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Strategic HR Partner – our role in developing the road map

When was the last time you sat down to plan a trip with your friend, your husband/wife or, your significant other? Do you recall the feeling of great satisfaction when you nailed – the what, the when and the where? Was there a feeling of relief when you realized you could stop worrying about the details and start focussing on the journey? Developing the road map for your vacation is similar in many ways to developing the road map for your organization. Once you have the road map it is easier to become engaged and excited about your journey as you understand where you are going; what’s the purpose; what’s the timeline; and what you need to do to have a successful and enjoyable trip.

Why is it then when we mention strategic planning we often get skepticism and a fear that the senior leaders will go away for 2 days and come back with a great “bonding experience” but no real direction? Unfortunately, more often than not, the executives come back with a very well-crafted document authored by the consultant that sits on a shelf. Although most senior managers know the plan exists, no one seems to know the details and they have most likely not communicated it to their people. Recently I received a call from a client that expressed frustration that they had spent 2.5 days in a strategic planning session but had no idea what they needed to be focussed on – there was no roadmap for the Board or Senior Management. We spent another half day with the Executives mapping out the journey and creating the road map.

What’s involved in creating the road map and what role as HR Practitioners can we have in the process? I like to remind myself that we have and can play a pivotal role – we are people experts but we also know business. The road map is created through facilitation and ensuring that people throughout the organization contribute. Full engagement of the organization and people working together is critical. It is management that will champion the journey and engaged staff who will ensure delivery to the outcomes. If you don’t get your Board, Senior Management and staff engaged the journey will stall; there will be second questioning on the destination and expenses will escalate as misalignment will create inefficiencies and you may lose some of your passengers – your people. Engagement is one of our core strengths as HR Practitioners – why wouldn’t we step up and contribute in this process!

Steps in the Process

Information Gathering: Similar to the process of vacation planning an important first step in developing the road map is to gather information. Suggest to your Senior Management group that prior to the strategic planning session they do an environmental scan of their respective areas – this is what we often refer to as the Departmental SWOT analysis. Identifying the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats from a department perspective will provide excellent input to the strategic plan and it will also engage the organization. Encourage them to gather their teams and involve staff in the analysis. Make sure to coach your Senior Managers to explain the bigger picture to staff, specifically, to explain why input is being gathered and what will be the outcome. Make it clear to staff that the information is for input to the strategic planning process and that, although ideas will be moved forward for consideration, there should be no expectation that all ideas will be acted on. Managing staff expectations is important. Remind your Senior Managers to take this time to speak to mission, vision and values of the organization with their respective team. Senior Management should be reminded to assure staff that following the Strategic Planning session with the Board they will come back and discuss and share the road map that is developed.

Planning the Strategic Session: To the extent you have influence, encourage the Leader of your organization to discuss with the Board the importance of including the Senior Management Team in the strategic planning session. Speak to the importance of advancing the ideas from the departmental SWOT and providing an opportunity for management to bring forward the ideas from staff and front line. Suggest, as the People Manager, that you also be a part of this process as you have the people perspective which will be critical to the execution of the strategy. You are the coach to the organization on effective communication and engagement and the expert on retention and attraction of talent – all of which are key and critical to your organizational strategy.

Planning the session requires good conversation around expectation and outcomes and a well develop agenda. Preparing pre-reading and homework material should be part of the planning and will include summaries of the departmental SWOT analysis, financial information and other stakeholder feedback. Making certain that pre-reading material is circulated a week in advance is important and all participants in the strategy session should be reminded that material provided in the pre-read will not be extensively reviewed in the session, and as such, they need to make certain they have read and digested the information prior to the session. Participants need to come prepared to discuss the pre-read material and ask any relevant questions that will assist in developing the future road map. Your role can be the coach, which will involve preparing and mentoring the management team as they engage their staff and prepare for the session.

Facilitating the Session: Who should facilitate your organization’s strategic planning session? Should you as the HR Practitioner and an expert on engagement and people? I wouldn’t recommend it. You need to participate, but not facilitate. Your Board Chair and the CEO or Leader need to decide together the skill set they want in a facilitator and then interview at least 2 potential candidates and select the one that closely matches the skills they deem necessary for facilitating a successful session.

The facilitator should bring a collaborative approach to your facilitation whereby they meet with Senior Management and members of the Board prior to the session to understand the personal dynamics and also the major business opportunities and challenges. The role of the facilitator is to lead the development of the agenda; to ensure that during the session discussion remains focussed on moving forward to achieve the outcomes; and that all parties are heard and have a voice in the session.

Outcomes for the Session: A successful strategy session will have addressed mission, vision and values; analyzed results from an organizational SWOT based on input from the environmental scan; identified key strategic priorities that are achievable over a 3 – 5 year period; established goals for each strategic priority; identified outcomes that are measurable; and assign accountability (who will move the goals forward). The strategy will identify Board and Senior Management accountability; the Board will be responsible for governance related items and providing oversight whereas the Senior Management Team will be accountable for operational items. Work does not end at the end of the strategy session. Both the Board and Senior Management will need to develop action plans to successfully implement aspects of the strategy that they are accountable for. The Board will take the governance and oversight items and build them into a work plan that Board Committees will be responsible for. Senior Management will leave the session and plan to put together the Operational Plan to align with the strategy.

The HR Practioner’s Role after the Strategy Session: Returning to the office after a Strategy Session is always a time of excitement and interest to staff. They know management have been away and they are curious to the outcomes. As HR Practioners we need to coach our management team to gather their team in a timely manner and share as much as they can of the session. This is particularly important if you engaged your team in preparing for the session, but regardless, this follow up and communication is an important step that is often over looked. A quick debrief session should be held to share the strategic priorities and the goals.

Work will need to begin on developing the Operational Plan and each department should own a portion of the plan. Department goals and objectives will be set based on the strategic goals and this will ensure alignment and engagement of staff as they begin to see how their roles contribute to the departmental and organizational success. Offer assistance to your departmental leaders in facilitating the departmental meetings and facilitate building the departmental operational plans. Meet with your own department to make sure they understand HR’s alignment to the strategy and develop your own goals that will engage your staff in the organizational strategy.

Human Resources has an important role to play in developing the organizational road map. Have confidence in your ability as people experts who know the business. Suggest to your leaders that you would like to be involved – and step forward as the HR Strategic Partner.

If you would like further information on planning a Strategy Session for your business, or if you would like to discuss how Salopek & Associates  can support in facilitating your session, contact us anytime. With Calgary Human Resource Consultants on our team specialized in Strategic Planning we would be happy to discuss the role we can play to help maximize engagement and alignment and ensure your strategy session results in a clear road map ahead for your organization.


This article was originally featured in the CPHR Alberta’s HUMAN Capital magazine. Check it out for more great articles specific to Strategic HR.

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