I recently came across an HR Insights Blog featuring 10 Ways to Be Better in HR in 2014. Several of the points struck me as keys to Human Resources (HR) success not only this year, but for years to come:

#1 – Assume the role of a leader.
#4 – Take a risk.
#5 – Be more proactive, versus reactive.

Why? Because today’s HR professionals are more empowered than ever to add value to their businesses, and the best way to move the needle is to do things differently.

To consider thinking about HR the way John Maeda did. He is the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and now design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. One of the biggest organizational changes John instituted after becoming RISD president was, “moving HR away from being Toby in The Office,” to empowering HR.

When I heard him speak recently, he said: “Doing things on time, from work to training to development, is critical and the systems that enable people are what is most important. With that focus and discipline, you are able to get in tune with people’s creativity to drive the organization forward.”

I could not agree more, but what struck me most, is that under John’s leadership, HR at RISD was no longer referred to as ‘Human Resources,’ but ‘Highly Regarded.’

Historically, HR professionals have taken a backseat to other business leaders in their organizations. This has resulted in many HR organizations spending time reacting to the demands of the business and individual employees. How do today’s HR professionals build enough credibility within their businesses to assume the role of a leader?

They begin by focusing more on people. Applying passion and innovation to improve people operations, which improves overall business operations, is the first step. In partnership with the business, HR blends evaluation and metrics within the day-to-day functions of every position to drive operational performance.

As they become more important to the business, HR professionals will build new leaders by empowering and supporting every employee—at every level. In this way, HR teams will reveal their true value. From sharing best practices across their organizations to providing their businesses with more individualized support, HR will be helping to ensure businesses are investing in the people driving success.

Think about it. For the first time in history we have four generations of employees in our global workforce. Some of our oldest contributors didn’t have color TVs when they were kids. Millennials can’t imagine life without a smartphone. This presents a huge opportunity.

Today’s HR leaders have a choice to be empowered or fall back on the old ways of HR which will be a missed opportunity. They have to decide how to invest. Will they continue spending on yesterday’s generation or is there a way to support and encourage all employees going forward?

Analyst Josh Bersin and his team conducted a Global Human Capital Trends study and concluded “It’s Time to Redesign HR,” including the roles HR plays.

The survey by Bersin et al also revealed that “high-impact HR teams are bold. Just like product development teams, they are innovative and creative. They try new things. They experiment and look at data. And when they see something that works, they expand it.”

To change current perceptions, more HR professionals must be bold. They must take risks to develop the people they have, thinking less about human resources and more about human capital management (HCM). Forward-looking companies are already doing this—transforming the HR function into “People Operations” driven by people-related data.

These companies recognize that employees are as important as (if not more important than) operations. They refuse to view employees as numbers and opportunities presented to individuals as sink or swim scenarios. Instead, they are empowering HR to support workforce roles and opportunities in the context of goals.

Critical to HR’s transformation is increased operational insight. And that starts with understanding what everyone in the organization is trying to accomplish. Businesses that encourage HR to capture and analyze data have an advantage in the marketplace.

Implementing company-wide goal-setting methodologies, such as Objectives-Key Results (OKRs), and putting in place effective goal-setting platforms for greater visibility across individual departments and the business as a whole have been key strategies among forward-thinking HR professionals. Because everyone can see everyone else’s goals, all employees know what is expected as they strive to attain even the most aspirational goals. Beyond that, HR is opening up lines of communication across the organization, building trust with colleagues, and having more productive conversations by collaborating around what matters.

HR and HCM professionals have a unique opportunity ahead to directly influence the culture and the operational performance of their companies. In doing so, these leaders don’t have to question or ask for a seat at the executive table; they’ve earned it.

If you’re interested in becoming (or you already are) an HR change agent in your organization, I’d like to hear from you. Drop me an email: matt@betterworks.com.