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Setting the HR Agenda (When You Want to Do ALL THE THINGS!)



I recently had a conversation with a friend who had started a new job as HR Director at a mid-sized company, She was PUMPED!  The interview experience was top-notch and the Leadership team was excited to bring in a high-level HR leader (her!) to drive initiatives forward. Naturally they had all sorts of items on their “wish list” and the CEO, as would be expected, had even more. As the newest member of this visionary and forward-thinking team, the opportunities to deliver impactful and innovative HR promised to be endless.  

So she started a list; (well, in reality she started the list before she had even been offered the job because she was so excited). Her initial planning resulted in an agenda including tackling day-to-day HR operational items to selecting new HR technology to implementing performance management to improving talent acquisition to rolling out succession planning to… get the picture. 

But as she crafted this working agenda for herself and her team, she found she was front-loading her self-imposed due dates. Everything seemed “urgent” (of course) and exciting (hurray!) so as she put pen to paper she realized she wanted to get ALL THE THINGS done in the first 2 quarters of the year.

Finding herself in need of a sanity check, she gave me a ring, we shared an adult beverage, and then re-oriented her HR plan back in the land of reality.  

This was not, by any stretch, an uncommon occurrence. 

Crafting an effective HR agenda and strategy can often feel like working on a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Alone.  Especially in small or mid-sized HR teams, human resources professionals are jacks-of-all-trades; adept at handling everything from talent management to employee engagement, compliance, and culture building. But how do you set a focused HR agenda when you're tempted to do ALL the things …right now? 

Embrace the Big Picture, Then Zoom In
Start with the big picture. Understand your organization's goals, culture, and challenges. What does your company aspire to be, and how can HR help it get there? This broad perspective is essential, but it's equally important not to get lost in it. Then, once you've got the lay of the land, it's time to get real. Identify what's feasible and what's a stretch. Be pragmatic about what HR can realistically achieve given your resources and time constraints. And also remember two very important things: 
•    not everything that can be done, should be done
•    not everything is actually (and truly) a “priority”

Prioritize Ruthlessly
List out all the things you want to accomplish. Now comes the tough love part - you can't do it all. You must cut and re-order this “to-do list” ruthlessly. Prioritize based on what aligns most closely with your organization's goals and what will have the most significant impact. Find the sweet spot between ambition and practicality and be brutally honest about what's truly important. Does revamping the entire performance review process take precedence over introducing a new wellbeing initiative? Is it more important to focus on retention in a high-turnover environment before rolling out a new Applicant Tracking System? Sometimes the best strategy is to do fewer things … and do them better.

Build a Flexible, Agile Plan
Plans are great, but rigidity is not. Develop a strategy that's flexible and adaptable. The speed of change for businesses is seemingly always accelerating (what will 2024 bring?) and your HR strategy should be able to pivot as needed. Embracing agility means being ready to shift gears when necessary and not being so wedded to your plan that you miss the big picture. Oh, and by the way - the big picture is not your HR initiative or accolades for you and your team; the big picture is sustaining and growing the business and contributing to organizational success. 

Communication is Key
Keep the lines of communication open, not just within HR, but across the entire organization. Talk to senior leaders of course, but also wrap in other pertinent stakeholders including department heads, managers, and front-line staff. Share your vision, your plan, and, most importantly, the rationale behind it. Transparency builds trust and understanding. But, of course, communication is bi-directional so listen to feedback, be open to criticism, and be ready to adjust your approach based on what you hear. You really wanted to add pets to your Bereavement Policy but the CEO and CFO are opposed? Time to move on (for now).  

Embrace Technology Wisely
Much of your planning and strategy will, undoubtedly, incorporate technology initiatives. And while you will certainly want to leverage technology to make your HR tasks more efficient, be cautious. Assess what truly adds value to your strategy; there’s no need to fall for every shiny new HR tech tool that promises the world. Technology should enhance your strategy – not define it. 

Tap Into Other Resources
Often, when you’re listed as “Responsible” or “Accountable” on the RACI Chart (even if it’s a chart you share with no one but yourself!) all those due dates and deadlines can keep you up at night. This may be when you once again think about prioritizing (time and resource availability…remember?) and explore the feasibility of either adding staff to your team, outsourcing some of your current daily work, or partnering with SME’s on any given initiative. 

Don't Forget Self-Care
In your quest to do it all don't neglect yourself; burnout is real and if you’re exhausted you’re not effective. Take time to reflect, recharge and rejuvenate, It is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint; persistence, endurance, and pacing yourself over time is more effective than rushing to achieve immediate results.

Setting your HR agenda and strategy in the context of wanting to do everything requires a blend of ambition, pragmatism, support, and flexibility. You can, more than likely, do ALL THE THINGS…just not all at once.

“In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else.”
Jose Raul Capablanca



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