In our recent article on how to put together a good HR Strategy, we mentioned the famous – infamous, even – quote from Mrs Beeton on how to make Jugged Hare: “First, catch your hare”.

Next step, how to cook it. Or in HR terms, how do you put your strategy into action and make it successful?

This question has an answer in two parts. 

  • Implementation – making the constituent parts of the strategy into a whole working body.
  • Measurement – how do you know that it tastes as good as it looks?

What is the Role of HR in Strategy Implementation?

Whilst having been part of the team that has devised the strategy and provided input on the implications of the people aspect of the strategy, how much can HR do alone?  There will be certain areas that are exclusively within the HR remit, but overall HR can be most successful when it is the driving force behind the implementation of the strategy.  Once it has done what it can, it can then partner the business at a strategic level to ensure that as the plan starts to spread out across the business, it can work with and advise those in charge of the constituent parts to ensure that the ‘big picture’ is not lost in the detail.

The value and importance of HR is that it is over-arching and inter-departmental.  Whilst everyone else involved is looking at their own picture, strategic HR can look at every piece of the jigsaw.  Making sure that the pieces can come together is vital to avoiding the prospect of failure when the strategy goes off in different directions, cannot be made to join up and eventually leads to too much time spent on re-assessing where the problem occurred that led to failure of the whole project.  “Technical” and “financial” problems can be overcome with straightforward solutions and steps.  But people discord is much harder, less straightforward and more time consuming.

A jigsaw with employee icons on. One main piece is highlighted in blue and a hand is taking it ou

Implementation is the most rigorous and demanding part of strategy.  Formulation is about what and why.  Implementation defines the how and who, the when and the where.

In terms of what HR is directly responsible for, there are four main areas:

  1. Revising current policies that are not sufficiently accurate and robust to withstand the requirements and pressures of change. These include redundancy, recruitment and use of temporary staff.
  2. Having defined the necessary human capital, carrying out the actions of increase and/or decrease in numbers. It’s essential to make sure this is aligned across the organisation to ensure adherence to employment law.
  3. Working with strategic management to ensure that the performance of tasks and activities is appropriately managed. This has to be in accordance with organisational policy, supported by adequate training, and fair, to avoid legal claims.
  4. Supporting the initial and ongoing programme of communication and follow-up. This is to make sure that all staff are aware of what is happening, why it’s happening, what is their role and what is the time frame.  And also providing an overview of how this is being co-ordinated in each area that is subject to the implementation.

During implementation, HR can be both pro-active and reactive, depending on the issues.  What are the main areas where problems will arise?  The most likely are:

  • Poor co-ordination of management brought about by weak, ineffective and unwilling collaboration by managers, who are either not up to the task or not buying in to the project
  • Lack of employee buy in
  • Lack of attention to the “personal” effect, where staff do not fully understand either the nature of the project of what is their role in its success.

In being proactive, HR’s constant vigilance and knowledge of the plan can spot problems cropping up and intervene to help sort them out.  These may be simple and straightforward, where specialist knowledge can make HR the “go to” place for help.  Or it may be necessary to step in ahead of being asked, to avoid a dangerous situation occurring that could knock the project off course.

Co-ordinating the Message

From the HR viewpoint, two vital aspects of keeping the plan dynamic and on course are communication/engagement and time.

When the plan is first announced, if it’s presented honestly, with both enthusiasm and professional kindness and the potential risks are outlined, the initial reaction overall is likely to be positive. The reason that many plans fail is that this initial announcement of the plan is not itself part of a plan – the communication plan.

After a period of time, usually quite short, the question will undoubtedly be asked “what does this mean for me?” If HR has included this ‘personal’ aspect in its own strategic advice and plan, then all leaders and managers will be ready to answer the questions, both in groups and in 1-1 sessions.    And HR will also know that it’s important to keep the whole workforce abreast of the plan and the changes it will mean, even if some parts of the organisation are not affected directly. 

Two men in an office gossiping, with a man and woman sat at a table in front of them

When a major change is implemented there is a knock-on effect everywhere, even if just at the social level of casual conversations. Rumour spreading occurs only where there is no solid information to fill a gap, or when the solid information is inconsistent across groups.  Inviting frequent feedback that can be assessed, responded to and disseminated openly where appropriate will give little time and space for personal interpretation.

In his book on 21st Century Leadership, Graham Wilson talks about “Speeding up by slowing down.”[1]

Implementation should go at a good pace, to maintain the initial momentum of the plan.  But making sure that there is enough time to consider every aspect of the plan is an HR speciality.  In our article on Leadership we confirm our view that one of the essential aspects of good leadership is to be able to keep up a brisk pace.  But this doesn’t negate the need to pause and evaluate from time to time.  Pausing for thought, taking “time out” to consider what is working well, what not so well, and developing alternatives courses of action to re-direct, amend, cancel, modify and re-align.

Making Time for Change

Time is one of the crucial factors, where HR can have a significant impact.  It is a well-known fact “that each person reacts differently to change and not all will experience every aspect of the change curve.  People will also move through the phases at different speeds.  Understanding this can help… to decide how and when to communicate information to individuals.”[2]

At the beginning of a project there is sufficient enthusiasm to move rapidly and positively.  But as the detail kicks in, many projects falter.  In some organisations, when this faltering causes the project to ground to a halt, there can be a temptation to abandon it and move on to another exciting initiative.  We’ve seen and experienced this on more than one occasion.  But the astute HR professional, knowing how easily this can happen, can ensure that:

  • Enough time is built in from the beginning of the project to allow for stalling and re-alignment.
  • They are on top of this, watching out for it and ready to step in to remind all concerned that this was both anticipated and planned for, and not to abandon hope.

A project will stay on schedule if staff are well enough informed to allow them to buy in.  It’s not just a case of giving the information and hoping that it will land in the right place.  As we’ve said, “personal” effects need to be understood and time given to allowing people to express their feelings.  If you don’t understand how they feel, how can you hope to offer help and encourage acceptance?  One quick and useful example is the “mad, sad, glad” exercise, again thanks to Graham Wilson.  This involves just a couple of hours and can allow a group of people to express their emotions in both negative and positive terms and to find their own solutions.  Here’s how it goes.

Each person is asked to consider the project, or a group of aspects of it, and to write down in basic terms what makes them mad, sad and glad about each aspect.  Answers might be:

Mad: avoidable surprises; being missed out of the loop; lack of direction; being excluded when I could help

Sad: people who don’t care; doing things the same; lack of time to develop the team; not being consulted

Glad: manage my expectation and keep me informed; achieving the deadlines; reassurance; working together to solve challenges; making a difference; having fun

Employees in an office using the mad, bad or glad technique to help the HR strategy

The majority of these responses (taken from real life exercises) are based on emotions.  They can be discussed as a group and solutions found, and successes celebrated, or on an individual basis.  Whatever it takes.

Helping managers to realise that building in fun can also help the plan to be successfully implemented.  It doesn’t all have to be serious concentration with a daily dose of stress.  As William Shakespeare said: “Pleasure and action make the hours seem short.”[3] (even though it was spoken by a villain contemplating scoundrelism!)

So at last, the plan is in place and being implemented successfully.  Or so it seems.  But how do you really know?   The next step is the measurement of success, of what matters. 

In part 3 of this group of articles we’ll be talking about what to measure, when and how.  Watch this space.

[1] “Leadership Laid Bare” Graham Wilson 2018

[2] “Leadership Laid Bare” Graham Wilson 2018

[3] “Othello” Act II Scene 3