Despite describing themselves as strategic business partners, recent research by consultants Mercer suggests that most HR leaders spend a relatively small proportion of their time on ‘strategic’ work. In the survey of around 500 HR directors across the EMEA region, 65 per cent of respondents described themselves as strategic partners to their organisations.

When asked the proportion of their time spent on different categories of work, however, the average weekly time given to strategic work was only 15 per cent.

The biggest proportion of time was spent delivering HR services (27 per cent), but other activities which took up large segments of leaders’ time were transacting and record-keeping (18 per cent) plus compliance and auditing (12 per cent). A quarter of respondents said they hoped to increase the volume of their strategic input during 2011.

Mercer said that the findings showed a difference between perceptions and reality when it comes to the strategic capabilities of HR departments.

Quoted on the CIPD website, Brad McCaw, a principal at Mercer and co-author of the study, stated: “This gap in perception and activities can be addressed by investing in the skills and training of HR staff, while also increasing awareness and people management skills among line management, to ensure that their activities encompass not only the day-to-day work that needs to be done, but also supports the strategic direction of the business. Measurement and analysis are also vital.”

The research suggested that many HR departments were in the process of change. Asked to list priorities for 2011, common responses were redesigning HR processes (42 per cent), designing a new strategy for delivering HR services (39 per cent) and implementing a talent development strategy for improving skills in HR (39 per cent).

Astik Ranade, also co-author and principal at Mercer, said: “What we’re seeing is a renewed interest across EMEA companies keen to re-examine their HR function, its value to the business and how it can further influence its internal strategy and alignment. Slowly but surely, HR is making progress.”