The rise of strategic HR represents a growing trend for proactive, innovative, long-term Human Resources planning. The opportunities are huge — both commercially and culturally. But strategic HR is inherently more complicated and nuanced than the ‘traditional’ models of the past.
Moving to a more strategic role means that HR managers are having to take on a far wider range of responsibilities — and carry a broader portfolio. It makes sense then that the tools and processes managers leant on in the past simply won’t cut it for today’s next-generation HR teams.
And that’s okay. After all, HR tools have been evolving and adapting since the very beginning of an HR practice.
From military beginnings...
As with so many technological and social developments, the earliest HR management processes were developed to support the military. Military forces required a detailed understanding of leadership, recruitment, and training — not that dissimilar from how some businesses are still run today!
Military leaders quickly understood the value of small teams, clear hierarchies, and specialization; all still essential in modern HR methods. Although these techniques originated in military circles, they have since been adapted into all manner of different sectors, including the creative industries, with frameworks like Scrum and Agile.
The next seismic change in human resources came with the Industrial Revolution, as large numbers of rural workers moved to the city, drawn in by factory work. For factory owners, HR was primarily about ensuring compliance with safety legislation — and the ‘Health and Safety’ handbooks we all still need to read and sign today are seen by some as an over-cautious hangover from this era!
As legislation started to limit working hours and increase workers’ rights, savvy factory managers realized that employee satisfaction and productivity were closely correlated. Having a department designed to monitor factors related to employee performance and wellbeing became a competitive advantage.
And thus the HR department, sort of as we know it today, was born.
… to a more meaningful future
The worst thing you can do in business is stand still. Companies are characterized by a need to innovate, develop, and find new, productivity-boosting ways of working. In many ways, asking why HR has moved to a more strategic role is the wrong question. It might be more appropriate to ask why did it take so long?
If we go back to the first HR departments during the industrial revolution, there was almost no drive to find individuals who excelled. Recruitment wasn’t about locating the best talent, but rather more about filling gaps to keep the factory line moving.
The HR tools of the time would have been workforce ledgers, payroll books, accident reports… and likely little more.
The economy, and the workplace, have changed since — thankfully! As employee’s roles have become more specialized and meaningful, the value of each individual team member has increased. As our ability to gather and process workforce insights has evolved, so too has our ability to offer data-driven solutions. And in doing so, HR has matured from aiming to avoid problems to driving growth — from counting heads to creating impact.
Combining strategy and talent management through meaningful conversation
The words “strategy”, “management”, and “human resources” together may sound a little too close to HR’s military roots to be seen as radical and inspiring. But the military plotting table is a far cry from what we’re talking about with strategic HR.
People aren’t pawns — every HR manager knows that. But, in fact, strategic HR moves the dial in terms of what some of us may consider “people management” in the first place.
Strategic HR isn’t just about having the right people in the right place at the right time. Strategic HR is about leading and driving change, working to enhance the culture and values of our organization. Rather than deploying human resources (again, another word with military provenance!), strategic HR helps talent to grow and develop — increasing the overall value of our workforce and company.
Being explicit about the strategy behind HR policies and projects can have a dramatic impact on performance. Staff feel engaged and important, and are able to really see the value they’re bringing. Thinking strategically — even about something as everyday as conversation — can open up avenues for progress and improvement.
Every strategic HR policy or decision needs meaningful communication to translate it into action. Here at Duuoo, we specialize in creating tools to help facilitate those conversations — helping strategic HR managers to roll out, monitor, and gain feedback on their ideas and initiatives.
The best strategy-backed conversations open up the most important topics and themes for discussion. Duuoo’s next-generation management platform encourages leaders to shape conversations around strategic themes and introduce relevant topics. This kind of framework naturally leads to focused goal-setting and ensures all actions relate directly to key strategic objectives — without losing the human element, of course.
To be effective, strategic conversations need to be followed up with meaningful action. Duuoo also provides a streamlined process to extract robust data about how our teams are actually performing, and how they feel about the changes we are implementing.
The strategic HR manager’s toolkit — here’s what you need to know
Whether you’re just beginning to explore strategic HR, or you’ve been driving the emerging agenda for years, you need the right tools at your disposal.
What do we need to put in place to be effective HR leaders?
A strategic HR plan
Moving towards a strategic HR management approach requires buy-in from stakeholders at all levels, particularly C-suite leaders.
Having a strategic HR plan that dovetails with the overall business plan demonstrates the power and value of a strategic HR approach. Each will drive the other, will be owned by the entire leadership team, and be seen as essential to success.
A strategic HR plan then needs to be fully integrated into all areas of the business. Opening up conversations across your organization can uncover hidden insights into strategic HR priorities.
Robust retention and reward strategies
As HR moves into a more strategic role, organizations will be investing more in the training and development of their talent. This investment needs to be matched with an increased focus on retention and rewarding success.
Today’s talent can be motivated just as much by satisfaction as by remuneration and benefits — if not more. Ensuring that our employees are heard will be imperative to keep team members happy and engaged. Open, inclusive conversations across the organization allow everyone to make a meaningful contribution and create strategic results.
Meaningful performance management
Despite their widespread use, annual appraisals have developed a poor reputation, particularly among Millennials and Gen Z employees. For the strategic HR leader, performance management needs to continuous — focused on supporting and developing talent in micro and macro ways, and offering meaningful yet frequent opportunities for growth.
Strategic hiring tools
How far ahead does your organization look when making hiring decisions? 1 year? 3 years? 5 years? Traditional HR approaches are inherently reactive, meaning that hiring decisions are made to solve a current crisis or fill a sudden need — and not because of anticipated growth or emerging market developments.
A strategic HR manager is constantly discussing with leaders across their organization to align hiring decisions with the skills that will be needed in the future as well as in the current moment. Having a strategic, horizon-facing hiring approach also encourages team leaders to actively train and develop their existing team members — reducing churn and creating a future-proofed workforce who can stay for the long haul.
Strategic HR is complicated, nuanced, and rewarding. To be effective, it is based on open conversations and making the most of the insights gathered. Duuoo is leading the way in next-generation tools to facilitate these kinds of meaningful conversations that can drive change within your organization. Try it for yourself today.