LAS VEGAS — HR people are told, time and again, to be more strategic.
And while it's easy to say "we've made a strategy," it's another thing entirely to make a strategy that works, Sherrin Ross Ingram, CEO of the International Center for Strategic Planning, told HR managers gathered at the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference.
Ingram outlined nine ways to approach a strategy, including questions that HR departments and companies of all sizes can ask to keep forward momentum going.
Address root causes
How does this strategy fix the root cause of your problem? How does it support the root strength you are capitalizing on? "Often times, strategies stall or fail because they are not about the right thing," Ingram said. "You are addressing a symptom, not a problem."
Colleagues may have their opinions about what's really going on, but HR execs may have to "be a detective" to uncover these root causes. It may take more time to figure this out and see the benefits, Ingram said, and many execs want to focus on stopping the bleeding — but putting in that work is the only way to prevent the problem from happening again.
Consider resource availability
Are you aware of everything you think you need to achieve this strategy? "Get granular," Ingram said; list everything you need down to the type of paper you want. Without a list of the costs, it will be difficult to fathom what the ROI of the strategy will be or explain it to leadership, who will inevitably ask.
Why do you think this strategy will work? Almost every reason why a person thinks a strategy will work contains one or more assumptions, Ingram said. Take those reasons apart, line by line, to see where the assumptions hide. A strategy may have been successful in the past, for example, but what has changed since then?
But not every assumption can be analyzed to the hilt. "Leaders make decisions with imperfect information," Ingram said; HR execs will need to get comfortable with that.
Test for biases
Are you aware of your biases and their potential consequences for your strategy?
Biases help humans make sense of the world, "but because you are seeing the world through your own lens ... biases will make you think you are being innovative, when truly, you're not," Ingram said.
Some of those biases include:
Confirmation bias: This type of bias "will keep you in your comfort zone," and when trends are changing, it can completely undermine the intent of the strategy, Ingram said. How one thing worked before may no longer work now. Always be ready for change.
Framing bias: This bias type presents a situation or problem in a way to influence a decision's outcome, most commonly seen when trying to parent children, Ingram joked. "Do you want to be a responsible person?" is one example of framing a question in a way to obtain an expected outcome, and can derail strategic efforts.
Anchoring: Be wary of weighing any one piece of evidence too heavily.
Self-interest bias: This bias is a tendency to be motivated by a favorable outcome for one's self or team, rather than for all stakeholders.
Gambler's bias: This bias involves believing future probabilities are altered by past events.
Know the strategy-specific KPIs
What key performance indicators are you using to measure the progress of this strategy? Avoid lagging indicators, or measurements that only reflect things already in place.
"What gets measured, gets done," Ingram said.
Get execution ready
How execution ready are you really? Ingram suggests doing a SWOT analysis but on the strategy itself: What is working in the strategy's favor? What will be obtained if it is successful? What internal obstacles could get in the way? External obstacles?
"This should be a tool that you reference at every meeting going forth," she said. It shouldn't be something that lingers on a shelf somewhere, she added; "Someone should be in charge of deciding how we are dealing with those weaknesses."
Confirm the strengths have a competitive advantage and that the opportunities are real and not distractions. Decide how to remove weaknesses or make them irrelevant, and how to minimize the consequences of outside threats, she explained.
Get collaboration from all levels
How have those on the frontline or other levels contributed to the development of this strategy? "So often times, the frontline and everything in between is ignored," Ingram said. It's easy to fall into the trap of coming up with a strategy in the vacuum of one's own office, but that isn't how truly effective strategies are made, she said. "When I included my landscaper on up to my C-suite, my strategy was much more robust."
Different levels of the org have different perspectives. "C-suite folks almost always gave solutions that involved spending money," she said. "Frontline, it was about utilizing things you have already."
Ask people at every level of the organization: What would you do about this problem? "You'd be surprised at the level of responses you get," she said. While not everything will be worth keeping, asking these questions ensures a strategy isn't missing some key insight.
And don't trick people with the concept of buy-in, she added. "You don't just want buy-in," she said. "Buy-in says yes, that's a good idea, we should do that. What you want is commitment. Not only is that a great idea, but how can I help you achieve it?"
Identify trade offs and opportunity costs
What will it cost to pursue this strategy, beyond just money? While ROI depends on knowing the money cost, Ingram said, opportunity cost, distraction from other functions and impacts on quality of life are all costs that leaders should figure out.
Get a graphic of the strategy on one page
What elements of your strategy are important to keep in front of your employees? "No one is going to read 10 pages of support if that first page doesn't capture them and keep them," she said, and that includes the execs responsible for ensuring the strategy gets off the ground. Storytelling through good graphic design can go a long way.