5 Steps to Strategic Thinking – Shattering HR Strategy Misconceptions
by Angie Rupp
“Strategy; be strategic; think more strategically . . .” as HR professionals, how often do you hear the word “strategic” thrown around? If you don’t hear it at the office, I would bet my life you hear it at SHRM events. Everyone says it because everyone wants HR to be more strategic. Unfortunately, the problem I’ve found—through my many educational webinars and the multitude of meetings I’ve attended and spoken at—is that you don’t need to be reminded to think more strategically at every turn. What you really need is a set of tools to take with you in the “real world” to practice what is preached. At the end of the day, talk is cheap, right? Eventually, after hearing the same tired speech over and over again, efforts to convince you that taking a more strategic approach is beneficial to both your career and your organization’s success feels like a conversation between Charlie Brown and his teacher. I know you can relate.
Business words and phrases function a lot like everything else in our culture – they become trendy
We all feel that sense of doom and heaviness when someone expects something of us, and continues to remind us, but we don’t really understand the nitty gritty details of what they want or where to start to make it happen. Instead of thriving in our careers, we simply survive. We scratch the surface of our potential by avoiding the dreaded question “What exactly do you mean by that?” so as not to appear weak, but we’re also terrified of disappointing . . . well, anyone.
Why are these business buzz words so elusive? Is it because people in the corporate world understand they’re important but don’t completely grasp why they’re important or how to effectively implement them into their daily routine? Yes, I think that plays a role. Business words and phrases function a lot like everything else in our culture – they become trendy. We say them because everyone else says them and they eventually become so diluted that they lose their impact. While I definitely think these factors contribute to the mystery surrounding “business management and strategy,” I believe there’s more to the story. This tidbit is responsible for painting a one-dimensional picture of HR. Strategic analysis happens intuitively for most people in executive positions, which hinders their ability to do the basics like describe what it means, much less teach another to analyze problems strategically. Think of it like the cloud; that mysterious and magical place efficiently and effectively managing most of our companies’ infrastructures. Do the majority of us know what it is? No, not really. We know it exists and that we want it. To the handful of people that understand not only what it is but how it functions I guarantee that they struggle to articulate its essence to “laymen” because it’s complicated and in a lot of ways, more theoretical than tangible. Strategic analysis is similar.
Now, the good news about strategy relative to business is that it can be taught, and with a little bit of practice it can become second nature, but don’t ever expect to master it completely because it’s one of those skillsets that evolves with the pulse of ever-changing business. The five guidelines outlined below should make the process run a bit more smoothly, and may even give you something tangible to share with peers.
1. Focus on the Long-Term
When you’re completely overwhelmed and feel as though you’re running from one wildfire into the next, focusing on the long term can get really tricky, but that’s exactly why it’s so vital to strategy. Your first thought whenever strategy pops onto the scene should always be business. You should ask yourself, “How will this decision affect the organization in the long-term?” This may seem overly simplistic, but if you’re willing to take a step outside of your everyday bubble laden with deadlines and to-dos, it quickly becomes obvious the majority of your energy at work is spent focusing only on tomorrows. “What do I need to get done today so I can avoid trouble tomorrow?” Trust me, this isn’t simply an HR thing. This theme is one that pervades all of existence whether it’s parenting, dental appointments, or dishes; sometimes we have to do the bare minimum to stay afloat. Unfortunately, businesses can’t afford that mentality otherwise they’d fall to ruins. The key to balance is to not allow it to become habit. There will be some days that demand tomorrow’s attention, but those days should be outnumbered by bigger, more long-term goals that will positively impact your organization as a whole.
2. Focus on Your Organization’s Goals
I could easily label this point 1a because it’s so closely tied to the first objective, but since our focus is providing you with a foundational roadmap for business strategy, let’s keep moving. To illustrate the importance of this point, let me ask you a question: what are your company’s goals for the next year? Five years? Ten years? You may have rolled your eyes at me and grumbled something under your breath to the effect of, “I’m HR; it’s not my job to know that.” Well my friend, you’re dead wrong. Every single department is impacted by the goals of their organization and if these goals were understood it would be a whole heap easier to get funding for anything – whether you need something more costly like an HR admin to help lighten your load, or you want something inexpensive to streamline your hiring like an ATS . . . if you understand the goals of your business, and you frame your conversations with executives to include them, people will listen and you’ll get what you need. That brings me to my next point.
3. Align HR’s Goals with the Strategic Vision of the Company
Again, let’s start with a question. What is your company’s vision? This piggybacks your company’s goals but it penetrates a little deeper. I like to think of vision as a gauge, because it helps to remind us what we do that works, and what we do that doesn’t work, but it also provides some boundaries so we don’t get sucked into the “change everything” vortex. Think of your company as a person; who does your company want to be? What type of person does it aspire to be like? Most often, you’ll find the answer to those questions in your organization’s vision outline. Mirror your department after the vision of your company. If you understand who your company wants to be, then you understand the type of people you need to hire in order contribute to that vision and you understand the type of employee you need to be in order to thrive.
4. Deliver Results that Matter to Business
Once you understand the ecosystem of your business, you can provide solutions and drive results that align with your business’s goals. Although this seems like the most difficult piece of the puzzle, really, it’s the easiest when you finally understand what’s expected of you. The more difficult aspect is getting to know your company because you have to ask questions and you have to make yourself vulnerable. I can promise you that the journey to uncovering who your company is will be far more beneficial to your career and your growth as an HR person than an entire year of SHRM events. I realize it’s a bold claim, but this style of thinking is what matters to businesses. It’s what builds strategic credibility, raises salaries, and connects you to decision-makers.
5. Play a Vital Role in Big Decisions
If you’ve made it this far, all the groundwork you’ve laid with the previous four points takes care of this objective. After you have a solid understanding of your company’s goals long term, and you’ve married your goals as HR professionals with your business’s vision, you can’t help but positively influence success and growth, so I congratulate you on finally securing your seat at the elusive table.
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