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Making HR more strategic

5 min read


Today’s guest post is by Mike Sheehan, a senior instructor at thoughtLEADERS, a leadership development firm. A graduate of the Kellogg School of Management, he has served in a variety of leadership roles and now teaches organizations critical business skills based on real-world experience. Today he offers thoughts on how to effectively integrate HR planning into the strategic planning process.

As Dave Willis and Mike Figliuolo discussed previously, it’s pretty easy to spot when you haven’t truly integrated HR planning into your strategic planning process. Failure to perform that integration invariably leads to failure of your strategy. You don’t end up with enough of the right people, you have the wrong people working on the right things, or you’re simply missing opportunities to create value because you’re not building a team capable of executing a complex plan.

So what’s the solution?

As Mike Figliuolo pointed out, the way we currently approach strategic planning and HR planning is backwards. We typically start by assessing the people we have then defining an organization based on the current team roster. Doing so leads to the same people doing the same things — we’re now simply expecting a different outcome (the definition of insanity).

Reverse your thinking. Strategy drives the definition of initiatives to pursue. Those initiatives define the type of organization and skills required to execute them. That organizational structure dictates what roles and skills you need. Those skills and roles define the kind of person you need to put in that box. Once you’ve gone through that exercise, then you can start assigning names to boxes in an org chart. This is a tangible process you can use to ensure you have the right team on the field as you pursue your strategy.

Allow me to make it even more tangible. Try the following:

  • Get out your org chart. Now throw it away. Seriously. Crumple it up and toss it.
  • Take your strat plan off your bookshelf and dust it off. Read it. Get a good understanding of where the business is headed and what initiatives you’re pursuing to get you there.
  • List the initiatives. Think through the activities required to execute them. Make a list of those activities for each initiative. (By the way, if your list of initiatives doesn’t fit on one page, then you have another problem.)
  • For each activity and initiative, write down the skills and experience required to make each one happen properly. This description will serve as the basis for job and role descriptions.
  • Given all the activities and initiatives, draw an “optimal” org chart. Start with a blank whiteboard to do so. Draw the ideal org chart that includes all the roles you’ve defined and arrange those roles in the manner that enables the most efficient execution of work.
  • Pull out your team roster. For each person, see if there’s a perfect box on that org chart for them. If there is, slot them there. Work from “perfect fits” to “almost fits” to “doesn’t fit.” For boxes with no names, you need to hire for those roles. For names with no boxes, you need to look for another place in the organization where that individual can best contribute.

If you want to successfully execute your strategy, you must fully integrate people planning into the process. That starts with the strat-planning sessions and flows all the way through creating an organization capable of executing that strategy. Continuing to do things the way you’re doing them now will only result in the same outcomes you’re currently getting. Is that really acceptable to you?

The next step: Picking the right incentives

Let’s not forget why we go to work. Yes, we want to make money.  We also want to feel accomplishment and make forward progress in our careers. Is your year-end evaluation not always in sync with the responsibilities that have been put on your plate? I’ll bet it can make you want to put a fork in your eye.

Once you’ve lined up the strategic initiatives with the appropriate resources, you need to make sure your people’s performance incentives sync with the desired outcomes of these strategic initiatives. If Johnny is responsible for leading and executing an initiative, but his bonus is still based on some other irrelevant metric, how focused do you think Johnny’s going to be on the initiative? Sounds simple. It is. You’ve put a bunch of energy into your strategic plan. Now shine a light on the people who are going to push it over the goal line. And reward them for a good job.

The companies we see most successfully executing their strategies consistently follow the aforementioned approach. Sure, changing to the above process isn’t easy. You’ll have to make some difficult decisions. It requires you as an HR leader to insert yourself in a process you might not currently be involved in. You’ll have to reassign people in the organization. You’ll have to write new job descriptions and find new talent. Last I checked, that’s included in your job description as a human resources leader.

Image credit, cmcderm1, via iStock