HR’s role in Strategy Execution

This is an occasional blog on subjects pertaining to leadership, strategy, coaching, leadership development, and everything in between. You can sign up using the form at the left/below. © 2016 McKnight-Kaney.

In our book, Leading Strategy Execution, we describe the key roles that HR not only can but must play to ensure successful execution of business strategy. Throughout the book, we reiterate the fact that successful execution can only happen if people are informed, aligned, motivated, committed and accountable for understanding and implementing their work in line with strategic priorities. This is simple to say, but we all know that is anything but! So let’s go a bit further than what’s covered in the book on HR’s role in implementing strategy.

HR often talks about and seeks to be “strategic business partners” which is both true and necessary if the workforce is to be enabled to deal with change and direct their work toward strategic business priorities. HR must be an enabler of strategy and a facilitator of change if strategy is to be achieved. It all starts (and ends, sometimes abruptly!) with HR’s credibility as business people.

A current client, VP HR of a specialty chemicals company, asked us to assist him and the CEO in aligning the HR strategy with the emerging, and transformational, business strategy. This executive had the foresight to begin the planning and alignment of the HR strategy in anticipation of the emerging business strategy. The business strategy called for sweeping changes in organization structure, talent acquisition and management, workforce realignment and leadership capability. Because the HR executive already had a close working relationship with his CEO, he has always been “at the table” during discussions about strategy and its many implications for both the marketplace and the organization.

In short, this HR leader “got it.” We were impressed that during the first hour or so of our initial meeting, he never once mentioned HR, but instead spoke articulately, even passionately about the business. When he turned attention to the organization and workforce, he thought and spoke about how to engage and motivate employees to achieve specific and bold new strategic goals and objectives.

Then he spoke about how he views his role, in metaphor, as a “four legged stool.” To him, it has the following components:

1.     Deeply know and be able to translate business and strategic priorities to the workforce.

2.     Be a genuine business partner with managers as well as his HR cadre—not just in the C suite, but line managers and HR staffs in business operations as well.

3.     Function as a “pulse-taker” (his term) and advocate for employees and a conduit from the workforce to leadership.

4.     Serve as a “strategic architect” (again, his term), operating as the primary designer of the organization structure, and key driver behind the development of the required leadership competencies and workforce performance capabilities.

Most remarkable was the fact that he virtually obsessed over how line managers led and developed employees. He travelled extensively to field facilities to “take the temperature” of the local organizational culture(s) and to assess leaders. As importantly, he took it upon himself to serve, and to have HR staff serve, as “evangelists” (again, his term) for the business strategy, helping managers to translate strategy into their language and functions, new objectives and design of work. In this regard he performed a key HR role, which we call “keeping the top connected with the shop.”

From these perspectives he was able to collaborate proactively with the CEO and top team in formulating business strategy, coaching leaders on the imperatives for execution through alignment and focused work of the employees, and anticipating and managing the significant changes involved in strategy execution. In our view, this example defines the meaning of HR as a strategic business partner in strategy execution.

Lessons learned:

·       Know the business from the perspective of both the C suite and line managers.

·       Anticipate business needs and strategic priorities- be proactive in devising HR strategy to fulfill business Goals.

·       Create close and trusting partnerships with key leaders-know how they think, not just what’s on their minds.

·       Keep a ‘pulse’ on the organization and workforce-serve as a balanced advocate for employees and managers

·       Be an activist for change, but not an agitator!