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The benefits of Strategic Human Resource Management

Danielle HegartyDanielle Hegarty·
Strategic Human Resource Management

So much is written about Strategic Human Resource Management, so many attempts are made to define it. But definitions too often fogged in a hurdle of multi-syllable corporate-speak. Usually without really explaining it or its importance and actual impact on an organization.    

Do some basic research and you will come across definitions like: “A distinctive approach to employment management which seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce using an array of cultural, structural and personnel techniques.”  But when I read that I couldn’t help thinking, what does this actually mean and how does it translate to actual daily activities for Human Resources?

Put simply, Strategic Human Resource Management is a shift in focus away from what we’ve known as Human Resources to People Operations.  And what does this mean? Is it just a rebranding of what we’ve been doing all along, dressed up in new fancy clothes but without any substantial difference?

Certainly not. It’s a fundamental change in mindset and strategy, and it means people, employees, are not viewed as simply just another resource or asset within an organization –  like inventory, finance, or technology – but instead must be regarded as a source of competitive advantage. To maximize this source of competitive advantage they should not only be nurtured and developed (this bit is easy, in theory) but their capabilities should be leveraged (this is the bit that’s really new) to optimize their own development in an organization.

So what are we in People Operations at Poppulo doing that’s different from when we operated in the traditional HR mode?  For a start, we’re engaging with people differently even before they join our organization, and then right through the employment relationship. We’re engaging with them holistically as the total persons they are, rather than merely with the subset of their talents that match defined jobspecs.  

The traditional hiring process of defining jobspec, defining person spec, inviting applications, matching their skills with company requirements, testing them against a predefined list of weighted competencies defined as necessary to be successful at the role, and then picking the closest match, ensured that companies addressed their operational requirements but fell short in their ability to leverage organization-wide capability.

This only happens by looking beyond the traditional hiring model and by redefining mindsets to view an organization’s people as its greatest asset and its competitive advantage. That’s how we operate at Poppulo.  We elevate the hiring process to an open-minded search for smart, capable people who may not match a list of specific requirements but who might bring transferable skills – and who are smart enough to be able to deploy them in different environments.

More importantly, they bring new blood and a different perspective, they keep us questioning ourselves and prevent us from falling into old habits, or worse still – groupthink!  This helps keep the edge to your competitive advantage.

So, once you have found these people – both those who match the requirements of your existing organization and those who bring new perspectives and viewpoints,  what should we in People Operations be doing to leverage their talents and capabilities?  

Let’s look at the much-maligned ‘millennials’. There’s been lots written and spoken about them and how they like to work and learn and receive feedback  – and this approach has huge merit for the entire workforce irrespective of whatever monicker is used to categorize them or define their age or stage in life.

This is the nurturing and developing piece I mentioned earlier and, as I said, it’s the bit that is easy in theory but is all too often not well managed in reality. In what way? All too often, organizations are still inclined to see this only in terms of training and development for the role, and performance management against a defined set of KPI’s.

What will really grow a capable and engaged workforce are opportunities for people to stretch outside their defined roles and bring perspectives to areas other than their own.  It also means honest and frequent feedback conversations (and this absolutely must be meaningful two-way feedback communications).  

Also, it requires recognition that advancement doesn’t have to mean vertical progression to a ‘people management’ role, where sometimes an employee’s superstar technical or functional ability can be repressed as they come to grips with managing others.  Many of you will have been there before and everybody has seen it and its frequently disastrous consequences, when the only route for advancement in a company is to go from being a standout technical or functional operator to being a manager of people.

It’s something we’re especially conscious of at Poppulo, where we welcome, encourage and support avenues of career advancement other than the traditional route of vertical progression. Like other companies, we have brilliant people who we know, and they know, would neither like nor be suited to managing people. We get that, and we ensure their brilliance is encouraged and given an opportunity to shine in many other ways.

We also get the fact that people like the idea of a change from what they’ve been doing. In many companies this can mean losing valuable talent.  But at Poppulo it’s not unusual for people to move to entirely different positions in different sections and departments within the company, where other skills, talents and expertise they have can be deployed for the person’s own development and the overall benefit to the company. A recent example of this was when one of our exceptional customer support team moved to the engineering department when an exciting opportunity arose there.  

I mentioned the importance of strategic human resource management and recognition in respect of non-vertical career progression. This means having pay scales and respected titles that motivate people to move away from their traditional view of advancement, to seeing it in terms of using  their natural smarts for the wider organizational benefit.

But for this to happen they must be able to see that they are not at a personal loss or disadvantage  because they haven’t gone down the people managing route to career advancement..

How are we going to achieve all this? What can People Operations do here?  We can approach employees as the whole humans we hired, come out from behind traditional HR performance management processes and coach them and their managers how not to be afraid to have these honest conversations.

To support our people in exploring all their options, all their possible career paths – even when those paths lead outside the organization. The latter might sound disingenuous but it’s anything but. It’s simply a fact of life that people leave, so would you prefer that when they left they did so with great memories of the culture of your company, how they were encouraged to develop and be true to themselves in every way, to value how they themselves had been valued? Or would you prefer they left feeling the opposite?

How does the first approach, the Poppulo approach, increase our competitive advantage?  It promotes an environment where employees are always stretching, always learning, always sharing, living the values that they themselves have articulated as the company’s values.

Finally, the icing on the cake of how to leverage all this capability that we have hired, coached and supported in stretching is to derive strategy from employees rather than imposing it on them.

Everybody has insights from their own perspective, from their own view of the organization.  There are many simple ways of doing this but I’m a fan of focus group- type activities.  Face-to-face conversations bring insight, and the opportunity to explore, that surveys and suggestion-boxes won’t.

In the same holistic vein of always looking at employees in the totality of their talents rather than the limitation of a specific skillset, there is no better way to gain this insight than to simply listen. Question and explore yes, but listen, listen and listen again.

Now that’s the route to competitive advantage!

Are you developing an internal communications strategy in your HR Team? Our expert pdf written by Andy Blacknell is just what you need. Download it for free.


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