The Building Blocks that Allow HR to Become a Strategic Function

Any number of magazine articles and publications argue Human Resources (HR) should be “at the table” as a key part of corporate strategy. While that is true, I believe that it is a position that is earned in a very logical progression within an organization.  But what is this progression?

A helpful model is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Being “at the table,” being a strategic partner in the business is actually akin to Maslow’s highest level – Self Actualization.  But anyone familiar with Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs knows that previous levels must be fulfilled before moving up to the next level.  It is much the same in human resources.

So, what are HR’s “Hierarchy of Needs?”  The first level for HR is Tactical Accuracy and Compliance.  I equate this to Maslow’s first level of needs- Physiological.  Can employees count on HR to make sure that their paychecks are accurate, that their benefit enrollments are accurate and that they receive their enrollment information on a timely basis?  Is annual benefit enrollment well communicated, accurate and timely?  Are basic compliance issues such as exempt/non-exempt, overtime, employee records, state/federal/local requirements for documentation being addressed?  HR cannot begin to establish credibility until the tactical functions are performed at a consistently high level.

The next level of credibility for HR comes in the form of Confidentiality, akin to Maslow’s Safety level.  This means that records are kept private, important information is not disclosed, and both employees and managers can count on HR to maintain the privacy of confidential conversations.

Moving to the next level, the Advice and Guidance level means that staff and managers don’t just talk to HR in a confidential manner, but now HR is considered a trusted source of information, guidance, and advice.  At this level, the organization realizes that HR is important to its daily success.  I equate this level to Maslow’s Love and Belonging.

Human Resources is usually seen as a service function, and many HR departments “wait” to be asked to engage the organization.  At the Engagement level, HR has demonstrated that it has command of the processes and measures that allow it to pro-actively manage key processes like recruiting, training, policy development and investigations.  With recruiting, for example, at this level HR calls the hiring manager to get status updates on candidates, as opposed to waiting for the manager to provide feedback.  At the engagement level, HR begins to provide valuable recommendations for policies, training and staff/management development, recognizing that much of “HR” actually occurs between employees and their peers and managers.  This level dovetails nicely with Maslow’s Esteem level, because clearly having earned the esteem of their colleagues allows HR to function at a very high level in the organization.

And finally, HR as a Strategic Partner, the “Self Actualization” of the HR function.  Here, HR is an active and value added member of the senior management team.  The CEO counts on the senior HR leader for advice on culture and cultural development, succession planning, organizational design, and possibly even managing issues with their board of directors.  The senior HR leader may be called upon by the CEO to coach another senior leader, and that senior leader will understand and value the advice being provided.

Strategic Partner


Advice and Guidance


Tactical Accuracy and Compliance

Our clients come to us at many different levels of human resources development.  Our goal is to help our clients raise their HR function to a much higher level of value and credibility in their organizations.

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