Just like TQM or Six-sigma in the past today the word 'Strategic HR' is today's buzzword. Simply speaking, 'Strategic HR' means that while remembering the past and preserving the core HR need to thinks a few steps ahead. HR professionals generally have many areas they are responsible for. They are generally responsible for 'benefits administration' to “training and development (T&D)” to benefits administration to OD, assessment and everything else in between. In other words HR professionals often have many areas they are responsible for. For strategic HR, it is important to set time to critically think about various present and future, planned, activities. HR must plan and envision as to what it will take in next two to five years down the lane for their department to not only be acceptable but exceptional. Operating on the wings of mediocrity no longer will cut it in today's highly competitive global economy.
How to Strategize HR?
The first step to strategize HR is to plan to sit at the board table in such a dignified manner that HR is welcomed with open arms by other board members for new ideas and innovations. This, you (HR) can do by raising awareness among all cross function in the company about your (HR) roles to the benefit of the entire organization. That means HR need to address some basic questions meant to generate new ideas. For this, it is just possible that your questions may elicit some raised eyebrows and but may stir the pot of creativity. The end result is strategic HR where internal human capital and external business benchmarks are exceeded time and time again.
A case from an automotive parts manufacturing industry :
In this company, in its earlier days training was primarily for middle management cadres. This has been a general pattern in India in 1980s and 1990s when workers were not considered fit to be trained and senior management personnel thought themselves too big to learn and grow further. Companies did not bother to reach the critical masses - the employees at grass-root level for their growth either by training or or any other methods of training. Upon being engaged, this author's responsibilities were to generate thought-provoking questions and engage the executive committee to critically think about our training program in the long term. But mainly to generate high morale among the employees, whatsoever it might mean. The end game was to develop our next-generation leaders. With the end in mind, we asked questions like :
1. What is the meaning of training for our company?
2. What are we doing right currently?
3. How is our company doing in comparison to other competitors?
4. Where are we losing to our competitors today?
5. How are we going to get from A to Z of our bottom lines?
6. How much is training going to cost us/the company?
7. What is our long-term outlook on training?
8. How will we measure the ROI of training?
The initial phase focused on engaging the rest of in-house training. All divisions were given two-hour seminars to explain, in brief, the different ways employees could access our facilities, everyone was supposed to undergo all training and coaching sessions/programs. In addition, each shop/department was given a form that basically asked for employee's interest in training and need that the training will meet. Training needs were defined in terms of adding value to the bottom line-increased productivity, cost saving, product enhancement and/or improvement in service quality. The form also had a space for their general manager and the employee to sign off on prior to the form going to HR. This step was important because it was valuable to ensure the employee and general manager are on the same page, increasing employee engagement. It also helped in gauging training effectiveness.
On receiving the form the HR would hold conversation(s) with the concerned employee(s) and their respective HODs to create customized training schedules that could meet their specific needs of the present as well as in 5 years hence.
Attempts were also made to keep these programmes flexible enough to meet dynamic training needs of larger groups with a common need. The expected benefit of including the larger groups was to prepare the organization meet their expected or unexpected needs in 5, 10 or 15 years in future.
The 'Strategic HR' is not high grade physics or a rocket science (so to say). The example above comprised the basic information related to the project. In reality, strategic HR is all about getting back to basic blocking and tackling. Yes, we're dealing with people, but we're not putting a man on the moon. We were simply trying to make them capable enough to strategize the skills to meet their expected and/or unexpected human and soft-skill needs in next 5, 10 or 15 years' time.
It was up to us and their HR professionals in their HR Department to leverage individual and their collective talent. As "Good to Great" author Jim Collins says : "It's all about putting the right people on the right bus in the right seats at the right time". We were quite successful in raising a visible growth in the company's worth by few hundred crores INR.
This case can be concluded without violating our contract of secrecy that the strategic HR as followed here was definitely a powerful tool that leveraged significant opportunities for HR departments by a few notches up to from a HR department of doing routine department (carrying our routine HR jobs) to HR departments to get the job done in not only an acceptable way, but in an exceptional way.
Being a winning HR personal or an HR department need not be a complex process. Armed with some basic strategies, common sense and an ability to ask the right questions, HR professionals can quickly position their departments for long-term, strategic success and thus qualify themselves to sit in their respective Boards.