Implementing Your Functional Strategy: The Key to Maximizing Staff Value
Written by Mike Markos

Staff organizations in large companies often have multiple initiatives underway. These may include implementing the new ERP system (SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, etc.), a new activity based costing system, a new compensation program, or a new professional development program. There are typically a large number of initiatives underway at any given time. In some organizations these initiatives have been justified by business cases and may be multiyear projects with tens or even hundreds of people, including outside consultants, assigned to them. In other companies formal business cases are not normally required, and it is merely part of the budget or other process to assign initiatives. There is normally plenty of activity. However, frequently the progress is slow and the resulting benefits are difficult to measure. Even worse, the initiatives are often not clear components of an articulated functional strategy.

Effective staff organi zations build and implement robust functional strategies. These strategies include visions, missions, goals and objectives. They also include specific plans around leadership, organization, process, technology, and partnering with the business. Additionally, it includes operating plan components like initiatives and budgets.

However, the intent of this article is not to discuss how to create a functional strategy. Rather its focus is how to assure that you implement your strategy effectively. Nonetheless, you do need to have a strategy, preferably a good one, and you need to implement it effectively. We provide here a checklist to help you assure you have a good functional strategy:

  • It is closely aligned with the company’s business strategy
  • Functional vision and goals are clearly stated and they relate to betterment of the business as well as the function
  • It is clear how the function will bring added value to the business
  • It addresses how the levers of the function: leadership, business partnership, people, process, and technology will be used in reaching the goals
  • Functional and multi-functional initiatives are identified and chartered Once you have a good strategy, you can apply five rules that must be followed to successfully implement a functional strategy:

1. A strategy has no value until it is implemented

2. Put your best people on your high value initiatives

3. Make your leaders accountable for the initiatives that implement the strategy

4. Build your capability as you go along

5. Tally your results early and often

We will examine each of these rules and discuss how, when applied, help implement effective strategies.

A strategy has no value until it is implemented

Although Finance, Human Resources, and Procurement have multiple initiatives underway in most large companies, these initiatives are normally not explicitly tied to the functional strategy. As a result, resources are devoted to activities that do not directly support the strategy, or worse, may be working against it. Companies must explicitly tie initiatives to their strategies to have a prayer of implementing them. The strategy is powerful when it is the force that directs activities. It is a disservice when the strategy merely sets a general direction.

Put your best people on your high value initiatives

Strategic initiatives drive the future of organizations. Then why do companies often hesitate to put the very best people in charge of them? The reasons are numerous. There may be a local pet project for them to attend to. Provincial local managers may not want to give up their best people for company initiatives, or the local manager may not support the initiative after all.

When you do put your best people on high value initiatives, the work gets done with better quality and speed. The results are credible and are well articulated. Additionally, the person learns from the experience, only increasing the value they bring to the company on an ongoing basis. Also, the best people recognize they are being rewarded for their performance with development opportunities such as these.

Make your leaders accountable for the initiatives that implement the strategy

It is the responsibility of the leaders (executive leadership team of the function) to carry out the strategy. The best way to do this is to assure the functional leaders have “champion” or“owner” roles for the strategic initiatives. This does several things. It focuses the best and the brightest in the function on implementing the strategy. It broadens leaders’ perspectives beyond their own normal territory. It also ensures initiatives have sufficient leadership and guidance. The leaders tend to close ranks when they are made accountable for success of initiatives. Their perspectives are broadened and they think from the standpoint of the company and function, and not from the perspective of their administrative roles.

Build your capability as you go along

Most organizations do not have sufficient skills to staff their initiatives, as they would like. Actually this is an opportunity for the best and brightest in the organization to grow professionally. The functional leaders who serve as their champions can coach teams. Also, consultants with the expertise to coach, teach, and guide can be an excellent investment for the teams. Many resources are available to the teams to build their capability as they define problems, explore paths and best practices of other companies, create roadmaps to improvement, identify early wins, and implement permanent solutions.

Tally your results early and often Staff initiatives often have the reputation of being projects that drain resources. Staff improvements often involve policy and technical changes across divisions that take time to sort out, bring to consensus, and implement. It is not unusual for large systems projects to take several years before the first of the improvements are tallied. The most successful initiatives, however, identify early wins along with the longer-term elements of a project. Ideally, an initiative can be divided into sub-projects that deliver results over a period of time. When this is not possible, parallel efforts for long- and short-term results are critical. Demonstrating progress in staff initiatives not only is possible, it is imperative. Without short-term results, the business loses confidence in the initiatives, and in the value of the staff itself.

Conclusion

Too often staff functions focus on the here and now, and work current issues and initiatives to the best of their abilities. However, maximizing staff value is the result of a solid functional strategy that is well implemented through aligned efforts of superior people who focus on results.