Future Focus

HR has an important, evolving role to play in long-range strategic planning.

By Jennifer Schramm Oct 1, 2005
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HR Magazine, October 2005

The long-standing business practice of strategic planning is becoming more difficult because of rapid changes in the work environment and growing complexities in the workforce. And those developments are affecting HR even as its role in strategic planning may expand with the rising importance of human capital issues.

Part of the planning and implementing of strategy is to try to understand the future, particularly the implications of future developments for various aspects of the business. Many companies do this by exploring so-called alternative futures, which may emphasize different aspects of the world, depending on the business.

Energy companies, for example, may use scenario planning based on alternative visions of the future environment, ecosystems, and access to renewable and nonrenewable resources. A high-tech company, on the other hand, may focus on alternative views of computer usage or access, or the potential development of key technologies. A health care provider may focus on demographic changes that could lead to new patient needs.

The use of scenario planning as an aspect of corporate planning is often limited to the business environment and does not emphasize the importance of understanding the future workforce. Here, then, is an obvious way for HR to contribute to long-range strategic planning—leading the thinking on the future of the organization’s workforce.

Moreover, if planning and strategy are two elements in a continuous process affecting how organizations respond to changes in the business environment day after day, HR’s role in strategic planning may become even more important. HR will be central to understanding the future of an asset that is increasingly important to the organization—the intellectual and productive capacity of its workforce. HR will also play a central role in harnessing this capacity to contribute to both aspects of the strategic planning process.

On the planning side, the complexity of the work environment may mean that far more information will be required to understand and envision potential futures. Employees are likely to possess much of this information, and HR is likely to be actively involved in creating the means of communicating this knowledge effectively up the chain of command.

In addition, implementing strategy will involve creating a broader awareness among employees of the organization’s potential futures, and this will involve creating effective channels of communication from the top down.

Finally, HR will also be responsible for implementing the workplace policies and processes that enable employees to use this information for considering the long-term implications while also responding to today’s challenges.

Jennifer Schramm is manager of the Workplace Trends and Forecasting program at SHRM.

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