Introducing the Steps on How to Develop an HR Strategic Plan

AdobeStock_103199139The HR function in any organization has a great opportunity to connect to and add measurable value to the bottom line of the business. Developing an HR Strategic Plan is a difficult and complex undertaking but one that will be well worth the effort in establishing HR as an important and valuable function of the organization.

Since the ability of an organization to establish and maintain a competitive edge depends almost entirely on the quality of their workforce and the people management processes, being able to develop an effective HR Strategic Plan is crucial to the financial success of the organization.

There are six steps involved in developing an HR Strategic Plan that I’m listing below and will review much more in-depth in the following several weeks/months.

The six steps are:

  1. Determine and communicate a Vision, Mission Statement, and Value Statement for the HR function. These three things will assist the HR function in identifying and distinguishing itself to the organization’s leadership and employees.
  2. Conduct an external and internal environmental scan of the organization in order to identify opportunities and threats that might affect the organization in the future. Understanding how these opportunities and threats might affect the organization in the future is critical to creating an effective strategic plan.
  3. Establish and align HR strategies and goals in order to provide the direction that will guide the organization towards achieving its long term objectives.
  4. Develop action plans and assign accountabilities designed towards moving the planning process from the long term to the shorter term goals necessary to achieve the strategic goals.
  5. Execute the plan and monitor its progress in order to ensure that the plan stays on track. HR is responsible for developing, communicating and supporting the HR strategy implementation with the responsibility of actually implementing it residing with the line managers. Changes may be necessary with shifts in the business environment.
  6. Evaluate the plan’s results by measuring the success of the HR initiatives and identify things that worked or didn’t work. The evaluation establishes the foundation for additional HR strategic and business plans.

An organization’s HR strategy should never be separate from its overall business strategy. It should always be an integral part of all the organization’s strategies that require people to implement them, obviously. It requires HR’s thorough understanding of the organization’s business. With that understanding, HR programs and practices can be identified that will help the organization successfully execute its strategy.

The HR strategy must be externally aligned with the business plan in addition to being internally aligned for the HR programs and practices to support and complement one another. And in order for any HR strategy to be successful, HR must build relationships with, and gain the support of, the line managers who will ultimately be responsible for carrying out the HR practices and ensuring the success of the HR strategy.

That’s this week’s brief introduction of the steps on how to develop an HR strategic plan. In the coming weeks, I am excited to explore each of these steps much more in depth.

Effectively Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Do the Blocking and Tackling

Since sexual harassment is currently such a big issue these days, I’m going to talk about the tools I’ve effectively developed and used over the years.  I’m writing this in November of 2017 and you can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or read anything online without learning about some high profile politician, media personality, or famous celebrity being accused of some form of sexual harassment.

What frustrates me is how it has become such a “popular” thing to expose all of a sudden.  If we are being honest with ourselves, we all already knew this kind of behavior has been going on for years but nobody ever did anything about it.  At the highest level possible, we had a two term President in the 90’s who we all knew engaged in it.  And we now have a current President who was recorded bragging about it before winning the election. We also all knew about the infamous “casting couch” in Hollywood which has been around since the 1920s and probably even earlier. 

I’m frustrated that our society tolerated it for so long.

It’s about time that women are finally feeling comfortable about coming forward with their stories of harassment. There is no place for sexual harassment in our workplace and private lives. Never has been and never will be.

While all of the stories, so far, have been from women, and I fully recognize that most of the victims are going to be women,  I’m waiting to hear some men start coming forward telling their stories of how they were harassed – it happens to all genders, in every industry, in every socioeconomic status, etc.

In fact, two of my three biggest sexual harassment investigations were with women as the instigators.  So I know it’s only a matter of time before we hear about a woman politician, media personality, or celebrity harassing a subordinate. Let’s not forget how many female teachers, a female dominated profession, are being caught having sex with their male underage students. So it cuts both ways. Both men and women can be deviant creeps.

So how do we stop sexual harassment?  I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how the old traditional ways of dealing with it – an up-to-date policy, training, and investigate quickly and fairly to all complaints – no longer work.  That we must do something different to put an end to it, things like promoting more women and  implementing predictive analytics!

There is no easy solution and, sadly, no matter what we do, sexual harassment will never end.  It is, unfortunately, part of human nature.  Harassment, sexual and other types, have been around since the beginning of time and will be around until the end of time.

