategic" partnering, hasn't quite been delivered...yet.  While we wait and hopefully actively engage to accelerate this digital evolution, I believe there is some space to manoeuvre for a higher value.

I've always struggled with the language that HR works "with the business", given that HR is part of the business....isn't it? Of course, it sits squarely on the cost end of the balance sheet as compared to our revenue-generating commercial colleagues, but so do many other functions that are considered part of the business.   Although when it comes time to contribute to strategic conversations it feels heads turn towards HR only when topics arise around the usual suspects...think: talent, culture, performance.  Seems counterintuitive to minimise the contribution to the discussion given the depth of knowledge residing in HR around talent capability needs,  cultural levers of change and the understanding of what drives performance for any given role or function. Of equal importance is the treasure trove of data that HR is privy to, from employee data on existing enterprise systems to employee sentiment from engagement-type listening.  Not to mention that HR sits with and represents every part of the business. It feels these are under-appreciated and oft-unrecognized gifts that support strategic and value-creating conversations across the business.

While I'm biased from my time there, I've always felt that management consulting got it right by emphasising human "capital" over "resources."  Definitionally, it feels like capital is about value and growth, whereas resource is something to be used up.  I've seen the trend of changing the name of the function, but I don't want to get too caught up on the nuance of wording...especially since much of this debate happens in English, so too much focus on the nuance of wording loses its lustre in translation. The takeaway here is that it really is about creating value for the entire business, well-outweighing costs incurred.

The good news is the tides seem to be turning.  HR had a big role to play in navigating the uncertainty over the last few years as the pandemic unimaginably disrupted organisations.  This role has extended into hybrid work, the shifting talent landscape and all things future-of-work related. More urgently, it will play a crucial role in the increased focus to get traction and engagement on ESG.  Senior leaders and boards are increasingly understanding that the people agenda plays a crucial role in future success and that HR should not only have a seat at the table but should often be leading the conversation.  Not to mention the increased demand for more humanity in all interactions in and out of work and focus on overall well-being.

So, where to focus?  I think it's crucial that HR brings expertise, knowledge and perspective into every conversation, not only the ones where "HR topics" prominently feature on the agenda. These conversations could come through the strong focus on the "S" in the ESG discussion, data-driven insights for future M&A targets or commercial endeavours, or implementation expertise on strategic discussions across a wider enterprise change portfolio, to name but a few.  These are examples of where there should be a recognition of risk from others of NOT having HR in the room to equally contribute to better dialogues, fostering better thinking and ultimately leading to better decisions.  So maybe I'll let go of the driving analogy here to say HR should start drifting across lanes more often and more deliberately!