What is a Strategic Plan?

This week I’m going to talk about what exactly a strategic plan is.

A strategic plan is a written statement about the future direction and goals of an organization or HR department based on an analysis of the organization’s current status, strategy, strengths, limitations, threats, and opportunities in the current and future business environment.  

An effective strategic plan helps the organization understand where it is now, where it would like to be in the future, and how it’s going to close the gap between its current reality and the desired future status in order to get to where it wants to be.

All good strategic plans support the organization’s vision, mission, and values as well as identify its strategic goals and needed resources.

Since I brought it up, let’s take a minute to define vision, mission and values even though most readers probably already know but it never hurts to revisit the definitions.

An organization’s vision statement provides a clear perspective of what it wants to have happen in the future. It includes a description of its operations as well as a compelling explanation of how the organization will look and function once the strategic plan has been implemented.

The organization’s mission statement is a clear description of it’s overall purpose. It identifies the essential reasons the organization exists and the principal products and services it provides to the marketplace.

Finally, the values of an organization represent the key core priorities of it’s culture. It’s what drives the organization’s priorities and how employees honestly behave.  An organization’s values typically remain the same over time.

A complete business strategy is made up of three parts – an operations strategy, a financial strategy, and most importantly IMO a people strategy.  I’m focusing on the people strategy, or HR Strategic Plan, as it provides the foundation of all the other strategies with the ability to identify, build, and reinforce the organization’s capabilities.  

The justifications for creating an HR Strategic Plan are that it provides a solid framework for value-added action, helps establish priorities, allows for the all important measurement of results, and creates a way for reallocating resources from the organization’s low producing activities to its high producing activities.

In addition, it helps increase and improve HR’s credibility within the organization by showing its positive impact on the organization’s bottom line. Which is always a good thing especially since, as I recently mentioned in a previous post, HR is still thought by many business leaders as pretty much an administrative function that operates separately from the rest of the other functions in the organization

In order for HR to take on a strategic role and be a strong strategic business partner, it must be represented in the leadership of an organization and be involved in defining the organizational issues before the strategic decision are made.  HR must be involved in turning those decisions into a set of organizational actions.  

According to my favorite HR thought leader, Dave Ulrich, there are several things an HR professional must do in order to be an effective Strategic HR Business Partner:

  • Understand and communicate that improvements are typically very difficult and complex and will take time to accomplish so watch out for quick fixes as they are typically very seductive but rarely work.
  • Align the HR Strategic Plan with the Business Strategic Plan which will ensure HR being seen as adding value to the organization.
  • Keep the strategic plan top of mind instead of shelving it and forgetting it.  The plan must be executed and managed in order to be effective.
  • Create a Capabilities Focus within the organization.

I want to focus a little more on that last bullet, Capabilities Focus, since the first three bullets are fairly self explanatory.

Capabilities are an organization’s ability to effectively manage its resources in order to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. They are anything the organization does well that improves business and creates a competitive advantage in the organization’s marketplace.  

Strategic HR Professionals are able to effectively identify and improve an organization’s capabilities that will help execute the organization’s strategy and leverage new products and services.

Some examples of organizational capabilities include knowledge, innovative designs, adaptability, cost competitiveness, and strong leadership.

Defining deliverables and showing how they can be measured and what actions need to be taken is critical in the strategic planning process. The Strategic HR Professional must focus on the deliverables which are, in other words, value added results.

The HR strategic plan is developed from looking, listening, questioning, clarifying and knowing what needs to be done.

The plan must include ways that HR can help the organization add value to its key stakeholders (employees, customers, and investors), improve organizational capabilities, improve employee competence, fulfill regulatory compliance, determine processes and activities that can be retained or outsourced, and align HR programs with organizational goals.

My next post in this series will discuss how the strategic HR Professional must be able to speak the language of business and define a few important strategic business terms that will need to be understood. Then after that, I’ll get into the steps of how to actually develop an HR Strategic Plan.

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.

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.

Dealing with National Politics in the Workplace

You can’t get away from it these days. It’s all the media is talking about, it’s all over our social media feeds, it’s on all the award shows and entertainment programs we’re watching, it’s overheard in the stores and coffee shops we are visiting, and it’s in our workplace. Political discussions are everywhere and we are more politically polarized than I’ve ever seen in my life.

With today’s massive megaphone of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, many people have expressed their passion about the political issues and their candidates. And there’s something to offend just about anybody with the current hot-button issues such as race, class, gender, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, terrorism, religion, etc.

I would venture to guess that we have all witnessed some very heated exchanges between family, friends, and coworkers regarding today’s political climate. I’ve seen people I respect and care about say or write some pretty horrible things about others based simply on their political beliefs.

People are more polarized in their positions like I’ve never seen before and those positions are making their way into the workplace and affecting morale and productivity.

