Avoiding the Pitfalls of Present-Tense Planning

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In talent and business, you have to fight the fires that are burning right now. Talent decision-makers struggle with new issues every day as they navigate the demands of leadership, evolving technologies, and the competitive market for scarce talent.

The conditions of the present also put pressure on larger efforts that should be focused on the future. For example, initiatives to implement new HR technologies or processes tend to focus on the needs and conditions of the present, even when known events in the near future would demand re-work soon after go-live. This flawed approach could be called, “present-tense planning.”

Whether you’re implementing an applicant tracking system, managing changes in organizational structure or geography, or supporting a corporate initiative, getting stuck in the present can be risky. With a technology implementation, you may find yourself deploying a system that needs to be changed, expanded or updated immediately after go-live — an expensive prospect.

On the flip side, looking beyond the present is difficult. Schedules are tight. There seems to be little time for stakeholders to check their plans against future changes, and in many cases, people simply don’t know how to do it.  With the right approach, however, you can keep your project moving while keeping an eye on the future and minimizing the risk of expensive re-work. Here are three tips.

  1. Find your plan (beyond the project at hand)

    In an ideal situation, your talent strategy is outlined from the start, with a set of priorities based on the impacts of one project on the other functions around it. This is the heart of a strategic integrated talent management plan. In my role, I help organizations develop this type of strategic plan. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the value, in terms of ensuring maximum impact from every activity, is significant.

    While most organizations don’t have a fully mature integrated talent strategy, most have some level of strategic planning, either for the business as a whole or for the talent function.  Such a strategy gives you a way to look beyond your immediate project to find the hidden challenges. For example, you may be implementing a knowledge management system in the US, but at the same time you know that next year’s plans for the business include a globalization of talent processes. This is the hazard. The initiative you planned in Q1, implemented in Q2, and went fully live with in Q3 is suddenly inadequate because it doesn’t work well with other regions. By Q4, you’re looking at a major rework or a new system. In this case, checking against the corporate strategy ahead of time may help you implement a system to accommodate the global expansion that comes later.
  1. Check back on your plan and identify connections

    When implementing a technology, it’s also essential to look beyond the present-tense when considering the processes it is designed to enable. Is that process right for the time? Are you assuming that the technology will make it better?  I like to refer to a simple equation: “Old Process + New Technology = Expensive Old Process.”

    In the rush to get a system in place, organizations find themselves depending on features and functions to solve problems.  I’ve been in situations where clients have done the legwork for talent management strategic planning, but they were about to neglect that planning when it came time to select a new technology two years later.  I brought them back to that planning, and we reviewed our findings, including high priority items, risks and opportunities.  The result was an effort that took a little more time, but ensured that the end result actually drove an improvement that would last into the future.
  1. Commit and communicate

    Last but not least, make sure you have an organized approach to examining and regularly reexamining your plan. It could be as simple as a checklist or as involved as a new strategy workshop. At any level, it will be essential that your planning takes a conscious look into the future. Have a dedicated project team in the loop, as well as leadership stakeholders. Have a framework assessing where you are today and what you are going to accomplish. Above all, know your desired outcomes, and understand that different stakeholders have different needs today, and those needs may change next year.                          

Moving to future-tense planning

It’s impossible to predict everything that can impact your project or business two years down the road. At the same time, it is also highly likely that if you consciously take the time to look into the future through the lens of what you know today, you will improve the value you achieve. You might find yourself adjusting a system for ease of global expansion. You may end up implementing a process that is flexible enough to account for planned new locations, employees or business lines. In any case, the future-tense approach will be well worth the effort, and the time spent on the extra planning is likely to play a key role in the success of your initiative. 

Jonathan Grafft

Jonathan comes to Black Box Consulting with significant background as a strategic and technical consultant and a proven track record working with Global Fortune 500 and emerging new economy clients. Jonathan brings a unique combination of talent management knowledge and technical skills to clients. He has developed industry knowledge and project management experience to help organizations evaluate best practices and implement process and technology for success.

Topics: Project Management, Talent Management, HR Technology, Change Management, Human Capital Strategy