The only way to deal with it from an HR standpoint, in my opinion and experience, is to effectively and consistently do the basic blocking and tackling of having a strong and updated policy, conduct training annually and during onboarding, and conducting quick and fair investigations.  

I’ve had a lot of experience handling sexual harassment complaints and investigations.  And I can say that by effectively executing the basics I listed above is the best way of slowing it down and keeping it under control.  It creates a culture that clearly demonstrates that sexual harassment is not tolerated in the workplace and will be quickly addressed.

I have three steps of a Harassment Policy process that I find work best.

First, during onboarding,while reviewing the employee handbook, I stress that there is no tolerance of sexual or any other type of harassment  in our workplace.

When setting up the employee handbook, I make sure the policy is the first one listed so as to emphasize it’s importance. I also make sure I review it, along with our legal council and/or an employment lawyer, at least once every two years (I would do it right now regardless of when it was done earlier because of the current high profile cases in the media) to ensure it’s up to date. It’s also good to make sure the policy is written in plain english, not in legal handbookese that nobody understands.

Make sure each employee’s signee Acknowledgement of Receipt is in their file so there’s evidence that you reviewed the important policies with them.

Second, later in the onboarding schedule, I have a Harassment Training  session.  I will conduct either a live presentation or show them a video depending on the size of the onboarding class. I have two compliance trainings during onboarding, Harassment Prevention and Drug and Alcohol Prevention, and this again emphasizes the importance of our policy by putting such a primary focus on it during their onboarding. AION Recovery Rehab Center provides professional care in this respect.

I also have two mandatory annual all-hands Harassment Prevention training sessions, one for the general employee population and one for the supervisors and managers. I require managers and supervisors to attend the general employee population session so they are seen by all employees to be part of and fully supportive of the process. This also emphasizes to the managers the importance of the policy.

Each of these training sessions has a quiz that I require each employee to take and turn in after we review the answers. This gives you a document for their file that they’ve attended the training session and interacted by taking the quiz. Also make sure the employees sign an attendance sheet and file those sheets with your training materials.

Third and finally, when a complaint is received, I immediately jump into action and start an investigation. I once drove five hours from my office in Denver, CO to a remote location in central Wyoming the same day I received a complaint and immediately started the investigation. I stayed there for two days to interview people, have discussions with management, decide on proper corrective action, communicate our conclusion to affected employees, and conclude the investigation.

I then write up a final report documenting the process of my investigation, who I spoke to and what was said, my conversations with management, and the results of the final decision and corrective action taken.  This document goes into the accused’s file and I like to have a copy in a separate investigation file with other investigations I conducted.  

As you can see, I will always drop what I’m doing and immediately start an investigation when I get a harassment complaint because harassment is the most toxic workplace situation. It creates all sorts of serious legal, morale, productivity, ethical, safety, and many other similar problems. Problems that I can head off if I address the complaint immediately.

While it’s important to keep the investigation as confidential as possible while on site, we all know that the grapevine will communicate why you’re there and what you are doing.  Employees will see the corrective action and understand why.

This final step of a quick and fair investigation followed by the appropriate corrective action, if warranted, sends the strongest message possible to employees that harassment is not tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly. And it only really takes one or two instances to send a clear message and make a positive impact on the culture.

Now, remember, these steps will not completely eliminate harassment but they will go a long way in significantly reducing it to the point there will only be a few cases.  

But you have to do the day in and day out blocking and tackling consistently in order to minimize harassment and keep your company culture one that makes it clear it’s not tolerated.

Workplace Harassment and Bullying at My Old High School


NCHS Staff meeting “Welcome Back” skit

You would think high school teachers and administrators, of all people, would know better!  You would also think a relatively large school district would do much better with the anti harassment and anti bullying training for their staff.

In my hometown of Casper, WY, at my high school alma mater, Natrona County High School,  there has been an ongoing controversy over a recent skit that was performed welcoming back school staff and introducing new staff at the beginning of the 2014 school year.

I have provided the recording of the skit here on this post and invite you to watch it.  I remind you, this was performed by high school administrators and teachers for other teachers, administrators, and staff on the school premises and during work hours.

