Consider these four high-impact areas when managing in a time of turbulence and soaring expectations.
by Jeff Schwartz and Michael Stephan

As hard as it may be for HR to maintain a strategic focus in today’s turbulent economy, astute HR leaders know that they can’t afford to lose sight of their destination just because they’re taking a detour down a rocky road—especially when, according to a 2007 Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu survey of HR and business executives, the pressure for HR to deliver strategic value may be even greater than many have anticipated.  

But while many HR organizations are implementing solutions around strategic challenges, they don’t always drive the value the business needs. Why? In our experience, it’s usually because the solutions are applied with a relatively narrow, here-and-now focus. Here’s how we think a broader, more proactive approach in four high-impact areas can help close the gap.

  • Workforce intelligence. Many HR organizations are adept at producing descriptive personnel reports or using “retrospective” analytics to uncover relationships among past events (say, a correlation between educational level and job performance). However, a truly proactive approach also uses “predictive” analytics to create leading indicators of important future workforce events. By applying mathematical models to multiple internal and external data sources, including financial, operational, and HR data, predictive analytics can help companies better understand both how to influence employees’ decisions and where such interventions would drive the greatest benefit.


  • Global mobility. Today’s global companies need much faster, more frequent, and more flexible international moves than they did even a few years ago. What’s more, many executives expect global mobility programs not just to fill positions but to help deliver critical international experience and perspective to leadership candidates. To help address these needs, we recommend a structured decision-making process that evaluates both the business value and the talent development value of every assignment opportunity and then suggests appropriate candidates, assignment types, and follow-up strategies. The use of multiple assignment types such as local transfers and short-term assignments would help the program accommodate a broad range of business and talent development needs.


  • Succession planning. Can your company find a new CEO at a moment’s notice? That’s exactly what the fallout from a down economy can force you to do—which is why it’s important to have a robust, flexible, and agile succession planning program that can deal with extraordinary situations like these.

One way to speed up an internal candidate search is with software that delivers instant access to enterprise-wide executive skill profiles. Another is to mentor and develop multiple pools of potential leaders. And building relationships with executive headhunters, maintaining a strong alumni network, and developing “crash courses” and rotations to accelerate assimilation can help mitigate the risk of a meltdown if you need to find an external successor fast.

  • HR Center of Excellence integration and collaboration. Many forward-thinking HR organizations use “Centers of Excellence” (CoEs) to manage policy and program design in individual areas such as compensation, benefits, performance management, and more. But without overarching guidance, the decisions made by each individual CoE taken together may yield unsatisfactory overall results.

We believe the next step is to integrate HR CoE efforts into business-driven teams focused on broader solutions such as talent acquisition, total rewards, and talent development. Certain individual specialties such as compensation and benefits would be core to each solution set, but the specific policies and programs in each solution would be designed around broader business needs as opposed to the priorities of the individual competency. The intent is not to dismantle the existing CoEs but rather to integrate them around solutions with redefined boundaries to create a more flexible, adaptable HR organization.
Your company may not have the cash right now to invest in taking these solutions to the next level. But a tough economy can make business leaders more receptive to HR leaders’ thinking, planning, and relationship-building efforts because they’re relying on HR to provide insights and critical execution for timely, difficult short-term talent decisions while preparing to make up for lost time when the economy recovers. And that can position you well to advocate for such investments when the economy turns around. So even in the tumult of the present, reach out to the businesses to explore their goals and concerns for the future. Being in the same foxhole with business leaders now can go a long way toward establishing a fruitful collaboration around the people and HR programs needed to navigate both today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

Tags: Benefits, Employee Engagement, Enabling Technology, Multi-process HR, Sourcing

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