The Role of Strategic HR in Driving Business Success — Patrice Graves

4 min readMay 23, 2023
Photo by Michael Parks, Daystar Photography

In today’s corporate landscape, CEO’s and P&L leaders of public companies face immense pressure to generate profitable growth each quarter. While there is an ongoing debate and perceived inequity between CEO pay and the average employee, I believe that the pay and title are closely aligned with the painstaking daily decisions of such C-level roles.

A business leader would likely say: if you can’t manage the short term, you won’t have a company in the long term. In my opinion, that statement cuts both ways. CEOs have to focus on the short term financial KPIs without sacrificing investment in people and innovation; both of which have long term implications for the health and viability of a company. Hence the high pay.

To navigate this delicate balance successfully, it is critical to have HR support that goes beyond the traditional administrative tasks. Strategic HR teams not only execute strategies to drive growth and mitigate risks but also help leaders anticipate future workforce needs, attract top talent, and foster an environment of innovation.

HR professionals also must play a vital role in preparing proactive and reactive plans for unexpected scenarios. Who could have imagined all that we have experienced in the past three years: a global pandemic, return to office, war, global supply chain shortages, social unrest, vocal political nationalism, activist investors, etc.?

The distinction between strategic and traditional HR is crucial. Depending on the maturity of your organization, the pressure to perform, and the openness for change, it is important that business leaders recognize the difference and select an HR leader (and team) that aligns with business needs.

What does strategic HR entail? Let’s examine the differences of the two approaches:

Traditional HR:

1. Hires and fires employees, and manages the day to day requests.

2. Reacts to issues and resolves problems as they arise.

3. Is policy driven and focused on equity.

Strategic HR:

1. Listens to all stakeholders to help business leaders understand and act on feedback.

2. Tackles key themes that impact business profitability, employee attraction and retention, employee and compliance risks, and process execution.

3. Mitigates risks and speaks truth to power; even when the message is not popular. As you’ve seen in the news lately, HR leaders have a fiduciary responsibility to bring blind spots to attention.

4. Develops workforce planning, talent segmentation, and innovative programs to reward and engage employees, all with a focus on experiential learning and continuous improvement.

If HR is to be seen as a function that adds strategic value, you cannot settle for mediocre performance within the team. HR professionals must be the role models, the advocates, the confidants, the experts, the counselors and the people you can count on to deliver outcomes.

Leveraging HRIS/people analytics allows leaders to discern trends and craft compelling narratives about the data. Strategic HR professionals don’t wait to be told what to do. . They present ideas and potential solutions based on the data and work with leaders to take action.

Delivering the message is a delicate balance. CEOs, after all, are used to having all the answers. If your HR person merely echoes the CEO’s viewpoint, it hampers the effectiveness of the role. In that case, it’s best to stick with traditional HR.

Ultimately, HR professionals are at the heart of helping to build a culture of innovation, inclusion, and engagement, which are crucial to driving profitable growth. While the term “diversity” is a political hot potato lately, HR can promote the recognition that diverse perspectives drive innovation and disruption.

Embracing these ideas, with support from leaders, creates a workplace in which all employees feel valued and able to contribute at their highest level.

In the words of one of my favorite business leaders @steveMorriss, “Everything that HR does must be aligned with, driven and supported by the business leaders.” We too often rely on what has always been done, or implement initiatives that are not fit for the purpose. While it is easier and less risky for HR to perform only the administrative tasks and strictly follow instructions, true value is unlocked when your HR leader and the entire HR team engage with leaders and employees directly. By listening to their needs, HR can develop responsive and proactive programs.

As we navigate the complexities of our evolving “new normal”, HR can serve as a beacon, illustrating what can be achieved when business leaders are willing to shed traditional roles, a, adopt fresh perspectives, and create space for diverse voices and ideas at the decision-making table.

About Patrice Graves: a visionary business leader and HR strategist with a passion for making a positive impact on society, Patrice has extensive experience in driving innovative solutions that support business success. Her career spans diverse industries such as technology, aerospace and defense, engineering, commerce, manufacturing, and insurance. She is committed to supporting under-represented talent and closing the wealth gap by advocating for organizations that provide opportunities for diverse communities.

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