HR strategy forum

our experts. Personnel Today would like readers to send in their strategic HR
dilemma. All questions will remain anonymous and will be forwarded to our
strategy forum members, two of whom will provide step-by-step advice in the
magazine. Send your dilemmas to [email protected]

The dilemma

A major retailer which has lost significant market share is now on the
rebound. With 300 stores, the organisation has a new CEO, externally recruited.
The market, investors and employees have high expectations. What is the new
CEO’s vision?

The CEO took over on 1 January and is about to announce the grand plan. This
centres on four key business imperatives: focus on fresh; maximise high margin,
non-food sales – think ‘out of the box’ retailing; drive cost out of the
business – revolutionise the supply chain operations; and create a credible own
label younger-market clothing brand.

The major issue is how to implement changes quickly, ensuring new business
processes are adapted and people processes are fully aligned.

The organisation’s workforce is based on its traditional heartland: solid,
highly loyal and experienced workforce. But there is a sense that this group is
out of touch with the magnitude of change required and the desired customer

How can the organisation win over its traditional ‘grow-your-own’ managerial
cadre with the new customer proposition?

At the same time, the HR function is going through its own seismic change.
It is largely transactional, hands-off rather than strategic. Given the
proposition above, it feels under pressure to deliver. The former group HR
director – an in-house incumbent with more than 15 years’ experience – resigned
in December. A new external candidate starts next month. The HR leadership team
has been transformed over the past 12 months and there has been a major

Questions to be addressed:

– Given the turmoil within HR, how can the department deliver to the

– How can the organisation measure the expected return on investment in
terms of human capital?

The new HR director has just one to two months to align HR to this
compelling business strategy.

Solution 1
By Penny Davis, head of HR operations, T-Mobile

Step 1 Build your credibility
by understanding the business. Is the loss in market share due to one or
multiple causes? Have some stores been more successful than others? Gain views
from as many stakeholders as possible: visit your competitors to see what they
do differently, talk to employees – it is those closest to the customers who
have the clearest insights into what needs to change. Understand the key
business measures. Whatever strategy you develop will be strengthened if you
establish yourself as a business person first, and an HR director second.

Step 2 The CEO has developed
four business imperatives. You have an opportunity to work with the board to
develop these into a strategic plan and create the long-term vision. The
leadership team needs a shared understanding of what you are changing, as well
as future strategy, before it can engage with stakeholders. Once there is
clarity about the customer proposition, you can begin to consider the employee

Step 3 Understand the history
of implementing change in the organisation. Leadership is a critical success
factor. Assess how far the change can be led from top down, and the opportunity
for bottom-up involvement. Ensure the future leadership model is articulated,
and future skill needs understood. Analyse the gap between current and future
state. You have a loyal and experienced workforce; you need to consider how you
will engage them in the change.

Step 4 The people management
processes need to align with, and reinforce the business objectives. Consider
these both in terms of the short term (processes such as performance management
which enable the immediate business objectives) and long term (processes such
as organisational and workforce development which facilitate the strategy).
Agree the measures of success.

Step 5 This is an opportunity for HR to model the
change. Once you have established the employment proposition and the people
strategy, structure HR to reflect this. The business imperatives use words such
as ‘out of the box’ and ‘revolutionise’, while the current HR structure covers
the traditional areas of expertise. Consider your capability to drive process
change. Assess how you will work with suppliers to reduce costs. Engage your
team in building the vision for the future.

Solution 2
By Jim Matthewman, worldwide partner, Mercer Human Resource Consulting

This scenario reflects the challenge
for many CEOs and their HR functions in this economic climate. New CEOs are
required to declare new business strategies and want to implement them within
six months. Yet the people dimension, it is often assumed, will simply follow.
There are two immediate requirements: first, to articulate, cascade and align
business functions and employees to the new strategies; second, to assess
whether the organisation has the skill, capability, leadership and appetite for
the change.

Step 1 The new HR director
needs to review with each executive director the people implications of the new
strategies within their own function, the degree of change required, and
whether they believe they have the leadership to deliver in their area. What
obstacles or barriers will hinder implementation of the change?

Step 2 The HR leadership team should assess HR’s ability
to partner with the business goals to address the challenges identified. If
there is a shortfall, look for a credible external partner with a track record
of change management to support the HR function and assist the business over
the next six months.

Step 3 Run a solutions
workshop with the CEO and top management to report back the viewpoints,
concerns and challenges. Use this qualitative feedback, combined with
operational and financial data, to assess the degree of alignment and establish
priorities; agree the roles of line management and HR in executing change; and
outline a new people strategy to underpin the new business imperatives.

Calculate the expected investment required, the value to the
business, and ease of implementation.

Step 4 Identify areas of
significant change and undertake a review of skills, capability and readiness
to change/alignment. In the light of this, review the organisation’s talent
strategy to consider areas to buy or build capability given the set timeframes.

Step 5 Get the HR leadership
group to review current HR practices (for example recognition and reward,
resourcing, career planning) to ensure these are correctly aligned and
integrated to the new people strategy, so they are not launching new
initiatives yet rewarding old behaviour. Start to build a fact-based assessment
of workforce capability and management practices in order to track progress
going forward and establish accountability for success.

How the forum works

The HR Strategy Forum, which is
supported by some of the industry’s most experienced people (see below), is
Personnel Today’s major new initiative to help readers become more strategic in
their day-to-day operations.

Over the coming months, Personnel Today will give a unique,
developmental opportunity to hone your strategic skills using a wide range of
HR scenarios submitted by senior HR professionals. Each week, our panel of
experienced practitioners and consultants will provide solutions to a typical
strategic HR dilemma. You can get involved by sending in your own problems,
marked ‘strategic dilemmas’, to [email protected]

Duncan Brown, Assistant director general, CIPD

Paul Kearns, Director, PWL

Jim Matthewma,n Worldwide partner,
Mercer Human Resource Consulting

Andrew Mayo, Director,MLI

Louise Allen, Director, LAPartners

Penny Davis, Head of HR operations,

Marie Gill, Head of organisational
development, Asda

Neil Roden, HR director, Royal Bank
of Scotland

Ralph Tribe, Vice-president of HR,
Getty Images

Dilys Winn, HR director, Gloucestershire
County Council

Margaret Savage, Head of HR strategy,

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