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The HR function continues to enjoy a poor reputation for a host of reasons too long to be listed in this article. Some of this is deserved and some is just a bum rap. How and what can HR do to improve the perception of a cynical workforce and stake its claim to be a credible player?

I will use two quotes to help out. First, from Dr Phil: “You teach people how to treat you.” The reason people expect HR to do all the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff is because that is what HR does.

Second, from the eminent HR authority Dave Ulrich: “The language of business is finance. HR must learn to speak finance in order to be taken seriously and make an impact.” The negative spiral of this situation is clear: business people do not want to go into HR and HR attracts people who are not good with numbers!

One of the most common reasons given by people who wish to make a career in HR is that ‘they are good with people.’ The truth is, one needs to be good with people no matter what line of work you choose: marketing, sales, operations, finance (yes, even finance) – they all require people skills. And when you rise to a position of leadership, people skills become even more important.

A few things to help you begin the journey to strategic partner: articulate a ‘business case’ for every policy and process that you have. The business case will describe the objectives and planned outcomes of your proposal as well as the negative consequences of not doing it. Include the financial impact and you have a winner. Another thing: when sitting in business meetings, contribute to the discussion from a business perspective (as opposed to an HR one). Most importantly, make sure the HR items on the agenda are not at the end when no one is paying attention.

As HR contributes more and more at the strategic level, the expectation that it will be an ‘employee welfare department’ will also diminish.

– Leon Menezes
The writer is a senior HR practitioner, professor-of-practice, executive coach and writer.

First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on October 6, 2013.