Tuesday, October 16, 2012

HR Alignment Versus HR Linkage

Over the last several years our company has been working with businesses to "align" organizational strategic goals to desired outcomes or to "align" a specific department (Like HR) with organizational goals and objectives.

It's work that is fascinating but also very complicated.  When you are dealing with strategy that is big picture, fluid and 30,000 feet high, some people have a hard time picturing how what they do in their job impacts the overall big picture.  That's where alignment and linkage come in.  By showing employees how what they do impacts other areas is key in this process.

I have begun to wonder if alignment is the right terminology or should we be using the word linkage.  Check out the definitions below:
Alignment- Arrangement or position in a straight line or in parallel lines. The process of adjusting parts so that they are in proper relative position. 
Linkage-A logical or natural association between two or more things.
I  have a definite bias, as I am a very linear thinker, so the first definition makes perfect sense to me about what we need to be doing in HR as it relates to organizational strategy:

1) "Align" what we do in HR to the business outcomes outlined in the organization's strategic plan.
2) "Align" action plans in HR to HR objectives in order to achieve the business outcomes.
3) "Align" metrics to those outcomes and actions so that progress and ROI can be tracked.

But...I can see where "linkage" is important as well.  For example, isn't HR's progress in the strategic arena often defined by "linking" to other functional areas like technology and finance?

I see HR using "linkage" in the following ways in the strategic execution process:

1) Determining which behaviors "link" to successful performance.
2) Determining which drivers "link" to more engaged employees.
3) Determining the linkage between the customer-employee experience and making that experience consistent throughout the organization.

So, I guess my answer is HR needs to do both.  We need to be tightly aligned with organizational outcomes and we also need to determine and understand the linkage between what drives our employees to perform at their highest ability.

This all sounds very easy...but trust me it isn't.

If it were all HR departments would be "aligned" to organizational outcomes and we know they aren't.

Yet, if you ask C-Level executives, their main complaint is that HR isn't adding value.  Well you can't add value until you understand HOW and WHERE the organization NEEDS HR to add value.

The first order of business is to complete a strategic business mapping exercise.  This tool allows you to clearly "see" alignment to an outcome like "increase market share" and HR objectives like developing a workforce hiring plan and a focus on HIPO retention.

What has your experience been...linkage or alignment, or both?


Violet said...

This is a great article because I think it gets at the holy grail of what we're trying to do. We know we want to make those links and create that alignment but in reality its tough! I also think the alignment has to be tangible and data-based. If its too "fluffy" or far-reaching its not going to be clear in the minds of the employees.

Andy Spence said...

Hi Cathy - really good post. Like you I think alignment and linkage are both important. A really important early step is alignment, and I like your definition
"The process of adjusting parts so that they are in proper relative position."
In this type of exercise I would include Finance and IT which also need to be aligned with the organisational strategy (of course!).

I am not sure "linkage" as a term gives enough weight to your examples, which seem much deeper and fundamental e.g. which behaviours drive successful performance. But, at this point on Sunday evening, I can't come up with a better alternative!

HR alignment is a challenge and I like your clear process for achieving it.

Unknown said...

Hi Andy:

So good to hear from you! I understand what you are saying about linkage....and I have searched for another word too.

I agree when HR is aligning what they do to the organizational strategy the other departments and functions MUST do the same thing.....

Hope all is well and thanks so much for reading!