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Human resources as a strategic partner for health and human services.


Leaders of health and human services know that to achieve the vision and mission of their organization, they must have a strong foundation from which to operate. That strong foundation consists of resources in many areas--research- or evidence-based practices that support children, adults, and families to successfully navigate their lives toward a state of well-being, solid policy and financial resources to support those practices, and modern systems that provide accurate data for effective decision-making.

But who makes all this work on the ground? A stable, competent and well-trained workforce, that's who!

And who works with the health and human service leaders to find the right people to be a part of this workforce? One of the most important members of the executive team--Human Resources Leaders!


Based on two national surveys of health and human service CEOs and multiple discussions with leaders from across the country, APHSA's National Collaborative for Integration of Health and Human Services identified the workforce to be an absolutely essential part of any successful effort to move health and human service (H/ HS) government entities at all levels toward the desired future state of a highly integrated, outcome-focused, generative organization. The Workforce Committee of the National Collaborative explored the role, function, and effectiveness of the fundamental linchpin to this workforce--human resources (HR)--by creating an analytical framework, and a subsequent survey based on this framework, to understand more fully the extent to which HR serves as an effective strategic partner for leaders in health and human services (H/HS). The full results of this survey can be found on the APHSA website at conten t/APHSA/e n/path ways/NWI. ht ml, and are highlighted below.


Over the past year, the Workforce Committee developed a framework to further define HR as a strategic partner and more clearly convey HR's opportunities and roles within H/HS. This analytical framework highlights four primary functions for which HR is responsible: Execute on the HR Administrative Functions; Develop Talent; Influence Culture; and Influence Direction. The graphic below more fully describes how each function is defined.

Framework for HR Roles/Functions


Execute the HR Administrative Functions--by creating trust in the administrative operations of HR, engaging leadership in the development of job descriptions that support the overall goals of the organization, and recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new employees; providing benefits and compensation for staff; and conducting analysis of capacity as well as giving employees access to their own data through a Human Resource Information System (HRIS);

Develop Talent--by creating employee development and training opportunities for increased organizational performance as well as opportunities for leadership and promotional experiences;

Influence Culture (the values, beliefs, traditions and norms)--by engaging employees in the development of a culture that encourages innovation, teaming, and results; and

Influence Direction--by participating as a full member of the Executive Team to influence the direction of the organization.


Using the Framework for HR Roles/ Functions, a national survey was conducted in the fall of 2015 with results published in February 2016. The survey examined the effectiveness of a variety of components within each of the functions outlined above. Multiple findings affecting H/HS were identified that offer significant implications for integrating HR. Highlights from these findings follow:

1. H/HS leaders must establish partnerships with HR to address all four functions affecting capacity building in the workforce. HR was found to be less effective in influencing the direction of the organization and influencing the culture of the organization than being able to onboard the right people at the right time or to develop talent. But in examining the survey ratings in more depth, only one function Executing on the HR Admin Function--was found to be at the basic level of "effective." The other three were rated "less than effective."

2. A solid Human Resource Information System (HRIS) is typically lacking. HR data are used for a variety of purposes, i.e., to enable staff to access their own HR data (employment history, salary history, benefits, etc.), to provide the executive team with performance data, or to assess current workforce capacity and to forecast needs into the future. Without a solid HRIS, H/HS leaders are constrained to make appropriate decisions on behalf of the organization.

3. Turning to Developing Talent, we found that while this was critical for the retention of the workforce, there was a slightly less than effective rating for this function. Many organizations provide training, staff development opportunities, and effective supervisory coaching to develop their workforce. We found, however, that the training provided was not on topics the current workforce needed to remain relevant in their position (i.e., project management, technology- focused training), nor was there routine collection of data to determine a return on training investment dollars.

4. HR fell short in being able to translate what they know about the organizational culture into strategies that positively affect how the organization operates. HR has often been seen as a trusted advisor and can therefore influence how the values, principles, and norms of the organization can be carried out and supported throughout all activities. HR has the opportunity to positively affect the culture in multiple ways, such as effective use of communication venues, implementation of climate surveys and gap-closing initiatives, promotion of change management processes, and the use of performance management tools.

5. HR was not at the table to be able to affect the direction of the organization, thus limiting the effectiveness of the work being done. HR has a critical role on the executive team, not only to understand the work of H/HS and to carry out the goals and objectives of the agency, but also to influence the direction of the agency in support of its core values. HR can help move the organization toward a modern, integrated, outcome-focused, and person-centered H/HS agency where a culture of innovative and creative problem solving is the norm--in other words, a generative H/HS organization.


H/HS leaders face the challenge of building a strong organizational foundation through their workforce for the delivery of benefits and services to the communities in which they operate.

Immediate steps can be taken to establish a strategic partnership with HR for some quick wins.

To be the best at serving communities, H/HS leaders need to position their organizations to be an employer of choice within that community. The best way to do that is to elevate the role HR plays in identifying, recruiting, and onboarding new staff. Empowering HR with information about organizational direction, goals, values, and needed competencies; requiring that this information be embedded and maintained in all recruitment and onboarding policies and procedures; and monitoring the success of these processes ensures a solid foundation.

H/HS leaders are always concerned about sustainability of the success of their organization and that includes the sustainability of the workforce. Once they are onboard, HR can support the ongoing development of staff by providing relevant learning opportunities and training. A quick survey of staff on what training or experiential learning opportunities would be helpful to them in their work, comparing that to what is provided, and then making needed changes can let staff know the leadership is invested in them and their future with the organization.

Perhaps one of the most important steps H/HS leaders can take is to ensure that there is adequate data on the workforce to inform executive decision-making. These data can be found in a robust Human Resources Information System (HRIS) that provides not only information that employees can access about themselves, but information on the overall performance of staff, employee analytics related to recruitment and retention, training ROI, as well as information that can assist in forecasting for the future.

And finally, H/HS leaders must recognize the importance of the partnership they have at their fingertips in their HR department--a ready and willing partner! This, in many cases, is an untapped resource that has the potential to play a significant role in the transformation of the organization. Recognizing this and acting on it by getting HR to the table allows a rich knowledge of the workforce and its need to become a major element in the discussion on capacity building, capacity planning, resource allocation, and development of organizational culture.

HR can be a conduit from the workforce to the leadership team, and vice versa, and can provide huge opportunities to close gaps between current performance and a desired future state that serves children, adults, and communities in positive ways.

For more information, contact Anita Light at

Reference Note

(1.) Antonio M. Oftelie. The Pursuit of Outcomes: Leadership Lessons and Insights on Transforming Human Services: A Report from the 2011 Human Services Summit on the Campus of Harvard University. Leadership for a Networked World. 2011. p. 5-7.

Anita Light is the director of Practice Innovation and Grant Development at APHSA.
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Author:Light, Anita
Publication:Policy & Practice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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