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HR Priorities Qualification and Business Involvement: Deep Dive.

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Wowledge Expert Team
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HR priorities refer to the primary areas of focus, programs, initiatives, and activities chosen to be executed in a specific time period designed to enable an organization to form, manage, prepare, and maximize the impact of its workforce. These initiatives are typically but not exclusively driven by the human resources function. For priorities to be highly relevant, they should be closely linked to the company's overall business strategy as the basis for effective strategic HR management. This means understanding the broader goals of the business and determining how the workforce can best contribute to achieving those goals. By ensuring that HR efforts support the company's bigger-picture objectives, businesses can create a more cohesive and effective approach to growth and problem-solving.

Putting in place a structured prioritization approach is crucial for ensuring that an organization's human capital is managed efficiently and aligned with its strategic goals. For this purpose, qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods can be used to make informed decisions. Quantitative methods involve collecting and organizing numerical data to derive relevant insights. The strength of quantitative methods lies in their ability to provide clear, measurable, and often benchmarkable information. On the other hand, qualitative methods focus on understanding people's underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations regarding the specific subject or focus area. Qualitative insights are invaluable to provide depth and context, helping understand the 'why' behind any data. 

It is, however, much more impactful and effective to use an approach that blends the quantitative with the qualitative to ensure a more complete understanding of both the "whats" and "whys" of a series of challenges.

Blended approach to identifying HR initiatives to consider for prioritization

A comprehensive process involves blending data collection by conducting focus groups, interviews, and surveys. While the emphasis on any of these mechanisms will be in asking open-ended questions to shed light on the reasons behind why a specific initiative is important, it is helpful to include a structured approach that also includes questions with rating scales to gather information that can be further quantified.

Sample questions vary widely depending on the areas of focus or initiatives that are subject to inquiry. Nonetheless, a good, standardized list of questions could include a variation of the following:

Skills and resource planning:

  • Describe the most critical business goals that your department/team are focusing on over the next [time frame].
  • What type of skills or capabilities are needed to support those goals? 
  • Do you see any current or future capability gaps/resource shortages?

HR areas, functions, or programs:

  • Explain how effectively is the current [area] supporting your team. 
  • Rate the current effectiveness of [area] using a five-point scale with 1 being poorly and 5 being exceptionally well.
  • Explain how critical it is to improve the effectiveness of [area] to your team’s success in the next [time frame]. 
  • Rate the importance of improving [area] using a five-point scale, with 1 being "not critical to improve" and 5 being "extremely critical.”
  • Some initiatives that could improve the effectiveness of [area] are listed below. Are there any initiatives or actions missing from the list? Rank all these initiatives in order of importance to support your team.
  • Initiative A
  • Initiative B
  • Initiative C
  • Initiative(s) added
  • When working on these improvement initiatives, who should be involved in the process from across the organization or your team?

The resulting information from these questions will include both qualitative perspectives and numerical data that can be further analyzed to identify confirming or contrasting views. It is helpful to both compile the information collected to allow for those comparisons to be visible, and to integrate the numerical data to illustrate areas in need of attention. Out of this type of consolidation and analysis, it will become more apparent that a reduced set of initiatives should be further considered for prioritization, given either their consistency of mentions and/or ratings across participants. Still, the reduced set of potential initiatives should be further evaluated utilizing a more rigorous analytical method to confirm priorities.

Analytical approach to prioritizing HR Initiatives

A standard method for prioritization involves assessing to what extent the targeted initiative provides value or aligns with business goals in contrast to its difficulty level to put in place. In the case of prioritizing HR initiatives, there are several criteria dimensions to consider that will help make distinctions among initiatives more straightforward.

Useful criteria to consider for assessing the value of an initiative include the extent to which the proposed initiative:

  • Supports business strategy or transformation
  • Enables future business growth
  • Improves operational performance
  • Impacts employee branding, experience, and culture

Useful criteria to consider for assessing the difficulty level of implementing an initiative includes:

  • Investment dependency/financial resources required 
  • Volume/type of talent needed
  • Time required
  • Degree of complexity

Each initiative should be evaluated separately, considering the differentiation criteria based on a scale from 0 to 5 where zero (0) is the lowest rating and five (5) is the highest. Scores are then added to obtain a total score per category for each initiative that can be plotted in a prioritization matrix, which visually displays and emphasizes differences among initiatives.

