Rethink Human Resources as a Profit and Value Center

Stepping Up March 29, 2016 By: Christine Umbrell

All the strategy and best practices in the world won't succeed without the right talent, which means human resources professionals play a key role in guiding your association toward success. Here's how to leverage HR toward a better bottom line.

Where do your association's human resource (HR) professionals belong? If your organization is to be successful, your HR professionals cannot simply be relegated to their traditional roles of hiring, firing, and conducting performance reviews.

Instead, they need to be on the front lines in setting overall business strategy, and they should shoulder new responsibilities to help drive your organization's future and turn profits. So says Pamela J. Green, president and founder of the HR Coaching Institute in Washington, D.C.

HR Professionals as Talent Curators

Today's associations are faced with a complicated set of driving factors such as globalization, increased competition, and digitization. In this climate, HR professionals are perfectly positioned to help make tactical business decisions. "You can't make money without people," says Green. "Businesses—and associations—need HR to step up and identify where talent is going to come from and how to get the right talent to your business." HR professionals can help find ways to attract pivotal interviewees and build the credibility of an organization.

For too long, the reputations of HR professionals inside organizations have suffered as company leaders have viewed them as a company expense, rather than a revenue generator. But hiring and retaining great talent plays a key role in generating company profits. And it's up to HR professionals to explain to association executives how their expertise and skills can be leveraged to drive business decisions and benefit the organization, according to Green.

"The problem is, we either aren't in the right meetings, or we don't recognize the business challenges that signal a value-added opportunity for the HR professional," says Green. She suggests that HR professionals find ways to demonstrate, consistently, how they will enhance the company's bottom line and add value to the organization. "This is about designing an HR business model and communication strategy that turns business problems into resource-generating and profit-improving opportunities," she says.

Steps to a More Savvy HR Department

HR professionals can begin to demonstrate their value by staying informed about current market trends and reading publications targeted toward association professionals as well as the industries their organizations are centered around. "You have to look at association magazines to get insight into the trends affecting association professionals," Green says, "but you also need to know the trends affecting your specific industry—for example, whether the industry is currently expanding or declining."

Once HR professionals have built a solid knowledge base, they can begin to think more strategically and leverage interactions with association executives to share insights and suggestions for positive change. HR professionals should "listen for buzzwords like 'expand,' 'downsize,' 'right-size,' and even 'new technologies' and then step in to help figure out where to get the talent to support those initiatives," says Green.

HR professionals can help fill the disconnect between a company's vision and actually making that vision a reality. "Business leaders are forward thinking, but their business decisions may be light years ahead of the people currently in the organization," says Green. The HR department can bring in the right people to help close that gap and can educate executives on how to make the company more attractive to high-level recruits throughout the hiring process.

"You can't make money without people. Businesses—and associations—need HR to step up and identify where talent is going to come from and how to get the right talent to your business."—Pamela J. Green, president and founder, HR Coaching Institute

Green cautions that not all association executives are ready to embrace a more active HR department, and they may not be willing to offer HR professionals "a seat at the table" at strategic meetings. But she suggests building relationships outside of those meeting rooms. "Anytime I'm having a discussion about the business aspect of the organization, that is the table," she says. And HR professionals can learn to produce more meaningful business reports, beyond the typical hiring and time-to-fill reports. Instead, she suggests conducting regular employee return-on-investment analyses, year-to-year productivity reports, and regrettable and preventable turnover examinations.

Green recommends that HR professionals continuously consider how the organization can generate revenues—and how HR can contribute to those efforts. "For any business, the first goal is to get a sense of the company's financials and determine, 'Are we generating the revenue we need, and where are we hemorrhaging?'" says Green. "Then ask, 'Who are the people driving those numbers, and how can we identify people to pull out of the red zone or increase company revenues?'"

Embracing a New Role

Today's HR professionals are "critical and relevant" association staff members, and it's important that HR professionals share the message that they have something to offer, says Green. "They need to be willing to take risks and speak up to share their expertise" as both HR resources and business strategists, she says. "They have to be champions for why it's important to have HR professionals in an organization."

Christine Umbrell

Christine Umbrell is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Virginia.