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Redefining the strategic role of HR

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Over my career, I have had the privilege of working for a number of leaders who truly value the strategic role of people in creating sustainable competitive advantage for their businesses. A fine example of such a leader is Larry Young, president and CEO of Dr Pepper Snapple, with whom I was honored to work with as executive vice president of human resources. In a discussion with him regarding HR’s role in helping leaders drive organizational change, he offered the most insightful and succinct definition of strategic HR that I have heard in my 40 years of business experience. This he did in one word: Translator.

The strategic role of the translator — as righthand person to the CEO, is to successfully translate the leader’s vision, strategies and values into the day-to-day activities of every single employee in the business. Simultaneously, HR must understand the heartbeat of the organization and translate back to the CEO how employees are embracing and adapting to the constant change that businesses are experiencing nowadays.

This mobilization of an organization’s people potential is what strategic human resource management is all about. Leaders can mobilize their organizations by applying a simple, pragmatic framework built upon four core elements.

1. Engage: The Heart of the Matter

As leader, you must become the change you want to create within your team or organization. Too often, leaders adopt a “good for the troops” approach to change, as in, “They need to change.” The leader’s actions, far more than written or oral communications, send the right clues and cues to employees.

Next, trigger an unstoppable chain reaction, known as a critical mass. In organizational change, when one gains the support of a critical mass of powerful influencers (at all levels in the organization), the momentum accelerates to the point where resisters either get on board or leave.

2. Align: All Heads in the Game

All too often, the energies of people dissipate as a result of misdirected enthusiasm. This becomes evident when enthusiastic individuals, not understanding the key value drivers for the success of the business, invest their energies on activities of lower value. To get people’s heads in the game, you must translate the key value drivers into clear expectations for the roles of all employees.

Leaders must never assume that everyone is on the same page. It is better to ask seemingly obvious questions than to discover later on in the execution plan that there were numerous interpretations of areas of focus and expected outcomes.

Once top priorities are identified and agreed to, they can never be over-communicated. Great leaders repeat their messages on what to focus on, from every possible angle and viewpoint.

3. Enable: All Hands on Deck

Demands for new skill sets and ways of working will emerge as a consequence of the ripple effects of change, and you must be diligent about providing learning opportunities. The HR translator must find the most efficient and effective ways of embedding the needed new skills and knowledge.

As Larry Young says, “If we don’t train them, we can’t blame them.” To determine how best to streamline changing business processes, smart business leaders tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience available in their valuable frontline operators.

Remember, involvement magnifies commitment — involving your frontline employees will tap potential you did not realize existed in your organization. If enabled, employees at all levels of the organization will identify opportunities to enhance business processes, drive out waste and increase product and service quality.

4. Sustain: Pass the Baton

Sustainability, is achieved when leaders build resonance and ensure continued relevance of their change agendas. Resonance is created when a culture of continuous improvement is passed on and continues to grow from one generation of leaders to the next. Relevance is ensured when the team drives continuous change that is responsive to, or ahead of, market dynamics. It is your leadership responsibility to keep the change agenda both fresh and relevant.

The systematic layering of new concepts, processes, skills and behaviors embeds continuous improvement into the fiber of an organization. It becomes “the way we do things around here.”

This mobilization framework can be successfully applied across diverse cultures and sizes of businesses, from multibillion-dollar organizations to small companies. Regardless of the size of the business, leaders can use this framework to tap into the potential of all employees, and in so doing, create a sustainable competitive advantage through their people.

After all the years I have spent translating the change agendas of organizations into the daily activities of their employees, I realize there is no silver bullet, no single solution to managing change. Change, however, is the only constant. We cannot escape it. So as you lead your teams through wave after wave of change, consider this framework to successful mobilization. And ensure you have a great translator at your side, capable of demystifying strategies and translating them meaningfully into the daily activities of every employee.

In my book, Translate, Motivate, Activate, I offer a practical leader’s guide to mobilizing change, sharing my experiences gained over 40 years. My hope is that my experience helps leaders in all fields of endeavor, tap into the potential of the often underdeveloped human resources within their organizations. 

Larry Solomon

Larry Solomon

Larry Solomon is the adjunct Lecturer in Executive Education area at the Jindal School and CEO of Solomon People Solutions. Read more articles

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