From Transactional to Transformational: An HR Super Hero Story

Superhero Businesswoman Isolated On White Background1984…. the year, not the novel, was pretty impressive. OK, the novel was also impressive, and according to a recent New York Times article, is making a comeback. But let’s focus on some of the events that happened during 1984…. the year.

  • Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, was assassinated.
  • Prince Harry was born.
  • The first Apple Macintosh went on sale.
  • Los Angeles, California, hosted the Summer Olympics.
  • Popular movies included The Terminator, Ghostbusters and The Karate Kid, while Magnum PI, Dynasty and Cheers dominated television.
  • The Space Shuttle Discovery launched its maiden voyage.

Also of note, but of lesser importance, 1984 was the year I began my career in HR. To put things in perspective:

  • I started in the “Personnel” department;
  • We had one computer for a department of seven, that could only be used to process payroll;
  • I had a typewriter on my desk, but at least it was electric;
  • I actually used carbon paper and white out;
  • We manually tracked information for EEO reporting purposes in a large ledger book; and
  • We used index cards to track salary information and performance review dates.

This is what my desk looked like on a regular basis.

Cluttered Desk | Office Jungle

While I didn’t start in HR (aka Personnel) when dinosaurs were still roaming the earth, I did start when HR primarily delivered administrative (also referred to as transactional) and operational services to their organizations. In a nutshell we:

  • Maintained records and filed government reports;
  • Helped hire, discipline and fire employees;
  • Enrolled employees in benefit plans;
  • Processed payroll; and
  • Provided guidance on improving employee performance and productivity.

HR Transformation began in the early to mid-90s and brought about big changes for HR. In addition to providing administrative and operational services to our organizations, we saw our roles expand to that of a strategic business partner.

But what did being a strategic business partner really mean? For me, among other things, it meant I had to champion our causes by learning to write a business case that demonstrated (i) the value of HR initiatives in terms business leaders understood and (ii) the impact to the bottom line. It meant I had to become proficient in a second language — the language of business — and understand things like Cost-Benefit Analysis and ROI.

Yellow Sign | Yikes!

I got into HR quite by accident (according to these survey results, so did about 25 percent of my peers), and demonstrating value to the business in business terms — namely dollars and cents — was a skill I did not have. In fact, just the thought of having to understand things like budgets, balance sheets and income statements gave me nightmares. For me, making sense of the numbers was like what Kryptonite was to Superman!

But I had solid working relationships with my colleagues in finance, internal audit, operations and accounting, and these individuals helped me develop the skills I needed to create business plans using language more easily understood by business leaders, such as ROI, productivity, efficiencies and cost-benefit.

Having these relationships (what I secretly considered to be my superpowers) helped combat my weaknesses.

Understanding the business, creating solid business cases and acquiring funding for HR programs may be easily done by following these steps:

  1. Identify business problems, needs or opportunities to be addressed;
  2. Assemble a team to make the business case;
  3. Select an HR initiative using a preliminary ROI approach;
  4. Quantify the benefit of addressing the problem, need or opportunity;
  5. Define alternative actions to secure the benefit;
  6. Determine the resources and investment required for implementing each alternative solution;
  7. Select the preferred solution;
  8. Design an action plan;
  9. Calculate the ROI of the proposed HR initiative; and
  10. Recommend the HR initiative to the appropriate decision makers.

Hats off to those individuals who understand the value of HR in their organization and who support us!

Waiter bow down and taking off his hat


Tell us your story — who was instrumental in helping you to better understand the business and develop the skills you need to make a successful business case?