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Nobody Puts HR in a Corner! (The invaluable role of HR in organizational strategy)

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I know I’m dating myself, but I still get a little faint when I think of the scene in Dirty Dancing where Patrick Swayze comes into the room, finds Baby and says “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Although often overshadowed and overlooked, she was integral in executing the talent show, where she brought together the entertainment staff and the resort guests.

I can’t help but think that HR is often placed in the same role as Baby. Human Resources, the ambiguous partner to marketing and communications,  has always been a point of some confusion, as companies struggle to discover the best ways in which to utilize such a vague, although invaluable, function. I came across a post by which illustrates the need for HR to take action in not only conceiving but in actually implementing strategy, and offers a fantastic guide to help HR professionals in doing so.

In recent years, HR has proven itself especially useful in the innovative development of organizational strategy. The time has come, however, for Human Resource professionals to push past the strategy-development phase and put their plans into action. The implementation of strategy is a key element of business success, and HR authorities are uniquely positioned to pioneer the realization of such strategies.

Strategy, in order to be effective, must naturally be implemented. If a business is to change, people must drive the wheels of that change, and that is where HR’s true role comes into play. Regardless of an organization’s size, function, or ambition, there are certain steps to be taken which are all but essential to the implementation process.

Leaping the Hurdles of Change

Before HR professionals can work to implement strategy, they must first ascertain what obstacles presently exist to prevent the desired changes from occurring in their organization. HR can preempt many of their potential battles by anticipating and addressing some of the problems that will likely arise. As a general rule of thumb, there are five basic causes for strategy implementation failure, and from these causes stem ten or so foreseeable hurdles that HR management must endeavor to overcome. The core causes and their related issues are as follows:

Cause #1: Poor Coordination Within Management
1. Incongruous goals, opinions, and policies among upper-level executives can obstruct the cross-system cooperation required by the strategy.

Cause #2: Employees Aren’t Buying In
2. Employees within the company do not understand the strategy.
3. Employees feel no personal responsibility to fulfill the strategy. It’s possible they may feel that their efforts will be inconsequential in actually bringing about a change, or perhaps they are contemptuous of management.
4. Employees are impassive towards the execution of the strategy, and exert no enthusiasm in taking part.
5. Employees are uninspired by the overarching goals of the strategy.

Cause #3: Inadequate Change Within the Work Unit
6. Managers fail to direct the efforts of their work units towards conforming with the new strategy.
7. Managers’ styles and tactics undermine employee enthusiasm about the strategy.
8. Work proceeds as usual even within those units which the strategy requires to exhibit swift and considerable change.

Cause #4: Weak Inter-Departmental Collaboration
 9. There are insufficient processes employed to advance the collaboration between different operating and functional areas.

Cause #5: There Exists No Measurement of Progress
10. A method of measuring progress towards the desired goals is either deficient or else entirely absent. It is difficult, if not impossible, to tell what exactly is changing.

In order to establish which of these barriers to change will pose the most difficulty within a given organization, consider the following questions:

– “Which of these problems will most directly affect the achievement of our goals?”
– “If these problems persist, what kinds of challenges could result?”
– “If these problems are removed or reduced, what quantifiable business benefits will be yielded?”
– “Which of these problems comprises the most immediate, pressing issue?”
– “How can HR work to address these problems?”

In order to effectively implement strategy, HR leaders must take a proactive role in seeking out and carefully eradicating these various obstacles to change.

Strategy Implementation as a Social Issue

The art of strategy implementation is a symphony in three parts: the technical system, the business system, and the social system. The majority of management teams do a swell job of dovetailing their business processes with the newly-established strategy, and the benefits of cutting-edge technology typically fall into place – but the marriage of social system and strategy is far too often a rocky one. The human resource is fickle and complex, difficult to understand and, as a consequence, difficult to successfully manage. By working to improve human interactions, HR will, by extension, be working to improve the actual execution and use of the more straightforward technology and business processes.

The Four Key Jobs of HR

From a big-picture perspective, there are four vital tasks that all businesses must accomplish. These four jobs, when properly fulfilled, add up to the bare-bones work of strategy implementation, and they are:

1. Helping employees to understand the strategy.
Not only must employees understand the strategic direction itself, they must also comprehend the reason for the strategy, as well as the driving forces behind it. Employees are the cogs around which the gears of business turn. If the employees don’t understand where the strategy is headed, they will be incapable of realizing their full potential in aiding the strategy implementation.

2. Augmenting employee commitment to the strategy.
Changes in strategy mean changes for people on an individual level, and individual change tends to mean frustration, disappointment, and challenge. If an employee is going to put in any extra effort towards propelling a conceived strategy to fruition, he must genuinely be given to believe that, in the long run, the end product will be worth the difficult sacrifices made in order to implement the strategy.

3. Streamlining local effort with the strategy.
Though invariably all employees must be on board for understanding and committing to the strategy, this in and of itself is not enough. Implementing a strategy means legitimately changing work production. In order to achieve the business strategy, all off-strategy work must terminate and all on-strategy work must proceed with renewed urgency and dedication.

4. Inducing cross-system cooperation.
The final and most important step in strategy implementation is that of realigning departmental relationships within the system. Implementing strategy means carving deeper relationships between inter-dependent organizational units, such as sales and manufacturing, or customer service and distribution. This last job is as challenging as it is critical, because it demands that employees within discrete work units learn to share and interact across the traditional boundaries of their job descriptions.

This system of change as organized into four jobs is rather unique among most designs for strategic HR. Where many plans focus in on how HR can appeal to, motivate, and enrich the contribution of the individual, the Four Jobs system recognizes the work that must be done on all three tiers of organization, from the individual to the work unit to the department as a whole. Implementation of strategy is an all-encompassing procedure, demanding change at all levels of the business’s social system.

Having established that these four jobs form the core work of strategy implementation, the question now remains: exactly whose work is it? Certainly HR has a necessary role in helping the business to address each of these jobs, but it is not the place of HR to carry them all out. HR should follow its own initiative to complete those tasks it can, and a solid partnership with the executive line will see to the rest. Put simply, HR must establish itself as the driving force behind the strategy implementation effort.

Just think of Baby. She didn’t belong in the corner and neither does HR!

Original article: Human Resources Strategy Implementation,



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