Strategic planning session conversations often focus on people, and the people management process of the business – and well they should, especially in professionals services firms where people are the prime asset (per se) of the business. Still, it’s interesting to see and hear so much commonality in the debate. Firms of all sizes (but especially 30-300) and disciplines (architecture, civil or structural engineering, environmental science, multi-disciplinary A/E, etc.) express similar thoughts. So, what’s going on?

True, most leaders don’t begin their strategic planning efforts thinking specifically about adding corporate staff. In fact, it’s much more common in the AEC space for leaders to want to cut (or at least worry about) overhead. And nearly all firms have a story or two to share about bad experiences with corporate hires.

But here is what happens: as the strategic assessment unfolds (including internal surveys of management, staff, and clients, and detailed financial and operating performance benchmarking) it often becomes clear that a variety of “people related” issues are in fact impeding the organization’s progress. Here’s a short list of those issues:

·        Recruiting opportunities and challenges

·        Onboarding strategies and practices

·        Training and development plans and initiatives

·        Mentoring process and practices

·        Performance management systems and coaching

·        Compensation (salary and incentive) benchmarking and programs

·        Career development and career pathing

·        Management and leadership development programs

·        Leadership transition planning

Then, as we get into the planning retreat itself, and begin to prioritize key issues, opportunities, and the action agenda – a huge thrust of the firm’s focus turns up in the “people bucket!” At that point it’s usually hard to avoid a reality: the absence of a strong, talented, principal-level strategist in charge of HR is a real shortcoming (and usually just plain dumb). 

Adding on the right people-focused leader – to set strategy, guide execution of important plans, and manage the overall people function – isn’t really about adding overhead. This position should be a highly leverage-able investment in the value of the firm’s staff overall. This isn’t bureaucracy – it’s specialization of labor (thank you Henry Ford). 

I think it’s time that more firms stop trying to fake it in managing this important part of the business.

And here’s the proof: I’ve worked with several clients for whom we’ve made this same recommendation (to add an HR Director) – some more than ten years ago. Today all of these organizations agree that this was a key investment, and indeed one of the best they’ve ever made. (Senior leaders in a couple of these firms say they can’t imagine how they ever got along without an HR expert).

What say you?



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *