Strategy is About Solving Future Problems

Most companies don’t have HCM strategies. The tendency is to “fight fires” and jump from crisis to crisis. Without a strategy – a plan for the future – companies won’t be able to meet oncoming challenges without considerable difficulty.

My Brandon Hall Group colleague, David Wentworth, likes to point out a statistic from our learning technology research that highlights dissatisfaction with the LMS marketplace. In the study, we asked participants to rate various aspects of their current system. Number two on the list was “meets our current needs,” but all the way at the bottom of the list was “meets our future needs.” shutterstock_271470749

In thinking about this, I considered just how much time we spend trying to solve today’s problems without ever looking into the future.

I often cite The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It in these kinds of discussions. The key principle in the book is that people who start small businesses are usually technical experts who want to work in the business. However, for long-term success, there needs to be a focus of working on the business as well, including marketing, sales, accounting, and other aspects. While all are not direct, revenue-producing activities, they enable business success and allow it to grow and flourish.

This tenet also applies in much larger organizations. The tendency is to “fight fires” and jump from crisis to crisis. Without planning for the future, companies simply won’t be able to meet oncoming challenges without considerable difficulty.

Training for Today and Tomorrow

Strategy is the foundation for virtually every business activity, and yet there are so few companies actually putting this into place:

  • Only 55% of companies have a learning strategy (2015 State of Learning & Development Study, Brandon Hall Group)
  • Just 25% of companies have a clear talent acquisition strategy (2015 Strategic Talent Acquisition Study, Brandon Hall Group)
  • About two in 10 companies have a highly effective talent management strategy, meaning that the other 80% have ineffective or nonexistent strategies (2016 State of Talent Management Study, Brandon Hall Group)

The critical question is: With so many competing priorities, how do companies identify those future problems that need solving?

We can’t develop 100 disparate competencies in every worker, so how can we determine which trends are truly going to require a shift in the products/services we deliver as an organization?

For instance, back in 2003, Second Life was going to be “the next big thing,” but despite much fanfare it never really panned out in terms of broad appeal. Now we’re seeing services like Uber shake up multiple industries and many companies seem to be taken by surprise (including those unconventional ones from which Uber is snatching talent). I think it all comes down to the sources of information that companies use.

Customers and Competitors as Information Sources

For those looking mainly at competitors in the marketplace, they are jumping from trend to trend with no real strategy to actually prepare the employee base for the demands of the future. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. Even if you hit a target, another one pops up almost immediately. That approach is expensive, and it is a grind for the employees who have to deal with this never-ending stream of fad programs with no true depth or cultural ties.

However, those companies that focus on customers and what they want are the ones that are on target to meet the coming changes head on, because they can start developing the right competencies to meet those customer needs. Listening to your customers isn’t a new idea, but few companies use that as the foundation for their employee competency planning. It’s a strategy that plays out for companies of all sizes and industries.

Take MasterCard, for example.  In talking with some of the learning leaders at MasterCard recently, the company is clearly defining itself as a technology firm. That’s because of the customer demand for solutions beyond a simple swipe terminal. From online retail to mobile payments, it’s just one example of how following the customer demands is going to make sure the company is targeting the right trends. That, in turn, feeds into the hiring and upskilling side of things. MasterCard needs to hire mobile developers and people to broker relationships with online marketplaces, but those wouldn’t have been skill sets the company was looking for in the past.

Consider your own organization and its approach to this timeless issue.

  • Do you have a method for identifying and evaluating trends that will affect your business?
  • How do you determine which trends are going to require attention and which will fall by the wayside?
  • How does trend analysis feed into your competency and skill planning process?

Ben Eubanks, HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group


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