C-TEN Insights: The Power of Partnerships

Maria Bunting Smedley

Four strategies that build synergies with HR and help achieve upward mobility.

By Maria Bunting Smedley

In my 20-plus year career as an HR executive, I’ve witnessed first-hand that as professionals assemble their career development resources to help weather the ups and downs of climbing the corporate ladder, the value of an HR partnership is often overlooked. But it shouldn’t be: HR is responsible for creating policies and crafting the framework that drives compensation, promotions, succession planning, career development, and talent management decisions. However, the “power” of HR is derived from three major components: access, information, and influence.

Let’s consider the first component, access. HR is the architect of policies and programs that drive talent management decisions within an organization. As a result, HR is consulted when organizational restructuring is being considered, when right-sizing is contemplated, and when succession plans are implemented. HR’s access to key influencers typically means that they have a seat at the table when decisions are being discussed, debated, and decided.

HR PartnershipsInformation is another critical element of the HR role. Two core HR responsibilities include creating policies and procedures, and serving as the custodian of employee information, which includes work experience, educational achievements, and professional accomplishments as well as investigatory, disciplinary, and complaint information. Because HR knows the criteria business leaders should consider when making talent management decisions, they can provide leaders with relevant employee information and key policy guidance to facilitate more informed decisions.

Access and information provide HR with the opportunity to use the third component, influence. In this context, influence is defined as the capacity to have an effect on a given outcome. An effective HR business partner will leverage access and information to influence talent management decisions in a manner that creates equal opportunity, a more equitable playing field, and fair and balanced deliberation for every employee or job candidate.

So how can executives create a strategic partnership with HR in order to encourage upward mobility? I recommend four best practices:

1. Engage HR in one-on-one meetings. Schedule a meeting with HR to discuss business challenges, to gain a better understanding of HR processes, or to provide feedback concerning HR services. Consider discussing professional development resources available through the organization or career coaching services that will also provide an opportunity to share career aspirations. Don’t wait to visit HR only when problems arise; Having a pre-established relationship will most likely work in your favor.

2. Become involved in activities that expose you to HR. Volunteer to serve on HR-led initiatives, including employee committees, charitable drives, or diversity affinity groups. Participation will help ensure HR has an opportunity to become more familiar with your role. The more HR business partners are exposed to your professional strengths, the more equipped they will be to recommend you for various opportunities within the organization.

3. Take advantage of professional development opportunities. Attend in-house training sessions and use tuition assistance programs to pursue education goals. Volunteer to participate in cross-departmental projects. Using internal resources and opportunities can enhance knowledge, skills, and abilities, and can increase HR’s exposure to your qualifications.

4. Demonstrate leadership courage. Don’t hesitate to ask the tough questions and proactively voice concerns. By bringing an issue to the attention of HR, you can frame the perception of the issue and position yourself to gain additional information that you might not otherwise receive.

For example, after three years of employment as a marketing analyst, Kari moved into an office near the HR suite. On several occasions, Kari chatted with the HR director in the break room over coffee and shared that she had just completed her MBA, had several years of prior management experience, and was looking for opportunities to transition from the marketing group into the finance group. Kari also shared that at a previous job, salary ranges were shared with all employees, but when she asked her manager for the information she was told that salary ranges were confidential.

Throughout all of these interactions, Kari was unaware of the following series of events. The HR director knew that a management position within the finance group was becoming available due to a pending retirement. Kari had been excluded from the short list of possible candidates because the hiring manager thought she didn’t have the required MBA for the position. The HR director provided the hiring manager with an updated list of qualified candidates and took the additional step to add each candidate’s years of management experience, as well. Of all the candidates, Kari had the most management experience in addition to having an MBA. Kari was later contacted by the hiring manager to interview for the position.

From their previous conversations, the HR director was also concerned as to whether managers were providing employees with salary range information as stated in recent changes to the company’s compensation policy. So, the HR director uploaded salary range information into the employee human resources information system (HRIS) and sent a company-wide email to communicate this self-service feature. This informed managers of the change and made it easier for employees to access their own salary ranges.

Clearly, this example demonstrates that HR can influence outcomes and address workplace issues. It also illustrates that a partnership with HR, in most instances, will not include a two-way dialogue. HR has an obligation of confidentiality, a cornerstone trait of an effective HR business partner. HR’s influence often remains unpublicized, so the benefits of implementing my four suggestions may not be crystal clear. But be sure to tap into the power of HR to achieve advancements in your career.


Maria Bunting Smedley, Esq. is the vice president of human resources and strategy for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.

Posted October 23, 2018 in Engaged Workforce

Leave a Reply