If HR were seen as the experts on the RISK ASSESSMENT of the 'people thing', in the context of the strategic ambitions of the business, all the dreams of HR would come true.
So what does this mean. If you are the HRD, look around the table of your peers. They are all experts at risk assessing their area. Experts in knowing whether or not their area will deliver their part of the strategy. The CEO is responsible to the Board to risk assess the whole thing. Then there is Finance and HR. The CFO looks at the 'finance thing' across the whole business and risk assesses the numbers in a strategic context and then intervenes to get the business leaders to fix the issues. This is a conversation the CEO is very interested in. A successful HRD is doing the same thing but on the 'people thing' but often not explicitly.
However, most HRDs are not doing that. First they don't start with the strategic context, they prefer to start with external best practice or the latest fad. They talk about the war for talent, diversity initiatives or engagement programs. That is not what concerns the CEO and other leaders. They may pretend to feel 'talent is the big issue' in the way HR describes it but its not what they are really worried about. Imagine a CFO coming to the CEO and saying they haven't completed the monthly performance numbers against the budget and forecast. Instead they tell the CEO that 75% of the most successful companies have recently reduced cost by 10% or more so that is their current focus rather than risk assessing the numbers! It is laughable that a CFO would do that but if you are honest this has a chilling resemblence to the actions of most HRDs.
So what is the 'HR equivalent' to the performance numbers the CFO produces. Assuming the CEO and the top team know what a good job looks like, that is, what their 'strategy' actually means in terms of a change in organisational behaviour, there are only four risks they really worry about. Are the employees going to be able to do that, are they going to be willing to do that, will they always focus on what matters most at all times and will all that be at the best cost. They want you to know that this is what they worry about and secondly they want you to risk assess these areas in the context of their strategy. In truth you really should have built the strategy on the back of such a risk assssment.
Are you able to risk assess those areas of ability, willingness, focus and cost and then be the expert in the material issues that face the strategic ambitions of the business. If you can learn to do this and you believe that people are the heart of the business you will be the leader that will matter most. Your expertise is the one the CEO will listen. That's when the CEO comes into your office before he goes to see the CFO.
Put simply HR have to stop closing gaps from the outside in and start identifying the true strategic gaps and closing them from the inside out. Forget best practice and focus on the business!