In addition, many of today’s issues swerve into employment law. Political discussions about issues that affect working conditions such as minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave might be protected by federal law.  While, on the other hand, political discussions about race, gender, and religion may lead to harassment or discrimination claims. And it only takes one person to pop off during a heated discussion and alienate another employee and/or cause a hostile work environment or a potential harassment claim.

I make it a practice not to discuss politics at work – especially these days. I hear enough of it on my Sirius radio when I commute to and from work and when I’m home trying to catch up on the news. Frankly, I’m exhausted of it all and don’t want to have to deal with it when I’m at work.

But, I’m HR, so I have to deal with it at work.

As such, I’ve come up with a couple of proven recommendations to help keep things under control.

First and foremost, HR must remain neutral. This is my number one recommendation. Whatever your beliefs, HR must be neutral and not take a side in a disputed conversation about politics. HR absolutely should not engage in a conversation with other employees expressing their political opinions and joining in with them bashing a side. I guarantee that you have employees on the other side who will hear or overhear what you said which will erode your credibility with them.

The purpose of your neutrality allows all of your employees to feel safe coming to you with their concerns about potentially uncomfortable or hostile political conversations they overheard or were part of. It’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel safe to surface any concerns they have from conversations they’ve had or overheard that make them feel uncomfortable or offended.

Second, Establish and communicate ground rules. Meet with your senior leaders to determine what political discussions your organization is willing to tolerate/accept at work. Will you ban it entirely or will you allow some as long as their respectful, appropriate, and inclusive of all beliefs?

Once you have that established,  conduct an all hands meeting and follow up with an email reminding your employees to be professional, respectful, and tolerant of other employee’s political beliefs. Remind them of the process for airing their complaints and how they will be dealt with and what the consequences will be for violating these ground rules. You must, as HR, clearly communicate to your employee population where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You can’t be ambiguous.

It’s also important to understand that you can’t ignore the issue at work. Ignoring it will only make the situation worse because these conversations may escalate into profanity and direct threats. Other employees who want to stay out of these discussions may also be unwillingly dragged in.

When you overhear a controversial political discussion happening at your workplace, and you’ve established the accepted ground rules, you simply remind the employees engaged in the conversation that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner (professional, respectful, or tolerant). If they continue after your reminder, you simply begin your organization’s disciplinary process.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep your workplace professional, respectful, civil and ultimately productive!

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Week Four of the PA Cycle: Prep week for Talent Review Meetings

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Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week is the preparation week for the most important aspect of the entire cycle, the Talent Review Meetings (TRMs). I’m not going to discuss the details of the the TRMs this week, that will be for next week. Instead, I’m just going to go over the preparation for the TRMs.

The preparation of the TRMs consists of the following four steps – making a ranking sheet, making the TRM schedule, printing PAs and building the TRM notebooks, and communicating the TRM’s to the managers.

But before we go any further, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the TRM in order to understand why it takes an entire week preparing for them. Talent Review Meetings are where a Talent Review Board (TRB) of managers meet to review each direct report’s Performance Appraisal in order to insure fairness. Each manager must review and defend, to their peers, the scores they gave their direct reports. Again, I will go into more detail in next week’s post.

I’ve put together a set of example documents for this stage of the cycle. In it I created an organization with 43 non-exempt employees, nine Managers, seven exempt non-managers, three Directors, and five Sr. Managers. All of the example documents will be based on this organizational structure.

So now that you have a basic understanding of the TRM and understand the example organization I established, let’s go over the four steps of preparation.

Create a ranking sheet of all the Performance Appraisal scores:

The first thing that should be done this week is take all the scores from the preliminary PAs and enter them into the Preliminary Score column on the ranking sheet. The ranking sheet is a very important tool for the TRMs as the rankings clearly show how each manager scored their direct reports. It gives the TRB a quick snapshot of the score distribution in the organization and shows which managers are tough scorers and which are generous scorers. It makes it much easier to calibrate the scores.

The ranking sheet consists of four columns:
1. Manager Name
2. Employee Name
3. Preliminary Score
4. Final Score

At the bottom of the sheet is a box that calculates the mean, median, and mode for both the Preliminary Score and the Final Score.

I’m including the Excel template of the ranking sheet I use. There are tabs on the bottom of the worksheet consisting of a ranking sheet for each TRB in my example organization. In the example ranking sheet, I have just filled in the Prelim Scores. The Final Scores will need to be filled in during or after Week Seven, Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives.

Click here for the example HHHR PA Ranking Sheet: 20XX HHHR PA Ranking Sheet (Example Organization)

Scheduling the TRM:

Depending on the size of the organization, the TRB can be very simple for organizations ~35 or less employees or complicated for organizations ~36 or more employees.

