A few years ago, I was supporting a major defense contractor in restructuring their HR organization. A key component was developing a bright line between the Human Resources Business Partners (HRBP) and the Human Resources Generalists (HRG). Despite clear definitions of the roles, a leader in one of the divisions insisted that “all my HR staff are strategic business partners.” His principle was that everyone in HR is strategic and everyone partners with the business even if indirectly.
On some levels I agree with him. Every HR professional can be strategic and we all contribute to mission results. My issue, however, is the underlying assumption that HRGs are by definition junior in both hierarchy and contribution to HRBPs. This thinking undermines the specialized skills and technical knowledge it takes to be an effective HRG.
Being a senior HR Generalist should not be seen as merely a stepping stone to an HRBP role. Certainly being an HRBP and solving organizational problems with senior leaders from other functions is a logical career path for some, but Federal agencies also need more specialized HRGs to run the business of HR itself.
HRGs drive efficiency and innovation across a wide variety of HR programs as well as within the HR organization itself. Many of the human capital management issues highlighted by the GAO will be solved within the HR organization and are best done by senior HRGs who understand the systems, processes, and regulations of Federal HR with a great deal of depth. To address the issues in the GAO report, HRGs should drive improvement in three key areas:
- Workforce planning:
- Build a culture of competencies: Develop a competency-based human performance culture as a foundation for the entire human capital lifecycle. HRGs drive the linkages of the competencies from recruitment through performance management, development, and succession.
- Close the gaps more efficiently. Administer systems to assess progress in closing gaps in the critical skills and competencies and analyze the systems themselves to identify opportunities to improve the process and the tools.
- Integrate succession planning. Work across the HR organization to assess and improve succession plans for leadership and other critical positions, as well as the succession planning process itself.
- Performance Management:
- Improve the performance of the performance management process. Use objective performance information to track progress toward achieving organizational priorities, and also to assess the return-on-investment (ROI) of performance improvement programs.
- Focus on critical roles. Monitor and analyze performance gaps critical to achieving organizational priorities and hold individuals responsible for making progress on their priorities.
- Ensure strategic alignment to the individual contributor level. Align individual performance to the agency’s strategic goals. Every individual’s goals should align with agency strategic goals and HRGs should run spot check senior leaders’ goals down to the individual contributor level goals (e.g., on IDPs) to identify areas of misalignment.
- Recruiting and Hiring:
- Create and integrate the employer brand. Define your employer brand. Every agency has its own employer brand whether intentional or accidental. Shape the brand as a tool for recruitment and hiring then ensure it is reinforced across the entire human capital lifecycle to retain and engage employees, especially highly specialized and hard-to-fill positions.
- Automate the process. Identify opportunities to automate hiring process to prescreen, rate, rank applicants, and drive efficiency through entrance on duty.
- Measure quality, not just efficiency. Analyze hiring manager satisfaction surveys with efficiency data to determine the trade-offs and select opportunities to maximize overall performance.
This is just a small portion of the Human Resources work needed in Federal agencies today, making the HRG role critical and requiring leadership roles for human resources generalists. Does your agency value HRGs as much as HRBPs? How can Federal agencies benefit from both roles?