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Being Strategic - Takeaways from the HR Swap

In last week's HR Swap, we had a fantastic conversation about what it means to be "strategic" and how the participants decide where to focus their energy.

We defined being strategic in a variety of ways, all of which laddered up to making something better and more efficient. So many HR professionals are overloaded with day-to-day tasks in addition to big-picture cultural shifts that any project or initiative that gets your attention should be one that makes not just the lives of the employee population better, but those of your team as well. It's not strategic to take on a project that requires HR to put in more hours instead of fewer. Just because HR can do it doesn't mean they should.

The one thing we all agreed on is that being strategic requires you to align any HR initiatives with the C-level goals or overall business strategy. (If you don't, your strategy is just you going rogue.) But you can't do that unless you understand the business strategy: what is it your manager (and/or CEO or CHRO or whoever is driving your business) wants to achieve this year/quarter/month? Have you had conversations with them about what that looks like for you? Have you spent time thinking about those goals (aside from being overwhelmed by them and feeling they're super-aggressive)? If not, book time on your calendar. Schedule a lunch for yourself outside the office (or house), put your phone aside, and write out your thoughts about how you can be not just a partner to these objectives, but a strategic one.

Another key is to align HR metrics with business goals: Not everything that HR does is reliably measurable (even through culture pulse surveys, though those are valuable tools). If you have access to the turnover rate, employee engagement metrics, exit interviews/surveys, or any other data you can get your hands on, get it. The more you know about the data that's driving your business, the more strategic you can be, and the stronger argument you can make about which initiatives to pursue.

Relationships are integral to strategy. Know who you're working with, what they want and need, and try to play to their strengths or opportunities. For example, if you know your finance lead is going to react badly to the idea of providing a half-day for wellness every quarter, dig up the data to support it. Ask what trade-off they'd need to see in order for that to be an appealing option. When we remember the give-and-take nature of work, it's easier to be strategic.

But being strategic can also mean being creative. One participant talked about how exit interviews are done at the parent company level for her organization and how she and her team have had to be super creative about getting exit data without duplicating the parent company's efforts and without expressly going against their rules.

Another suggestion is taking a step back. Try to get a sense of the whole picture, even asking other people to contribute to that picture so it's as broad as possible. Ask yourself what you're too focused on and what is that keeping you from seeing? Consider all the people involved (not just the target population) and what the ripple effect is going to be. That way you've already thought through some of the objections your proposal is likely to meet on its path to fruition.

One thing each participant shared -- and I've seen this across HR in a wide array of industries -- is that there's so much work to be done day-to-day, it's hard to find the time to be strategic. At an agency where I used to work, joked that there was no job number to bill our thinking time to. So it's a good idea to take an hour a month (a week? every other week?) to simply think or talk things through.

It turns out that the HR Swap could be that hour! At the end of our call, one participant shared a challenge she was facing in proposing a PTO policy that was modern and competitive with other companies. We asked about her leadership and when she said they were fairly controlling, we encouraged her to propose more than she really wanted, allowing her leadership team to feel like they were in control, offering a revised option that would still be acceptable to her.

Join us Thursday, May 25th at 3pm ET for the next HR Swap!

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