The TRBs for smaller organizations are easy to schedule because they are typically just senior management and HR. Only one version of the TRM notebook needs to be built for each member of the senior management team containing the PA of every employee in the organization separated by manager. It should take approx 20 minutes to discuss each PA so the schedule is only a day or two depending on how many employees are being reviewed. Multiply the number of employees by 20 minutes then divide that result by 60 which results in the total number of hours that are needed to schedule the TRM.

The TRBs for larger organizations are more complicated to schedule. The senior management team will typically not want to or have the time to do four to five days of TRMs. The schedule needs to be broke down by hierarchy because larger organizations have more layers of management. For example, non-exempt level employees will be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Managers, the Managers will then be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Directors and Senior Managers, and the Directors will be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Senior Managers. Of course, senior management should be invited to sit in on the non-exempt TRBs. Again, it should take approx 20 minutes to discuss each PA so use the same calculations as above for making the schedule.

In my example organization, the non-exempt population schedule takes two full days while the exempt level population is scheduled for two half(ish) days. Also in the example you will note that I don’t have specific times scheduled for the non-exempt employees as this allows for more flexibility since some will be quicker than 20 minutes and some will be longer. With the exempt employees, however, I schedule times because this allows the busy Directors and Senior Mangers two things: to know when they are defending their scores to their peers and to make sure they are present when they want input on a particular employee. The management team in any organization is busy and it can’t be expected that every manager will be present throughout the discussion of every PA. It’s OK to allow them to come and go throughout the meetings just as long as you have some continuity in the TRMs. By scheduling the times at the exempt level, you are helping them with their time management, which is always a good thing!

Click here for the example HHHR PA TRM Schedule: 20XX HHHR PA Talent Review Meeting Schedule (Example Organization)

Printing PAs and building the TRM Notebook:

Once the schedule is complete, the notebooks can be built by referring to the names listed for each TRB. A notebook is made for each person who will be serving on a TRB. The notebook will contain tabs for each Manager/Director/Senior Manager who has direct reports and behind each tab will be the PAs for that manager.

So for the example organization I created, using the TRM schedule, for the Non-exempt Day 1 and 2, nine notebooks need to be built (one for each Manager) with nine tabs containing each Manager’s direct reports which is nine copies of 42 employees! That’s a lotta time standing at the copy machine.

When each employee’s PA is printed for for each notebook, enter that date on the checklist so it reflects the completed date.

Keep the notebooks in a secured and locked location until they are given to the managers in the TRB. Its best to hand out the notebooks just before each TRM but sometimes the Senior Management group likes getting them early in order to review them beforehand. Remember that the notebooks contain a tremendous amount of confidential performance information so remind all the managers to keep them secure once they have them.

This is one of the busiest weeks for HR in the cycle and it’s important to remember to stay organized in the ways I’ve suggested in the last two posts. Things can rapidly fall apart if you don’t stay organized!

Communicate the TRM schedule to the managers:

You’ve done all that work so don’t forget to let all the managers know when the meetings are!  Here is a sample email to send out to the managers in the TRBs.

Managers,

Attached is the Talent Review Meeting schedule with Talent Review Board assignments.

I broke the meetings down into the following four sessions:

  1. Nonexempt Day 1: Wednesday, February 3, 8:00AM – 5:00PM
  2. Nonexempt Day 2: Thursday, February 4, 8:00AM – 5:00PM
  3. Exempt Level Day 1: Monday, February 8, 12:00PM-3:30PM
  4. Exempt Level Day 2: Tuesday, February 9, 1:00PM – 4:30PM

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Thanks,
Rich

Occasionally changes will have to be made to the schedule as things come up particularly with the Senior Management team.  Stay flexible to the needs of the company and make the revisions as needed.  It’s not going to be the end of the world if you don’t get the TRMs done on schedule!

Well that’s it for Prep Week for the Talent Review Meetings. Next week I’ll finally get to discuss the actual details of the best and most important aspect of the entire cycle, the Talent Review Meetings!

I Fired Santa.

“He’s doing it again, Rich, and customers and employees are irritated with him” said Tina, my department manager.

“Are you serious?” I said  “I just had another talk with him a couple days ago and he promised me he would stop! I will talk to him again.”

Being the long time retail anchor in downtown Missoula, it was up to us to provide the “official” Santa Clause for the community.  Every parent wants to have a picture of their little one with St. Nick.

Up until then, I had no problem because I just simply hired the gentleman who had been doing it for the past decade, but this year he was no longer physically able to play the roll.  I had to find a new Santa and I hit the jackpot – I thought – when I discovered a professional birthday clown/Santa Clause looking for work!  He had experience, could tie balloon animals, and had his own Santa suit!

