Ask the Expert: How to Move from Traditional HR to Strategic HR

November 9, 2015 John Gorup

strategic HR

HR’s role in the corporate world used to be so simple. Get people hired when needed, let people go when no longer needed, and keep everyone on their best behavior in between. The traditional HR department was about procedures and processes. But lately, corporations have been waking up to the idea that HR can be a strategic business partner. Moving from a traditional HR department to a strategic one can be a tricky journey though. To get some insight into those processes, we spoke with one of our experts who lives out this journey with clients every day.

DFranciDebbi Francl is a solutions and professional services veteran with a 22-year track record of delivering successful HR and Service Delivery Transformations on a variety of SaaS and on-premise platforms across a wide array of industries and business processes. She is committed to enabling client HR transformation and moving to the cloud with the help of platforms such as Workday and

What is a strategic HR department, and how does it look different from the traditional HR department?

Strategic HR works directly with business partners on a daily basis to deliver programs that will drive business results and  positively impact the bottom line. Traditional HR departments have often focused on tactical transaction processing, such as data processing, benefits enrollment, and requisition management. Strategic HR departments — rather strategic HR Business Partners — are able to focus on what will truly drive attraction, engagement, performance, and retention of key talent within the business. This will ultimately drive the business forward and allow organizations to meet company-wide goals together.

What kind of organizational change is commonly needed to move to a strategic HR department?

Transforming from a tactical HR organization to a strategic one is not always easy, and can often be painful. In the past, HR may have been rewarded for a “hero mentality” — for doing what it takes to get the tactical, transactional work done in hard times. The skills, competencies, and behaviors required in that traditional HR world are different than those required in a “future state, strategic” world. In some cases, companies need to look at existing resources and do a fit/gap analysis. This may result in new training, reskilling, or even turnover within an organization. Setting expectations for the behaviors that are required — and valued — in the new strategic world is critical for success.

Where does new technology fit into the process of becoming more strategic?

Technology and data will enable a strategic HR department to partner with the business. New cloud technology can often enable employees and managers to process over 90 percent of HR transactions on their own (without the assistance of HR), and on their own time via web and mobile devices. This new technology provides HR with the time to focus on key attraction, engagement, and retention programs for and with their business partners. Cloud-based technologies also allow HR to capture information and data to assist the organization in identifying critical talent-related business trends.
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