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How to start a human capital initiative

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Managing human capital as a resource is like assembling a kind of jigsaw puzzle, using talent for pieces and a strategic plan for the box top. If you want results, you need the best human capital management skills possible.

You either have these skills or you hire expert skills. The experts either provide a short-term infusion or become embedded in your organization to uphold the human capital endeavor. No matter how well you manage human capital or how you choose to incorporate the process into your business, human capital strategy is doomed to be just one more plan —  indeed, just one more empty ritual — unless it plays out in a vibrant cultural dialogue that motivates, inspires and magnifies greatness in all your people.

As you devise a human capital strategy, you are aiming for the multipliers. You want to plan for the ineffable quality that gets you to a sum of five when you start with two and two. What is that? The best human capital management professional may have theories, but ultimately no one individual can provide that surprise extra, the multiplier. That’s because people magnify each other.

As the Hawthorne Studies found in the early 20th century, bonding among people has a magnifying effect on productivity and even a quotient of happiness. These days, the team may entirely co-locate in the same office or be connected across time zones and continents. It doesn’t matter whether people share projects or knowledge. What matters is that they share the dialogue and exchange the ideas. They thrive in the dynamic. People in a successful dynamic do more in ways that are leaner, faster, better, and smarter. That’s exactly what you need in today’s economic climate.

We all see shifting environmental drivers, tumultuous innovations, and advancing technologies that can undermine a stable and able workforce. Human capital, that underpinning of all the production in an Ideas Economy, is itself churning and unpredictable. Human capital risks can manifest themselves in different ways. One is the sheer lack of knowledge and leadership depth across the organization. Or, there can be a protracted and unclear development path for entry and journey level staff. There can be poor alignment of talent to priorities and strategic objectives. One of the greatest risks is when nobody is talking to each other about possibility, knowing, and change.

So, your first question when it comes to your talent mix must be, “Do I have enough of the right people in the right places performing the right work at the right time?” The immediate follow-up question must be, “Will I have that in five years?” My answer to either question is another question. “Who’s talking about what?”

There’s one proven way to make sure the dialogue in your business isn’t idle chatter or bitter grievance motivated by boredom. It’s collaboration. Of course, collaboration, while an art in itself, still relies on the baseline art of dialogue where business is concerned. In the end, whatever drives the conversations that magnify the potential greatness of your team is exactly what you want people to be discussing.

Steve Case, most widely known as co-founder of America Online and former chairman of AOL Time Warner, spoke at an Northern Virginia Technology Association event that I attended.  That morning, I was inspired when I heard him say that his focus is to “invest in people and ideas that can change the world.”  So the question for you remains: Are you prepared to be a dynamic partner? Are you ready to partner with your employees, your vendors, your investors, and your community? If so, that’s excellent! You’re setting yourself up to thrive in the future economic realities, which are upon us already.

Are you tentative about launching a human capital strategy initiative with so many priorities competing for your time and attention? If so, here are some questions for quiet contemplation:

  1. Is an effective performance management system in place and understood by all employees?
  2. Do employees have knowledge of the results their actions produce?
  3. Do we have a full complement of strategies to initiate, direct, and sustain desired individual and team behavior?
  4. Do we have enough of the right people in the right places performing the right work at the right time? Will we in five years?
  5. How many key people are likely to retire or leave in the next five years?
  6. What strategies will entice my best people to stay?
  7. Are we motivating staff with career paths?

Dr. Marta Wilson is the CEO of Transformation Systems Inc. and a business author. Her recent books include “Everybody’s Business” and “Leaders in Motion.”  For more from Wilson, follow her on Twitter at @DrMartaWilson.