We set up his chair, the camera, and backdrop along a main aisle.  We ran an ad in the Missoulain and posted his hours throughout the store.  Now I could focus my attention and concentrate on executing the store’s Holiday sales, profit, credit, and customer service strategies.

Instead, we quickly discovered our new Santa had a very odd personality – one that my customers and employees found very irritating. Irritating enough to complain and avoid him.

He would make a strange comment or crack an awkward joke to everybody who walked by him – nothing inappropriate but strange.  It got to the point where my employees would take another longer route in order to avoid having to walk by him when they saw he didn’t have a kid on his lap.

I sat down with him in my office, with him in full costume, and had a “fierce conversation”  letting him know that I had received complaints and that he needs to concentrate more on being jolly and less on being irritating. He initially resisted but after I gave him several examples of his irritating behavior, he agreed that he would  try to do better.

This was Santa’s first warning.

I noticed an improvement in his behavior but that only lasted two days. He reverted back into his old irritating ways and the complaints started again.  I sat down with him again, again with him in full costume, and we had our second “fierce conversation” where I told him that he needs to alter his behavior quickly. He’s driving customers away and irritating my team causing a reduction in their productivity.  The critical Christmas season is short and I can’t afford to have Santa hurting my business.

This was Santa’s second warning.

Again, it took another two days before his behavior to reverted back to his irritating ways which led to the conversation at the beginning of this post.  Well, I had had enough and sat Santa Clause down in my office for the final time, again him in full costume, and said the words “I’m sorry, Santa, but I am going to have to let you go.  It’s just not working out.”

I had just fired Santa.

So now I had no Santa.  Now what?  Well, all I know is that the General Manager of the store (me) would mysteriously disappear whenever Santa showed up to for his shift…

You gotta do what you gotta do to make things right.

This story points out that we occasionally have to do some very uncomfortable disciplinary action on employees or independent contractors.   I sure could have avoided dealing with the situation, he was Santa after all.  And he was only going to be in the store for a couple more weeks.

You have to have the courage to do what’s right.

Even if it’s firing Santa.

Clear the Decks!

Being efficient and productive is essential to being an effective and successful HR leader.  I like to occasionally share my own personal productivity techniques here at HHHR in the hopes that they may be of some help to my readers and listeners.

Soon after starting my concentrated effort to manage my email three times a day, I started a new organization improvement method of “clearing the decks desk”.

Before I go home for the day, I completely clear off my desk and the top of my filing cabinet.  I file away the papers that need filing and put papers that I am still working with in my desk tray.

This daily clearing the decks forces me to do the filing and organizing that tends to get procrastinated throughout the days and weeks causing work to be forgotten, misplaced, and piled up.  Before I started this effort, my desk was never out of control but it was usually messy and disorganized.

As you see in the photo I leave work with my desk cleared off and when I come in to start a new day, I’m greeted with a clean and organized office that allows and motivates me to quickly get right back to work.

I’m much more efficient and effective and able to produce higher quality work.

As David Allen says in his book “Getting Things Done”,

…our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve effective productivity and unleash our creative potential.

Clearing my desk every evening helps me clear my mind and plan for the next day.

Coming into a clear desk every morning allows me to start the day fresh without any mental or physical clutter from the day before.

It takes discipline and effort to get into the habit but when you make it part of your daily routine, it will pay off with increased productivity and reduce the amount of daily stress at work.

Flextime/Remote Compatability

There is not a week that goes by where I read an article or blog post telling me how important it is to offer flextime/remote work in order to attract the best employees to an organization.

These claims are, of course, all backed up by surveys – usually done to measure the employee’s opinion of flextime. Well of course, a lot of employees will tell you they would love more flextime and be allowed to work from home, who wouldn’t?

I don’t ever recall, however, seeing a survey measuring employer’s opinions of flextime/remote work.

I know there are several employers out there who fully embrace the concept and can make it work, but the vast majority don’t want to go anywhere near it or it simply does not make sense for their operation.   In fact, Best Buy and Yahoo! have recently reversed course and called all hands back to the office. It must not have been produced the results they were promised.  I don’t think flextime/remote work is practical for the most organizations and I don’t think most employees are responsible enough to handle it.

My experience has shown me that the people who can least handle working from home are the ones who want that option the most.   In other words, most jobs and most employees are simply not compatible for flextime/remote work.

Perhaps I’m biased by the industries I am most familiar with, Retail and Mining.  Flextime/remote work is simply not practical for the majority of jobs in these industries.

Personally, I like my core schedule of 8-5, Monday through Friday (although as an exempt professional, I work significantly more than my core schedule!).  I like getting ready for work in the morning and driving to the office.  I enjoy the office environment and working at my office desk and interacting with my fellow employees throughout the day.  I like clearing the decks at the end of the day and driving home.