The Job HR Never
HR leaders have been steadily moving from an
administrative focus to a strategic focus over the last few
years. Do they see this as an opportunity or a burden?
by Robin Speculand
n the last few years HR has been asked “nine out of 10 strategies fail to be opportunities and then working inward;
to assist with the implementation of implemented successfully”. This is true, as Art of War taught us, “Know your
total quality management (TQM), not just in Europe and America, but also enemy, know yourself”—first you must
benchmarking, customer service, in Asia. know the strength of your enemy so
reengineering and IT. All were above and Awareness around the field of that you know where you stand), then
beyond the initial requirements of their strategy implementation has been steadily implementation requires an “inside-out”
portfolio. growing, but it took the recession to turn approach. Implementation starts with
The bad news for HR professionals the growth exponential. In the past, when communicating the strategy, changing
is that this pattern is set to continue, and leaders were failing at implementation measures, aligning processes, reviewing
today HR is being repeatedly asked to they threw more money or resources at the performance management and training
lead a new area—implementation of the problem. The global recession curtailed the people. Who is better to oversee the
new corporate strategy. these habits. In addition, there is a greater implementation than the HR Director?
Strategy implementation has burst into pressure than ever before on leaders—to HR is once again being called to arms
the business scene over the last few years. deliver on their promises to shareholders, because of their unique position in the
There has been a global awakening to as customers becoming more demanding company. They:
the fact that change management cannot and working capital contracting due to (1) Move cross-functionally with ease;
be applied to the discipline of executing shrinking markets. Shareholders (and (2) Engage both the soft and the hard
strategy (the words execution and boards) are demanding that leaders do it approach of transformation;
implementation are interchangeable) and right at the first time. (3) Have experienced similar challenges.
that more often than not, implementation If crafting strategy requires an
of strategy fails. Currently, blogs, articles “outside-in” approach (first looking The decisive question is, “Do HR
and books are shouting out the statistic— at your competition, market, new leaders see this as an opportunity or
18 september 2010
a burden?” In many multi-national table. The challenge
companies they are creating an Office ahead though is not
for Strategy Implementation to handle easy and is fraught
this portfolio. The key responsibilities with danger.
typically include: Once HR is
• Communicating the corporate charged with the
strategy; responsibility of overseeing
• Coordinating projects across the the strategy execution, the first step is
organisation; often to start to share the new messages
• Ensuring projects stay on schedule; with the rest of the organisation. After all,
• Sharing best practices and lessons how can the staff members implement the
learned; strategy if they do not know what it is? expect them to become fully engaged
• Providing skills and expertise when From our research, we identified that a after a 45 minute speech!
required; common mistake of the companies who The goal of communicating strategy
• Keeping the CEO informed of failed was to just hold a town hall meeting is not just to explain the strategy, as
progress. with the CEO explaining the strategy or many believe. This is only the first
display a few posters. It takes much more part of the goal. Once staff members
In Asia, many companies cannot than this. know what the strategy is, the next
afford the luxury of a strategy office. HR, Leaders have been living and step is to explain what you need them
therefore, is asked to step into the void. breathing the strategy development for to do differently (to participate in the
HR has been steadily moving from an typically 12 to 18 months. They have implementation) and then make sure they
administrative focus to a strategic focus examined it from every angle and had an are motivated to do it. These additional
over the last few years. Being charged opportunity to express and discuss their two steps are critical.
with overseeing the execution of the views and opinions. Staff members often Kaplan and Norton (a.k.a. the
strategy is an excellent opportunity for hear the strategy for the first time while Balanced Scorecard) revealed from their
HR to cement its position at the strategy attending a town hall meeting and leaders research that 95 per cent of staff members
september 2010 19
cannot explain what the corporate Engagement is a central imperative This places even more emphasise
strategy is for their company. This is a of implementation and it is the leaders’ on ensuring that the strategy message is
significant contributor to the high failure role to initiate the engagement. heard consistently and coherently.