What is so shocking to me about what I saw in the video is the sexual content and bullying.  They joke about masturbation, they “jokingly” called teachers serial killers and sexual offenders, suggested one was drunk, made fun of a new art teacher for being dumb,  mock another teacher’s poor teeth, offer a female teacher a set of testicles, do the “ugly” cheer for one teacher, and finally, physically grope a male administrator.

Publically humiliating new employees in front of their peers is not a good onboarding practice.

It’s shocking to me that these teachers/administrators thought it was OK to perform this skit.  It was something a bunch of high school kids would put together.  These are the ADULTS at the school.

They had obviously put a lot of time into writing and practicing the skit.  While they were writing and practicing, it didn’t occur to them that they were being grossly inappropriate?  What in the world made them think it was acceptable to behave the way they did in the workplace on school property?

It wasn’t a simple accidental comment or a momentary lapse in judgment – heck we’ve all been guilty of that.  Instead, it was a deliberately scripted and practiced performance.  It was deliberate and  mean and people shouldn’t have to put up with these behaviors , especially in the workplace.

These are people we entrust to educate and counsel our high school kids.  They are supposed to be role models.

The two “cheerleaders” in the skit are obviously leaders at the school.  With them being leaders, it shows that the culture in the school is one that is tolerant of bullying and harassment.  According to an earlier article this type of initiation has been going on for some time.  Regardless, it is unacceptable workplace behavior now and should have been in the past.

I commend the school district for immediately addressing the situation and bringing in an outside investigator.  The investigator concluded that “Natrona County High School administrators created an offensive educational environment and used language and actions that amounted to sexual harassment during a skit.”

The principle resigned shortly after the skit was made public.  Although he had nothing to do with the planning and wasn’t present during the skit, he accepted full responsibility.  I find it difficult to believe he didn’t know the content of these welcome back skits as they have been going on for years.  I think he did the right thing by resigning.  He knew he should have put a stop to it long ago. He is also responsible for the culture in the school which was clearly tolerant of coworker bullying and harassment.  No employees were fired over the skit but they were disciplined.

So bottom line, immediate action was taken and discipline was administered to the appropriate people.  Now the district leadership and HR department need to make sure they create a climate that no longer allows this type of behavior.  They also need to re-visit their anti-harassment and anti-bullying training to determine if it is adequate and make it so if it is not.

Their actions, so far, are a good start.

Spot on Article: “Why Policies Don’t Work” – Heather Bussing

This morning, I came across this post from Heather Bussing blogging at HR Examiner.  The post explains
why policies don’t work and is spot on.

Here is my favorite quote from the article.

If you don’t have policies, then two things happen. You actually have to teach people what to do and how to do it. But wait, you’re supposed to do that anyway.

I strongly believe good management eliminates the need for most policies but there are far too many weak and poorly trained managers.  They rely heavily on the HR Department and HR policies rather than do the hard work of effectively managing their people.

I always resist the request from a manager to write a policy to address a situation they are dealing with.  I strongly encourage them to actually train/coach/develop/manage their people.  In other words. to teach them what to do and how to do it as Heather Bussing says.

This brings me to another excellent quote from the article.

…you have to take responsibility for your decisions. Somebody has to say, “I looked at the situation and made the best call for the employee and the company based on the circumstances.” It may be the line manager, or the VP of HR or the CEO. Maybe everyone involved. But that is the right thing to do.

Fire people who don’t work out for the reasons it’s not working out. Reward people who are doing a great job.

Managers need to have the confidence and courage to take responsibility for their decisions and not lean on a policy for every conceivable situation.  We pay our managers to deal with these difficult management situations and we should expect them to act like managers.

Hard Hat Policy on Policies

I don’t believe in changing a policy that is not being followed with the intention that the change will alter the bad conduct or behavior.

I do believe in enforcing the policy by managing the people who are not following it through coaching and, if appropriate, disciplinary action.

Employer FMLA Coverage and Employee FMLA Eligibility

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) became law in 1993 and entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid and job protected  leave in a 12 month period for specific family and medical reasons.  The law has been expanded several times to include various additions of military related leave which I intend on covering in a future post.

The FMLA has two rules that must be met before an employer must offer FMLA leave. Employer coverage and employee eligibility.

My intent is to explain the difference between an employer’s FMLA coverage and the employee’s FMLA eligibility because there can be some confusion in how they are applied.

