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New Year Resolution: Aligning HR Initiatives With Business Strategy

Posted by Elaine Varelas  January 3, 2011 08:00 AM

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The New Year is the perfect time for fresh starts. There is something about seeing January on the calendar that leads us to take stock, make lists, and get organized. We’re willing to shed what isn’t working (pounds, old practices, and clutter), as well as take on new projects. It may be that our tendency to clean up and trim down is some kind of counterbalance to the excess and chaos of the holiday season. We crave calm and harmony after all the craziness.

This need to organize spills into the workplace too this time of year. Our desire to streamline may be even greater this year, as all of us--HR managers, company leaders, and employees alike--are hoping for some serenity and economic growth after the tumult of the past few years. As HR managers we can take advantage of our (New) yearly affinity for getting organized. It is the ideal time to channel our inner Martha Stewart to bring order to our work lives.

One of the most important items on our to do list should be aligning HR strategy with the organization’s business strategy. HR initiatives can work most effectively if they complement, not compete, with the company’s business goals and initiatives.

Determine the business strategy
The first step is to take a fresh look at the organization’s business strategy with the leadership team. What is the current business strategy? Has it changed because of economic conditions? Does the strategy need an overhaul (New Year, new strategy)? Does it just need to be tweaked? Does leadership simply need to make a new commitment to understanding the current strategy?

Communicate the strategy to employees
Once the strategy is determined, HR managers can help the leadership team articulate it to employees. Too many times, in countless organizations, employees are clueless about business strategy. If asked, they will tell you that they don’t know what it is and some will believe that it isn’t their business to ask. Understanding an organization’s business strategy, mission, and goals is not just an executive-level need. All employees--at every level--should know the company’s direction. HR managers’ roles are vital in this. Once the strategy is set, HR managers should make sure that it is understood and accepted by the entire organization. It may also help to develop a five minute “elevator speech” so that employees can understand and easily relay the organization’s strategy.

Have a casting call
Every employee has a role to play in the daily production of the organization. In addition to understanding the overall business strategy, employees should know how their specific job affects the larger organization. Seeing how they contribute to the success of the company helps employees feel more invested in the organization and more connected to their jobs. Many of us have heard the often-told story of the janitor at a hospital who was asked about his role at the organization. He said it was his job to make sure that the best doctors in the world deliver the best healthcare possible. That is a person who knows how his job affects the success of the organization!

Employees who can see how their job fits into the workings of the larger company are typically more productive and engaged at work. Employees feel valued by the organization when they see that what they do everyday makes an impact.

Aligning down the line
One way for HR managers to ensure that HR strategy reflects the business goals is to incorporate it into every part of the HR process from recruiting, and hiring to the exit interview. The business strategy, and how it relates to specific jobs and titles, can be explained during the interview and orientation process, and can be incorporated into job descriptions. It can also be part of training and development. The employee performance review process is a great time for managers and employees to discuss the business strategy and employees’ roles. This gives employees a chance to give their input about their own roles and how they can contribute on the organization as a whole.

Change is the only constant
Once you’ve aligned HR strategy to reflect the company’s business initiatives, your work isn’t done. Most likely, each strategy will continue to evolve. Every time there is major change, whether economic or personnel, the strategy should reflect that change, and HR executives need to communicate that change throughout the organization. It may be a good idea to revisit the strategy every New Year, when there is executive-level turnover, or when the business is affected by competitive or economic factors (either positive or negative).

This month, when we’re all motivated to organize, streamline, and get things done, it is a great time to align HR strategy with the organization’s business initiatives. As we embark on this New Year, here’s to a booming economy and a prosperous and aligned 2011!

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.