The 5 Top Reasons HR Strategic Plans Fail

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then by now you know how to create a strategic plan.

When you have your plan written, however, you’re still not done. You then need to look out for the 5 key reasons that cause HR strategic plans to fail.

So, you have your plan, here’s what will cause it to fail (5 main reasons).

1. Communication breakdown. Typically, if I’m in a room talking about strategic planning with people who aren’t executives, I’ll ask the group if they know if their firm has a strategic plan. Usually about half or a tiny bit more raise their hands.

Then, I ask them to keep their hands up if they’ve actually seen it. About 80% of the hands drop.

Can you see the issue here?

We know executives go on retreat to a swanky resort and say they’re developing a strategic plan. They come back with a nice binder and no one ever sees it.

That doesn’t make any sense.

The same is true for HR plans. If we put an HR strategic plan together and don’t share it outside the HR function, don’t talk to our peer leaders, and don’t talk to the executive team about how the strategic plan will support the business, that plan won’t work.

Remember: we can’t operate on an island as HR.

Our ability to effectively communicate key components of the plan and what they will do to support each business function and the organization as a whole is critical to meeting our key objectives.

2. Lack of leadership. Oftentimes, HR is an understaffed department. Many are departments of one…and that doesn’t bode well for someone who struggles with delegation. Someone smarter than me said this, but I’m a big believer that the only way to get things done as a leader is to get them done through other people. We need to get rid of what grandma told us about doing it yourself if you want it done right. That approach doesn’t work in today’s business environment.

The failure of leadership is the failure of an HR person to delegate some responsibility for the execution of the HR plan to others in the organization who may actually lie outside of HR.

For a lot of professional firms like accounting and engineering firms, recruiting is housed outside of HR. They send engineers out to talk to engineering students and accountants out to talk to accounting students. Other areas HR often fails to delegate to include employee retention and engagement. Those belong on the front line, too, and we’re setting the plan up for failure if we don’t take a leadership role in giving folks the authority to help us manage the plan.

3. There’s no plan behind the idea. I’ve reviewed many plans for HR of an organization and they’re full of lofty ideals like “we want to be the best” and “we want our customers to love us.” That’s all well and good, but those are just nice, high-level ideas. A strategic plan has to be more. It must have the meat in there that tells us how we will get customers to love us and how we’re going to get to be the best at what we do.

If we don’t have specific goals and objectives laid out, and if there are no accountabilities lined up for meeting objectives with a specific timeline, we can’t possibly expect to meet our strategic imperatives.

I think this is more unique to HR than many other departments because while everything we do can be and should be measured, we tend to fall back into things like “we want to increase our employee engagement.”

But what does that mean? How will we measure it? How will we know when we’ve met that goal?

At times, I feel like HR doesn’t measure things like we need to but, on the other hand, sometimes we put measures on things unnecessarily. Take turnover for example. What happens if we want to reduce turnover to 5%? That’s a noble idea, but some turnover is good. We want fresh ideas coming in! What are we doing to decrease turnover and does it really serve the organization? Are we increasing pay too much, and not holding people accountable when we should be?

They key is to understand what you’re measuring and why.

4. Passive management. For fans of The Office, I call this the Michael Scott syndrome. Passive management means assuming things run themselves once you get them started. Obviously, that’s not what really happens.

This comes back to my point about leadership: though you have mastered the leadership piece and delegated responsibility for parts of the plan out of HR, you still have to remain the leader and hold folks accountable. There needs to be mechanisms in place for periodic check-ins and check-ups on the strategic plan. Too many organizations dust off their plan once a year and ask, “where are we?”

I say, if you have a 3-year plan, that binder should be beat up and falling apart from being so well-used.

Our strategic plan should be talked about in HR department meetings. It should be talked about as part of any other strategic imperative. It should become part of all our decision making.

5. Lack of motivation and personal ownership. Whether it’s your HR team or folks you’ve delegated portions of your plan to, team members must understand how getting behind those goals will support the company and their own personal career goals.

Often, I see strategic planning focused solely on where the company is headed. That’s one important area where the HR plan has to be different. The HR plan must include the component of what you’ll do for your people to help them meet their goals.

The obvious challenge is that you have to know what their goals are, so you can write a plan to incorporate getting them where they want to go (which helps the company get where it wants to go, too).

These are not silos. They must go hand in hand.

Honestly, this is where a lot of HR folks miss the boat. They get too worried about being the advocate for the employee and forget that if we set up a good HR strategic plan that’s going to support the organization and we weave in the components to support our people, we’re helping to make everyone better.

I think ultimately, it’s important to remember that HR is a business function. That’s our strategic imperative in HR, and it’s no different than finance or sales or IT. We have a business imperative to support the organization, and I can guarantee that other functions have strategic plans in place as well. IT will know what kind of technology is coming down the pipeline to help support the organization and will have plans in place for it. Sales always has a sales strategy.

So, I’m always a little dumbfounded when HR doesn’t have a formal HR strategic plan, especially when asking, “what’s our most important asset?” Most executives will say “Our people.”

So why don’t we have a strategic plan for managing the people function of our organization?

I invite you to ask yourself: given what you know about your current strategy, what do you need to do from an HR planning perspective? If you don’t know the company’s current strategy, what are you going to do to find that out so you can put together an effective HR strategic plan?

Not sure where to start with developing an HR strategic plan? Contact me here and let’s talk about how I can work with you to develop a strategic plan that makes a real difference.