For an employer to meet FMLA coverage requirements they must have 50 or more employees on their payroll during 20 or more nonconsecutive calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.  The definition of an employee for FMLA coverage purposes is full or part time and must appear on the payroll on any workday during a week.  Seems pretty simple.

The confusion starts when we take a look at FMLA employee eligibility.  While the employer might meet coverage requirements, the employee may not meet eligibility requirements.

To be eligible, the employee must:

  • Be employed by the employer for at least 12 nonconsecutive months
  • Worked 1,250 hours during the 12 month period prior to requesting FMLA leave
  • Worked at a location in the United States where the employer employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles

The first two eligibility requirements are simple and easy to understand but the third is what can cause confusion.  Put simply, an employer may meet FMLA coverage requirements by having 50+ employees but those 50+ employees may be in several locations 75+ miles apart. The employees of this employer would, therefore, not meet the eligibility requirements and not be covered by the FMLA.  Another example would be an employer meets the coverage requirement, has one location with 50+ employees and several other locations with less than 50 employees and are 75+ miles apart.  Here, the employees at the location with 50+ employees would be eligible while the employees at the other locations would not.  An employer can offer FMLA coverage to those employees who are technically ineligible because of their location for policy consistency and to maintain positive employee relations but they are not required to.

FLSA Computer Employee Exemption

The FLSA provides an exemption from both the Federal minimum wage and overtime for computer systems analysts, computer programmers, software engineers and other similarly skilled workers in the computer field who meet certain tests regarding their job duties and their pay.

To qualify for the exemption for computer employees, the following tests must be met:

  • Compensation must be not less that $455 per week or $27.63 an hour;
  • Must be employed as a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer and other similarly skilled worker in the computer field;
  • Primary duty* must consist of one of the following four categories:

1.  Application of systems analysis techniques and procedures;
2.  Design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing or modification if computer                           systems or programs;
3.  Design, documentation, testing, creation, or modification of computer programs related to                             operating systems;
4.  Combination of any of these duties.

*Primary duty is defined as the principal, main, or most important duty that the employee performs and is determined based on all the facts of a particular case with the major emphasis on the character of the employee’s job as a whole.

This is re-posted from

Know What to do With a Pregnant Employee

Here are some important guidelines to consider when working with a pregnant employee:
  • Any employer with 15 or more employees is covered by state and federal pregnancy and disability discrimination laws.  These laws require that the employer does not discriminate against a pregnant employee and that reasonable accommodations be made if the pregnancy becomes complicated and results into a situation that turns into a disability like gestational diabetes.
  • A reasonable accommodation is something an employer can do to help the employee do their work without creating an undue hardship on the employer. They can include light duty, temporary reassignment, unpaid leave, disability leave, or temporary job redesign, etc.
  • In order to avoid claims of discrimination, employers must ensure that employees are not adversely treated due to their pregnancy.  Reasonable accommodations and the same benefits should be made to the pregnant employee as are made to other employees who have a temporary disability.  Pregnant employees should be treated the same as other employees with medical conditions – the do not need to be treated better and definitely should not be treated worse.
  •  If the employee claims she cannot do certain job duties because of her pregnancy, the employer has the right to ask her to medically document her claims.  The employer should ask the employee to have her doctor provide a statement of what job duties she can perform, what duties she cannot perform, and what accommodations may be needed for her to perform her job.  It is important to remember that this requirement should be applied to all employees with a temporary disability.
  • It is also important to follow medical information rather than what company managers think is appropriate or too risky regarding a pregnant employee’s job duties.  (see UAW, et al, v. Johnson Controls).
This takes care of what to do when you are first working with a pregnant employee.  The next step will be what to do with maternity leave which I will cover in the future.
Here is more information from the EEOC regarding pregnancy.

Harassment in the Workplace

To me, one of the more frustrating aspects of HR is dealing with harassment in the workplace.  Why people can’t just focus on doing their jobs without needing to harass a co-worker or direct report is simply incomprehensible to me.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1967, and the American Disabilities Act of 1990 define illegal workplace harassment when based on race, color, creed, ancestry, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, military service, disability, being over age 40, and arrest or conviction record.

Historically, sexual claims have been the main focus of most harassment claims but other forms of harassment are becoming more prevalent and employers are being held more accountable by the EEOC for all forms of unlawful harassment.

