I was having a discussion a few weeks ago about strategic HR with Dustin Clinard, the vice president of Strategic Partnerships at Betterworks, and I mentioned that I first sat in on a session at an HR conference about how to become a strategic business partner almost 23 years ago. Then, the unfortunate reality set in: We’re still seeing those same sessions on grabbing “a seat at the table” 23 years later.
Will we ever escape this trap? I believe that playing an active role in strategic planning, goal-setting and identifying objectives and key results (OKRs) can set us free.
In the past, HR’s role in these key areas has been most often only to monitor goal-setting and OKRs for completion by prompting managers to fill out their goals. They don’t evaluate goals for effectiveness or for their linkage to the overall strategic plan; they just make sure they're there. This is a huge missed opportunity. Setting goals and OKRs is a highly strategic, business-focused activity, one that should start with high-level organizational goals. Performance management, often conflated with OKRs, is one of many talent management systems that enables execution of the strategy and achieves the goals.
By getting involved in the front-end planning, HR can elevate performance management from being a “check the box” activity for both HR and the business and turn it into something that drives meaningful business outcomes. And driving meaningful business outcomes gets HR a seat at the table. Here’s how to flip the script.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
If you don’t already have a strategic role in the business, step up and seize one. Regardless of your title. A reactive HR function comes at the expense of business results. In C-suite meetings, the CEO brings large goals to the table. The COO, CFO and other representatives then break those goals down to determine what resources their functions will need to achieve them. They also may challenge each goal’s feasibility based on the current financial, technological, operational or market realities. HR needs to do the same when it comes to talent.
As rapidly as the business world is moving today, the talent needed to execute strategic goals may not exist in the organization or even in the market. Meeting these objectives will require a smart approach to recruiting, training and reskilling.
To be proactive, HR must articulate what you need to achieve strategic goals through talent. You have to be willing to face the unknown. The COO, the CFO and the CTO? They’re all guessing. They’re educated guesses, but they’re guessing, and HR needs to take it upon themselves to become the talent “guessers.” Look at trends in the market and among competitors and propose talent models for successfully executing strategic goals.
Facilitate Strategic Planning Sessions
Getting involved in strategic goal-setting and identifying OKRs is a big step, but HR plays a pivotal role in facilitating departmental strategy at the top. HR has a wide-ranging view of the business and is in the perfect position to facilitate strategic goal-setting sessions.
Start with high-level goals from the CEO first and facilitate a conversation around them. Ensure that all divisions are represented so you can hash out the roadblocks to each goal. Do we have the technology we need to execute the strategy, for example? Are the goals realistic from an operational standpoint? If we need to reskill employees to achieve the goals, is that financially feasible?
No single division can operate in a silo, and the business can’t achieve the best possible outcomes when a major department — like talent management — is left out of the planning process. Facilitating holistic, healthy conflict on the front end helps remove roadblocks before they occur and ensures buy-in from each division on the final goals.
Articulate Goals at Each Level
Once goals have been set at the top — with input and buy-in from all leaders, including HR — they need to be cascaded down to the departmental, team and individual levels. HR should act as an advisor to individual department heads and managers to cascade the big picture goals down to the operational level.
Help set goals that are specific, measurable and drive key results. Inculcate those goals and the resulting OKRs into talent management processes (performance management, compensation, learning and development, succession planning, talent acquisition) by ensuring that each goal can be tracked and measured. This data will be beneficial to future goal planning meetings. Help each department establish a plan for hiring or developing the talent and skills they need to execute the strategic plan.
By engaging in the entire strategic planning and goal setting process, HR will be seen as a strategic and proactive business partner, rather than a reactive and tactical monitor of talent process completion. And working with the business in this way will help you to get the seat at the table you've always wanted.