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Five HR strategies for modern CHROs to help drive business growth

HR leadership is about creating spaces for people to perform at their best. Alisa Avelar excels at this with grace, patience, and multidimensional data.
Alisa Avelar
VP People
8
min read
|
July 9, 2024

Traditionally, general and administrative (G&A) functions like HR and Finance have been treated as just that: administrative. Over the last few years, this outlook has changed dramatically. Specifically, HR has totally transformed into one of the most strategic roles in the company, a shift that Alisa Avelar understands all too well.

Alisa is an experienced people leader with over two decades of experience driving HR at high-growth organizations like Docker and Toptal. She’s seen the transformation of HR firsthand, through talent acquisition, remote work, the pandemic, and more. 

But despite falling into HR accidentally, she’s become a trusted voice in the space, even teaching courses at UMGC and Champlain College on management and organizational theory.

In her career, she’s learned that there are five strategic levers for HR leaders of fast-growing organizations to drive success and growth. In this post, we’ll unpack each one.

Learn more in her podcast episode of The Headcount People.

1. Take responsibility for driving business strategy.

Unlike when HR was only performing the reactive admin work, today, the department gets a seat at the table. Alisa believes that HR leaders must grab this opportunity to drive business strategy forward.

Ask questions: Her first recommendation is to ask questions about anything to do with people. 

“If during a business review, a leader says we missed our goals for the sprint, you must ask why: Did you expand bandwidth? Did you have three people go out? Did you forget you had two people on parental leave? Was it a people issue?” 

Advocate for the people: In a fast-growing org, sales leaders are under pressure to achieve revenue goals. The board demands performance. Engineering/product teams are always chasing a deadline. 

To prevent unneeded pressure from trickling down, HR must interject. They must recalibrate expectations and coach leaders to provide the grace and patience that the business needs. “Take a pause, observe how people are feeling, and advocate for a less stressful, more inclusive and innovative workplace,” she suggests.

Support org design: Talent acquisition is a massive part of the HR function. Yet, HR goes through it reactively, just finding profiles or scheduling interviews on demand. This misses out on the huge opportunity of using HR as a strategic lever.

As an HR leader, understanding what's going on in the organization is non-negotiable. “Before even getting to hiring, find out where they fit in the org and do some serious work around org design,’” suggests Alisa.

The foundation of such conversations is data, the next big prerogative for an HR leader.

2. Master data to magnify HR’s impact.

Alisa acknowledges that traditionally, HR is not known to be data-driven. As a cost center, HR doesn’t get the investment it needs in tooling. This results in:

  • Scattered data, pulled from various places such as the ATS, payroll, or training platforms
  • Manual effort, in collecting data, cleaning them up in spreadsheets, and trying to create dashboards
  • Non-core activities, such as doubling up as data analysts, collecting and cleaning reports
  • Outdated tech, leaving leaders with data on the past, not for the future
“I’m spending six hours a week updating a dashboard and making sure those numbers are right. At one point, I hired an intern with Python/SQL skills just to get visibility,” says Alisa, pointing out the huge insights gap in HR.

Yet, for her, this effort is worth it because mastering data is fundamental to magnifying HR’s impact. HR metrics–such as turnover, regretted attrition, and revenue per employee–directly correlate to business performance. But those KPIs are hard to get and hard to keep updated. Good data can do a lot more.

“I want the basics, like names, roles, demographics, and salary. But I also want information that tells me Mary has been with the organization for three years, she's been promoted once, and she's had four merits. This tells me more about the individual and inspires more meaningful decisions about their career,” says Alisa.

In her view, analytics is more than just a dashboard. It’s the ability to understand deeply. For instance, “if nobody in a team takes paid time off, it usually means the team is understaffed,” she says. She wants to see such insights on demand. 

Sometimes, the answer is outside the analytics tool.

3. Cement relationships beyond hierarchies.

“The CFO controls the money, you control the people. It's imperative you both march side by side,” insists Alisa. But that’s not the only relationship that matters.

Beyond the hierarchy, HR must also have the pulse of the organization: Who are the high performers? Who is hungry to grow? Who has exhausted the learning resources you offer? Such insights come from pausing, reflecting, observing, and listening—all traits highly critical for any HR executive.

Despite its strategic leverage, HR teams are still short-staffed and overworked. AI is a natural consideration. But that’s not the solution in Alisa’s view.

4. Root the future of HR in empathy, not AI.

“There is a disconnect in the workplace right now. Employees are feeling a certain way and organizations are feeling a certain way. The bridge is broken. And AI is not going to fix that,” argues Alisa.  

Her goals with tech adoption are to free up HR teams for deeper human relationships. She suggests that technology should free up time so HR leaders can work on building the right people experience, including diversity, inclusivity, and equity. Beyond hiring, DEI numbers must cover the entire employee lifecycle. It should throw light on: 

  • How many of the people from underrepresented groups are getting promoted? 
  • What is their compensation? 
  • Are they engaged? 
  • Are we offering a truly diverse, inclusive, and equitable experience?
  • Why are we hiring from outside when we can promote someone internally?

The real value for HR leaders would be comprehensive and contextual data that opens up deep and dynamic insights. Today’s tools don’t enable that.

5. Be the pillar of sustainable growth.

Talent, especially in fast-growing technology organizations, is the most expensive and valuable asset. An organization’s ability to attract, hire, manage, and retain skilled employees is the bedrock of sustainable growth—and HR is the pillar of that.

To power successful organizations, HR teams need the dual power of empathy and data analytics. They need to create heartbeat-to-heartbeat connections with individuals. They must have access to multidimensional data at their fingertips. 

Today’s tools aren’t designed for such access. “Today's tools do not provide the intuitive reports I need, so they need to be created manually and this eats into a lot of HR time,” says Alisa. 

What HR leaders need are tools that prevent such time-suck. They need tools that integrate data from various places, meaningfully combine them to paint the big picture, and present them to HR users in contextual and intuitive ways.

Empowered by this data, HR teams can advocate for an efficient, diverse, equitable, and high-performing organization.

To learn more about TeamOhana and strategic headcount management, contact us.

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