The Human Resource Strategic Plan and Its Critical Importance to the Organization

Good employee relations requires that HR Professionals constantly scan the environment, both internally and externally, to insure that gaps do not develop that impact long-range outcomes.

Memories of the Past

One of my greatest organizational memories was the yearly strategic planning conference that my organization undertook like clockwork.   This annual planning effort, generally held at a resort or at least a really nice place, brought out everyone in the organization that wanted to clarify our vision.   The meeting was often laced with great sounding rhetoric that left one wondering how someone who seemed to have trouble getting to work on a daily basis could suddenly sound so inspirational.   I always caught myself wondering where we were going to get the people with the brains and skills necessary to carry out these grand ideas--because it was clear we didn''t have them in the organization.

Wasn''t That a Great Conference?

The conferences typically ended with the publication of various strategies, thrusts, initiatives, and other garden-variety action-term ideas that were guaranteed to move us ahead of our competition.   These publications were sure to gather dust until next year''s conference.   After the conference, everyone returned to work and did their "real job."   And, you guessed it; these conferences rarely lead to actions that actually improved the efficiency or effectiveness of the organization.

Realities of Today

As an organizational consultant, I understand that organizations do need to maintain some type of "socialization" tradition.   If the tradition for strategic planning is a "get-away" where everyone socializes, I try to have the group maintain the tradition of a yearly "social gathering," but not call it strategic planning.   I then work with them to develop a new tradition that establishes a flexible long-range vision of what the organization does well and how they can build on that core competency.     Surprisingly, many organizations have little idea of what constitutes their "critical success factors" and continue to maintain "lines of business" never sure of which one is responsible for their continued survival.

It Takes Discipline

Building a process that ties together long-range planning and short-term management flexibility takes a lot of organizational discipline and a desire to succeed.   It also takes a realization that organizations are a lot like "eco-systems" and we continue to learn how changing one part of the organization impacts the others.   Understanding these relationships and building capacity in an organization to tie them together in a joint venture with the proper organizational structure is what separates the front-runner organizations from the also-rans.   It is the appreciation for these issues that has generated the need for strategic thinking in Human Resources.

Why is the HR Strategic Plan so Critical?

Most of us have had a fair amount of training in a functional specialty such as operations, human resource management, marketing, accounting, finance, and so forth.   There is an important distinction between strategic management and these functions.   Strategic management is not a single function or task, limited to a single staff group known as "strategic planners."   Rather, it is a set of managerial skills that that must be used throughout the organization.  Strategic management orchestrates the contributions of the various functions providing a guiding force that integrates the efforts of functions throughout the organization.   The HR strategic management plan is the organization''s strategy to solve people-related business issues.   It empowers the organization to achieve its other functional strategies.

A Plan within the Plan

The HR strategic plan adds value to the entire organization transcends departmentalization by creating partnerships with every function and employee in the organization.   Fundamental changes in the business environment combined with the rapid rate of technological change have taken the HR function from a fairly predictable and long range "personnel function" to a short term, issue oriented process that enables the organization to react to change as well as achieve its long range targets.   Within the organization''s strategic plan the HR plan is a well-defined set of strategies with clearly defined measurable outcomes.

Strategic Management Is Changing

The nature of strategic management is changing in such a way that all managers, regardless of organizational level or functional specialty, are becoming more involved in helping innovate and implement strategies for the entire business.   The organizational flattening that took place in the 80''s and 90''s was a clear response to organizational needs to involve lower-level mangers and hourly employees in strategic issues.   The new environment shifted the focus of HR to both long term business planning and short-term business needs.   The new requirements also created the necessity for a more defined HR plan that dealt with a far more extensive list of processes.

How Can They Not Understand?

I am often amazed at the number of executives who take the time to plan an operational process from the first step to the last step.   No stone is left unturned in their efforts to insure a successful process.   That same process may, unfortunately, require a new organizational design complete with significant cultural change components.   The design and implementation of the initiative is left to the HR department.   It is clear that the HR requirements for many of these procedures are critical pieces and require far more sophisticated planning and implementation.   It is also clear that top management, in many cases, has no concept of the degree of difficulty involved in these changes and is often not willing to invest the same level of resources in the HR plan as they were in the operational plan.

A Good Example of Why HR is Strategic

Motorola designed an HR strategic plan that depended on team processes and quality initiatives to provide the level of quality to its customers that was required in its broader strategic plan.   Motorola had also flattened its organization to provide greater levels of responsibility to its workers and managers.   This strategy was the major initiative that Motorola planned to take its operations to the level necessary to achieve its long-term business plans.   When Motorola began to execute the plan, it discovered that many of the employees and managers lacked the math and reading comprehension to meet their responsibilities.   Motorola''s CEO and the HR staff created a 5-year strategic HR plan that converted its traditional training program into an educational process that created the employee skills necessary to accomplish the rest of the plan.   Motorola is a great example of the complex set of HR strategies that must be engineered into the organizational strategic plan.

Back to the Basics

When asked what''s in a HR strategic plan, the answer 15 years ago most often would have been:

·               Employee recruitment and retention strategy

·               Reward systems strategy for motivating and challenging employees

·               A strategy for creating a work environment that minimizes absenteeism and keeps turnover at desirable levels.

·               A strategy for partnering with the unions

·               A strategy for empowering employees

·               A strategy for management systems

·               A definition of skill requirements and a strategy for attracting such skills

The same answer 5 years ago might have included:

·               A strategy for dealing with business change and its impact on human resources

·               A strategy for developing new skills to match technological change

·               A strategy to evolve the organizational structure to continue price competitiveness and quality levels.

·               A strategy to enhance multinational human resources to meet international competition

Today, while many of the aforementioned strategies are still applicable, one might also see:

·               A strategy for evolving the culture in preparation for a major organizational initiative.

·               A strategy to remodel the physical plant in order to hire older workers to replace less available younger and more physically able workers.

·               A virtual office strategy designed to reduce the need for capital facilities by having employees work at home

·               A strategy that builds toward a net human resources requirement level that is predicated on the organizations current gross human resource inventory.

It is More Complex!

The "scarcity" of human resources in the next decade will increase the dependence of organizations on HR strategic plans.   We have seen a remarkable transition in the last few years in respect to HR professionals being vital components of strategic planning teams.   We are seeing today a realization that long range plans, in almost every case, rely on the delivery of skills, people, and processes that can no longer be counted on as "certain."   We are seeing a maturing of CEO''s with a realization that developing engineered processes is fairly simple as compared with developing the organizational capacity to produce the outcomes of that system.

What Does It All Mean?

It means that the basic assumptions that got us where we are today are changing.   Where finance was the only "function" that transcended all of the other functions in the strategic plans of the past, HR has been added to the list.   HR strategies affect every employee and function in the organization.

Where Do We Go From Here?

HR must continue to think longitudinally and assess long- term organizational objectives and the human resource skills necessary to deliver outcomes and insure survivability.   HR Professional''s must begin to think of themselves as "eco-system" managers with the responsibility of developing the structure for the long-term goals and the flexibility to engage in strategies designed to focus on short-term opportunities and threats.   The HR Professional must constantly scan the environment, both internally and externally, to insure that gaps do not develop that impact long-range outcomes.   Most of all, the HR professional must take the most global perspective of any manager outside of the CEO because of the necessity to make certain the "Eco-system" is operating as planned.

By Kenneth Lynn

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