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The Big Three—Tough Questions Every HR Manager Should Answer

Posted by Elaine Varelas  September 3, 2012 09:00 AM

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by Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners

It’s September and here at The Hire Authority, we’re taking a cue from the co-eds who are heading back to school. It’s time to wipe those vacation cobwebs from your eyes, shake the sand from your shoes and focus on work. Class is back in session. We’ll start by asking you the “Three Big Questions.” The answers to these can propel your organization into the future, position you as a leader in the company, and define your career in HR. Prepare for your first day of school pop quiz!

HR professionals often shy away from—or freak out about—these lofty, pie-in-the-sky exercises. But it is essential for constructing a focused and comprehensive strategic vision for HR. If your organization, like many, boasts that its people are the differentiator, then this is essential for the entire organization. Of course, if your organization is developing a company-wide strategic vision, your leadership team may be coming to you with these questions. Be one step ahead of your CEO and present her with your answers (instead of scrambling to think of something!). The questions are centered around the most important people issues—retention, recruitment, and leadership.

Who do we keep?
Who will we hire?
Who will lead?

Who do we keep?Of course, the answers to any of these three question must be closely aligned with the company’s business plan and strategic direction. In order to know who you want to retain, you need to have a vision of where the organization’s growth will be. What are the company’s business goals? What parts of the business will be developed over the next few years? Which of your current employees will help you reach those goals?

Once you’ve identified your MVPs, you need to develop strategies for keeping them.
You must implement the programs that are important to people. It has been proven countless times that money and perks aren’t what keep employees engaged. Employees would skip a free lunch in favor of a stretch assignment and other development opportunities. There needs to be a commitment company-wide for education and training opportunities. Employees want to hone their skills so they can be more marketable. (This is also how you develop your leaders.)

Equally important is to answer, who do we not want to keep? Some people have skills that may need to be phased out. This doesn’t mean wide-spread lay-offs. Your organization can take a more subtle approach. You could have a planned attrition, where you stop hiring for certain positions and skill sets, or active attrition where you can help people find external opportunities.

Who will we hire?
If you haven’t hired in a while, you will need to look at your hiring competencies. The skills and experience you hired for five years ago, may not be what you need this year or in the future. Unfortunately, many managers are so focused on immediate need, they hire to solve yesterday’s problems. In this time of economic thrift, it makes sense to hire for what the organization will need in the months and years ahead.

What are the competencies the organization, and each department, will need to grow moving forward? Does the organization have enough diversity in its’ employee base? What skill sets will be most in demand? Will the business model change? If so, can we fill the need? Where can we recruit these people?

Who will lead?
Take a look at the leadership team. Where are the holes? How will the make-up change over the next several years? Who will be the next CEO? Will you hire a CEO or develop a current employee to take on the role? Sometimes when you bring a CEO into an organization, it just doesn’t stick. It may be a better strategy to bring in a VP level person and groom him or her to become the CEO. This is why it’s important to do internal development to craft the kind of leaders the organization needs, and to take a long term view of recruitment.

Make sure to have a succession plan in place for every member of the leadership team, and a back-up plan in case of changes. This exercise shouldn’t be reserved for just the top, but for every senior manager in the company. In IT, finance, sales, marketing: who will the next leader be? Where are we finding our leaders? Internal development becomes vital to organization because they can grow the type of leaders your organization needs.

Organizations should strive to be more fluid, so a sudden departure doesn’t devastate a company or department. Back-fill positions and try cross-over assignments so employees are well-versed in more than one role.

By asking your team these three tough questions, you can help your organization reach its goals, differentiate your company by putting your people first, and give your HR career a boost by earning a spot at the leadership table.

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About HR Columns

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