Meeting the HR Challenges Ahead

Experts say aligning talent and business strategies is key to engagement

By Desda Moss Apr 11, 2011
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NEW YORK—What will it take for your HR department to achieve best-in-class results for finding, developing and engaging talent in 2011?

During Aberdeen Group’s Human Capital Management Summit here March 9-10, 2011, Kevin Martin, senior vice president of research operations, offered a succinct answer during his opening remarks.

According to Martin, HR functions can achieve competitive advantage by focusing on “hardwiring” effective human capital management practices through:

  • Automation.
  • Standardization.
  • Effective use of data.

Martin’s advice was based, in part, on the results of Aberdeen’s annual survey of more than 6,000 companies, which is aimed at identifying the business practices and strategies that differentiate top-performing organizations.

Despite a growing emphasis on HR’s ability to connect HR initiatives to the strategic priorities of the business, Martin said, recent research by Boston-based Aberdeen has shown a decline in HR’s strategic rating among respondents who are HR practitioners and among business leaders at large.

“There is some evidence that suggests there’s a disconnect between the alignment of talent strategy with business strategy,” Martin said. Such alignment is vital to driving employee engagement, he stated.

“How well employees understand the business and their role is a critical factor in building employee engagement,” he said. Several studies, including research by Aberdeen, have shown that high employee engagement has a positive impact on a business’ financial revenue.

Change management was another theme that Martin and several summit presenters emphasized. “In today’s volatile marketplace, organizations that excel at change management will be best positioned to achieve their goals,” said Martin. “You have to help your business adapt to change internally faster than the market is changing externally.”

Several case studies presented by HR leaders at the summit highlighted an organization’s use of data to inform strategic decisions.

Joe Cabral, senior vice president and chief human resource officer at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, the ninth-largest employer in the New York City area, said his organization pays close attention to its employee satisfaction scores because of the high correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

The hospital system’s board of directors schedules quarterly meetings to discuss its talent management strategy and organizational results. It has developed several programs to identify and develop high-potential employees.

North Shore keeps employees apprised of how the business is faring by posting an organizational scorecard online each month and on its onsite bulletin boards. North Shore revamped its performance review process to make it less cumbersome. The health system simplified performance reviews, cutting review forms down to two pages from 14 and replacing a five-factor rating system with three categories:

  • Exceeds expectations.
  • Meets expectations.
  • Does not meet expectations.

Best Buy’s Tina Decker, vice president of HR global culture and organizational capabilities, said her company has developed processes aimed at holding leaders accountable for employee engagement by including it in leaders’ performance reviews and by adding accountability questions to employee engagement surveys to see whether actions were taken after surveys.

“Always get the voice of the employee,” said Decker, “but only if you’re going to do something about it.”

Cynthia Starz, managing director for leadership and organizational development at United Airlines, said her organization faces the challenge of thriving in a constantly changing industry.

“In our business, we have to frequently prepare for the unknown,” said Starz, “so we have to know what talent we have and develop a succession planning process.”

Starz said United uses a nine-box performance and potential matrix to assess its 80,000 employees and to identify talent gaps.

In addition, managers meet regularly with employees to discuss their capabilities and aspirations, and then each employee creates a talent profile that contains key information, including their skills, work history and training.

“Our goal is to plan from the top down but build from the bottom up,” said Starz.

Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine.

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