rate of implementation, as how can you Leaders must inspire staff members
implement what you do not know? To to want to become involved by the Strategy customer
ensure staff members understand what communication. They must demonstrate When leaders start to view their staff
the strategy is, leaders must become the clearly how staff members can be members as their Strategy customers,
Voice of the strategy and treat their staff involved and ensure they understand they communicate the strategy to staff
members as their Strategy customer. the message. members from a very different perspective
An acid test of successful and a very different approach—they “sell
Voice of the strategy communication is to check to see what it”. In addition, when leaders take the
Sharing a new strategy in a town hall leaders are discussing with their teams. time to show staff members respect, staff
meeting is only scratching the surface of If it is how they can act on the strategy, members take the time to show the leaders
explaining it. Leaders must become the then the communication is working. If it and the strategy respect. It is after all the
Voice of the strategy. They must leverage is about operational challenges or staff staff members who must buy it (buy-in).
every opportunity to explain the new turnover, or how to save costs, then it is This position is a mind-set shift for many
strategy, inspire staff members to make not working. leaders.
sure everyone knows the right actions to Implementing strategy successfully In most implementations, leaders
take, and motivate everyone to take the means changing the conversations delegate the responsibility to their
right actions. As in an election campaign, in the organisation. It is estimated, staff members without proper support,
leaders must keep repeating the message according to Bridges research, that in encouragement and the appropriate tools
and stay on the message. Once everyone a weekly leadership meeting, the team and techniques. Leaders then sit back and
has heard, understood, and started to act spends 85 per cent of its time discussing expect the implementation to be carried out
on it, leaders can then shift from repeating operations and only 15 per cent on effectively. Nine out of 10 times it fails.
the message to sharing what is happening. strategy. To successfully implement Leaders need to adopt the same
Louis Gerstner, Chairman of the Board strategy, this must be reversed. Part mindset for rolling out a strategy to the
of IBM Corporation from April 1993 until of the way to achieve the reverse is organisation as they would adopt when
his retirement in December 2002, once to manage the communication and launching a new product to customers.
reflected on his successful turnaround of specifically the agenda and discussions Take the time to sit down with your
IBM and said, “All of this (implementing at meetings. For example, start every team and discuss the new strategy.
his transformation strategy) takes leadership meeting with a review of Consider asking them the followings:
enormous commitment from the CEO the measures or have the leaders ask • How does the strategy impact your
to communicate, communicate, and their staff members every week, “What work?
communicate some more. No institutional actions have you taken this week to • How does the strategy impact your
transformation takes place, I believe, make the strategy come alive?” department?
without a multi-year commitment by the Staff members are bombarded daily • How does the strategy impact you
CEO to put himself or herself constantly with messages. It is estimated that personally?
in front of employees and speak in plain, currently: • What concerns do you have about the
simple, compelling language that drives • 60 billion emails are sent each day; new strategy?
conviction and action throughout the • 23 billion instant messages are sent • What needs to change for you to
organisation.” each day. successfully adopt the strategy?
20 september 2010
• What new skills do you feel you need
to execute the strategy?
• What can I do to support you while
you implement the strategy?
• What will you do differently in your
If you work with your staff members
during implementation in the same way
you work with customers when launching
a product, you improve the way you
view your people. As a result, your staff
members will more readily adopt the
strategy and resist it less.
Strategy is about making the right
choices—the leader’s responsibility.
Implementation is about taking the right
actions—staff member’s responsibility.
Therefore, leaders must ensure staff
members know what the strategy is,
know what to do to implement it and are
motivated to take the right actions. Like
trying to become fit we all know what the
goal is and the actions we should take but
doing it is another story.
Leaders must ensure staff members know
what the strategy is, know what to do to
implement it and are motivated to take the
Note: Robin Speculand is the author of
“Beyond Strategy—The Leader’s Role in right actions.
Bridges Business Consultancy Int
september 2010 21