What is Strategic HR?

You know, everyone hates the words “HR Strategy.” I hate it, you hate it, and everyone I know hates it. The problem is that very few of us can readily define it. The facts are that I’m going to define it today, but many of you are going to disagree with me. I invite you to comment away and tell me where you thing I go wrong, and what you thing HR strategy really is.

What HR Strategy isn’t. The below list are all tactics to help us achieve our strategy:

  • It is not talent management or aqcuisition
  • It is not about learning
  • It is not workforce planning
  • It is not benefit, compensation, or any other sub-function management

HR Strategy is simply:

shaping the workforce around the organization’s business needs, and managing behavioral changes to match the desired environmental goals.

I have a feeling that I’ve pissed off enough people by now telling you that your jobs are not strategic. That’s not entirely true. Are you simply acquiring talent to acquire talent? or are you acquiring talent with an eye on shaping the workforce towards the vision that senior executives have set forth? That’s the difference.

What the “strategy” is in your organization is not something I can tell you. You must take direction from the executive staff (which you hopefully are a part of) to understand what the business goals are. But no matter where you are, one thing is constant, the core of the strategy revolves around creating and shaping the workforce. That’s all.

Note: This article is a reprint from January 9, but it sets up tomorrows post on “what isn’t strategicHR” really well.

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13 thoughts on “What is Strategic HR?”

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  4. This simple and concise definition is adequate for a hallway conversation, or a meeting with senior business leaders, but it lacks the depth necessary for HR professionals to see how they fit in this strategic organization. I agree, the specific actions a strategic HR organization takes are dependent on the business environment it serves, but a more detailed definition can still be created.

    In order to shape a workforce, HR needs to be able to describe its present state and the desired future state. This requires the collection of data about the workforce and the capability to analyze and interpret that data. Analyzing and drawing conclusions is the tactical aspect of ‘being strategic’ and this need extends beyond the organization’s workforce. It also includes analyzing and predicting many different external factors that will impact the plans for shaping the workforce.

    Just imagine your company’s strategy is to significantly expand a product line by producing several new electronic devices. This will require more electrical engineers and additional manufacturing capability. HR brings to the table the skills needed to analyze market conditions for hiring electrical engineers in various regions. HR also knows the average time it takes to fill open positions. If the strategy is to achieve this expansion very rapidly, leaders need to know that it will require the acquisition of talent faster than the current staffing process is capable of delivering it.

    While it’s true that HR processes are not strategies, your list could be a little misleading. HR must know how these processes perform in order to be a strategic partner. In the preceding example, the HR business partner participates in the business strategy development and identifies the HR process that will need to be changed to support that strategy. It’s easy to see that the list of different possible scenarios is almost endless. What remains constant is that HR leaders need to be able to analyze data, develop forecasts, and propose solutions that are integral to the business strategy.

  5. Thank you Barnaby and Ajit. I’ll agree that I’ve hit this at too high a level, including if you add Wednesday’s and Thursdays posts. My general point is in agreement with yours Barnaby. If we use your example, I know of many recruiting functions that basically “fill orders” for job requisitions without any sight as to the impact on the organization. You are right that a more disciplined approach to talent aquisition transforms the recruiting function into a strategic partner and allows them to participate in the strategy.

  6. i liked all your comments on strategic HR……i think that hr strategy is very important…though we like the word or not…. Barnaby Fountain is really good on his comments…..

  7. i am doing a HR Audit on this topic………can i get some strong thoughts about this please……as i found all your comments really good.
    My topic is : Evaluate how the HR strategy, or HR activities, relate to the strategic objectives of a specific organisation.

  8. ‘Strategic HR and what it means – I agree that for HR to be strategic it has to align its activities/ interventions to the business objectives. The trick always comes to the alignment part.This mostly so because of 2 reasons
    1. very few HR leaders fully understand the business needs to be able to provide solutions that really impact on the succeess /performance of the organisation,
    2. the involvement of HR in business strategy is not considered critical and hence fall back to doing reactive HR activities.
    My question is how do we as HR Leaders ensure that we are not just HR leaders but business leaders too? thanks you

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