Sample Targeted Practices Prioritization Template

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A complimentary prioritization process with detailed guidance, best practices, and tools is included in "Establishing a Core Talent Management Strategy to Set Priorities and a Strategic Roadmap." This Supplemental Guide is free and available to all Wowledge members.

While this evaluation process provides an analytical basis for a preliminary differentiation of the improvement initiatives, it also represents an initial selection of priorities that will benefit from validation by key stakeholders.

Engaging the business in confirming HR Priorities

Aligning HR priorities to business needs and goals is not only about analyzing the organization's mission, vision, and strategic objectives or conducting prioritization exercises in isolation. Business leaders should be involved consistently throughout the strategic HR planning process to identify the most impactful priorities, obtain the appropriate buy-in, and identify/gain support for the required resources for their execution. This involvement of business stakeholders represents a continuous nurturing process and should be conducted before, during, and after the identification of HR priorities to truly drive organizational success.

Pre-identification of HR Priorities

Before defining HR priorities, involving various business stakeholders to gather diverse perspectives and insights is crucial. By conducting interviews, hosting cross-functional workshops or focus groups, and deploying surveys, HR can understand the pressing needs, challenges, and expectations of different areas of the business. This preliminary involvement ensures that the HR priorities align with broader business objectives and fosters a sense of collective ownership. Engaging leadership from various functions and business segments can provide strategic direction, emphasizing areas that have a direct impact on the organization's bottom line or competitive positioning.

Stakeholders to be involved at this stage:

  • Senior Leadership: Their strategic perspective ensures that initial HR priorities are aligned with the organization's overall vision and mission.
  • Department Heads or Managers: Offer a nuanced understanding of department-specific challenges and requirements.
  • Project Managers: Especially in businesses with a robust project-based orientation, they can provide insights into specific team needs.
  • Front-line Supervisors: Their direct interaction with staff offers a ground-level perspective on workforce challenges and needs.

During the identification of HR Priorities

As HR teams go through the process of identifying their priorities, continuous collaboration with the business becomes even more critical. Forming a representative task force or Governance Council comprising members from various business units ensures that the identification process remains grounded in the practical realities of the organization. Regular touchpoints, brainstorming sessions, and feedback loops can be established with this group. This council can act as a sounding board, validating the emerging HR priorities against actual business needs, helping refine them, and ensuring they are both strategic and actionable. This collaborative approach enhances the relevance of the HR priorities and strengthens inter-departmental relationships.

Stakeholders to be involved at this stage:

  • Cross-functional Representatives: A mix of individuals from various departments ensures diverse perspectives.
  • Subject Matter Experts: Their deep domain knowledge can help refine specific priorities, especially in areas like IT, finance, or operations.
  • Operational Staff: Representatives from this group can provide insights into the day-to-day challenges and practical implications of proposed priorities.
  • Change Management Specialists: If available within the business, they can guide how proposed HR initiatives might be received and implemented.

Post-identification of HR Priorities

Once HR priorities are identified, it's essential to loop back with the business to communicate these decisions, their rationale, and the envisaged impact. Town hall meetings, departmental briefings, or written communications can be employed. Seeking feedback post-identification allows the business to voice concerns, offer suggestions, or highlight potential oversights. This iterative feedback mechanism ensures that the final set of HR priorities is robust and enjoys widespread buy-in. Furthermore, engaging the business in the implementation phase by seeking their active participation in rolling out relevant HR initiatives can boost the success rate and help track progress against set priorities.

Stakeholders to be involved at this stage:

  • Senior Leadership: Their endorsement of the finalized priorities lends credibility and ensures top-down support.
  • Communication Teams: They play a pivotal role in disseminating information about the HR priorities throughout the organization.
  • Feedback Groups: Comprising a mix of roles, these groups can be set up to evaluate and give feedback on the identified priorities.
  • Learning and Development Teams: If new initiatives or changes are proposed as part of the HR priorities, this team would be crucial in the rollout phase for the planning and implementation of necessary of supportive training and development efforts.

While the above lists for each of the stages provide a general guideline, the exact mix of business representatives might vary based on an organization's size, structure, and culture. The key is ensuring a blend of strategic, tactical, and operational insights across all HR priority identification process phases.

An intelligent strategic HR roadmap generator tool is available freely to all Wowledge members to accelerate this process connected to recommended best practices applicable based on the different characteristics of each business.

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