In my (very) limited career in HR, I have come across some very fundamental questions that even experienced practitioners seem to be struggling with.
Exactly when does HR move from an accessory that's perceived as a luxury to have, to being a business partner? In my opinion, that happens when HR practitioners move from an activity-based mindset to one of sustained 'intervention'. Let me clarify what I mean by that.
HR can be seen as playing much the same role as a psychologist/ counselor in a society. As society evolves and becomes more complex, the human issues involved also become more convoluted and individuals find it harder to deal with these complexities on their own. And turn to a professional. Similarly, as an organization grows in size and complexity, the human resource function moves from being a fragment of the mainstream manager's role to being the sole reason for existence of a set of professionals.
Now what happens when someone goes to a counselor and is put through a series of tests or activities, and presented with a comprehensive report that claims to provide a complete profile? He feels overwhelmed with the processed data he is receiving, and is quite likely to miss the point that the report does not address any of the initial queries he had in mind. Exactly the same thing that happens when HR becomes activity-centric and the complete calendar year is filled with training, workshops, assessments and surveys, and no one stops to ask whether any of these activities is having the desired impact.
An intelligent HR professional, when asked by the business to 'do a team-building workshop' will stop for a minute and say "hey, can I ask you a couple of questions to understand a little better what it is that you need and if there's a better way to get there?" Funneling down from there, it is easy to see why I choose to use the phrase 'sustained intervention'. What this means is that the solution to any people-centric issue that an organization faces is as multi-dimensional as the issue itself, and needs to be addressed at different levels, using different means, over a period of time. And the means can be anything ranging from intensive talent mapping, succession planning and retention strategies to a simple coaching session with a manager who seems to have difficulty connecting with his new team.
What I'm hinting at is the mindset change needed for the paradigm shift from being a solution provider ("box selling" in FMCG terms) to a solutioning partner ("experience selling").