Sexual Harassment: Federal courts have consistently ruled that sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination.  The EEOC guidelines are available here.

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Hostile, Abusive and Degrading Behavior: Even though the workplace might be a hostile and abusive environment,  it is only illegal if based on one of the  protected categories listed above.  This harassment consists of verbal abuse, ridicule, mockery, insults, derogatory or sexually explicit language, swearing,  displaying offensive visual materials, and/or telling offensive jokes.

The EEOC recommends the following for an effective harassment prevention policy:

  • Clearly explain the prohibited conduct
  • Be in writing in plain language so that employees can easily understand
  • Protect those who complain from retaliation
  • Assure confidentiality for those who bring complaints
  • Clearly explain and describe complaint procedure
  • Ensure investigative procedure is prompt, thorough, and impartial
  • Assure immediate and appropriate corrective action
  • Provide periodic training to supervisors and employees
 By having a written policy, conducting training, conducting quick and thorough investigations, and administering appropriate corrective action will help create a workplace environment that does not tolerate illegal harassment.   It will also help reduce harassment that is not illegal which is important because I am certain most organizations don’t what any type of harassment occurring in their workplaces.

This is re-posted from

Substance Abuse in the Workplace Part 3 – How to Deal With Substance Abuse

We will now deal with how to deal with substance abuse since we have laid the foundation of the seriousness of the problem and the laws and regulations regarding the issue.

The most important start in dealing with substance abuse is to ensure that the workforce culture encourages sobriety by recommending addiction hotline and detox centers.  Having a written Drug and Alcohol Policy and conducting annual training sessions for all employees is critical to establishing a drug and alcohol free culture.  In addition, conducting in-depth training for supervisors on how to spot abusers and deal with them is vitally important.
When there is a policy with consequences clearly spelled out, it is important to follow through with those who violate the policy.  Mandatory participation in a substance abuse program, suspension, or termination must be appropriately and consistently applied in order to keep the sober culture credible.

Types of Tests

One of the best ways of delivering the message of a sober culture early is to conduct pre-employment drug and alcohol screening for all employees.  There are several other types of tests that should be used in order to keep the problem minimized.

  • Reasonable Suspicion – given when there are indications that the employee is under the influence.
  • Post Accident – given to determine if substance abuse was the cause of an accident.
  • Return to Duty – given to confirm employees who have been suspended for substance abuse can safely return to their jobs.
  • Random – given randomly and without notice to ensure employees are not violating the D&A policy.
Now testing is not perfect and there are ways to game the tests but the testing can help create and maintain the culture of a sober workplace.
What to Look For
Knowing that tests can be gamed, the most effective way of identifying substance abuse is by observing behavior.  Each type of substance produces a distinct type of behavior.
  • Depressants – alcohol, marijuana and tranquilizers slow a person down and make them sluggish.
  • Stimulants – meth, cocaine, and crack speed a person up and cause a person to be active and unusually hyper.
  • Narcotic Analgesics – morphine, heroin, and Oxycontin make a person numb and unable to feel pain.
  • Hallucinogens – LSD and certain mushrooms make a person see and hear things that don’t exist.

Drug and alcohol use usually causes extreme mood swings of being very energetic, angry, or depressed.  If an employee is behaving noticeably strange,  look for other signs of substance abuse such as alcohol hidden in beverages, the smell of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, bloodshot eyes, etc.

Symptoms and statistics sourced:

What to Do

First of all, don’t immediately jump to conclusions if you witness unusual and abnormal behavior.  It could be a number of other things that are causing the behavior that have nothing to do with substance abuse.  If you suspect substance abuse, document your observations of the employee to try to determine a pattern. Never accuse an employee or try to diagnose their problem. Focus on their work performance and document facts, not opinion.  For example, don’t document they were drunk, instead document that alcohol was smelled on their breath.  If the employee’s behavior is affecting the their safety or the safety of others, immediately
remove them from the workplace based on their violating safety practices.



It may take several weeks before a pattern of poor performance is established and an employee should be confronted.  When that time comes, bring the employee in and discuss their poor performance and documented observations and what they think is contributing to it.  Tell the employee the company is here to help them and offer them the company EAP.  Make sure the employee understands that the company wants to help them with their problem, not get rid of them.