HR Professionals with Business Acumen Earn More Respect!

HRBAHR professionals want to be seen as strategic business partners, yet many struggle to speak the language of finance and business.  The reality is they are not alone. Many business managers and leaders have developed their functional expertise, but have not invested equal energy in developing their business and financial acumen.  If you want to be seen and treated as a business partner, it starts with learning the language of business. And then you can take it a step further by helping others develop that critical skill.

Stretch goals, initial trepidation

Faced with the opportunity (and challenge) of developing the strategic business and financial acumen of thousands of managers and employees in a global technology company, I selected Paradigm Learning’s Zodiak®:  The Game of Business Strategy and Finance business simulation.  During the planning stages, we weighed three options for who might facilitate Zodiak:

  • Line Executives: Senior executives are a good choice, and some may initially be enthusiastic about facilitating these programs. However, they rarely have enough “up-time” to become proficient at delivering the program.
  • Finance Leaders:  Another great choice, at least on the surface, but these simulations employ the “discovery learning” process, and finance professionals are more likely to “teach” the program and less likely to facilitate the discovery learning process.
  • HR, L&OD Professionals: I had the privilege of leading a global team of L&OD professionals who were especially skilled in facilitating programs in the soft-skills area. Were they up for this? Would they be credible and confident facilitating this program to global managers and technical professionals?

Based on the advice from Paradigm Learning, we decided to leverage the exceptional facilitation skills of our internal L&OD team for the global deployment of the program.  With the exception of one team member, who was well on her way to earning her MBA, the rest of the L&OD team had some initial trepidation. We overcame the trepidation by having the L&OD facilitation team observe a program and participate in the facilitator certification process.   One member practiced at home with her MBA spouse and then did some coaching and facilitation partnering with me.

L&OD role, elevated

The L&OD team has now successfully and confidently facilitated the program more than 50 times to 1,300 managers and employees around the world.  Just as significant, the organization now views the L&OD team differently. Individuals routinely respond to invitations from line executives to consult on a broader and more significant set of organization effectiveness issues than ever before.

So, if you want to be viewed differently, stretch yourself and do different things.  And if you want to be a true partner to the business you support, learn to speak the language of business and finance—and help others to do the same.


Steve Dolan, SPHR, is the principal consultant at 2020 Talent Management, a boutique HR consulting firm.  Steve has more than 20 years of global HR and business leadership experience with companies such as IBM, Compaq Computer, J&J, Juniper Networks, LGE Performance Systems (The Human Performance Institute) and American Power Conversion.  He holds a master’s degree from the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. In 2011, Steve was nominated for the CLO Vanguard Award, Bersin’s Leadership Development Strategic Excellence Award, and an ASTD Leadership Development Award. 


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