Category: Human Resources (Page 1 of 2)

Aligning Social Resources with Strategic Direction

The market environment within which all businesses operate changes constantly. Each business organization must be prepared to change as well, either reactively or (preferably) proactively. When all organizational resources are aligned with strategy the organization is better prepared to utilize resources efficiently and effectively to adapt to changing circumstances. This is particularly true with social resources (people). If people are not fully aligned with strategic direction an organization has a tendency to become unfocused; struggling with conflicting priorities and mismanaging resources. Effectively establishing that strategic direction, however, requires more than the completion of a written plan document, no matter how well thought out that document may be. Effective strategic alignment requires the careful blending of well–defined organizational goals with operational procedures and personal skills to achieve efficient and effective work flow. marketing-board-strategy Before creating a strategic direction it is most important that leadership has a clearly defined and well communicated vision for the future of the business. The formalization of an effective business strategy begins with visionary executive leadership. Visionary leaders are not prophetic; they simply understand the importance of exercising forethought, which they know to require all of the following: a willingness to carefully and objectively consider the business environment as it exists today the anticipation of the continually evolving needs of their customers, and those of their customers’ customers consideration of the needs and aspirations of all parties having an interest in the future well-being of the organization a thorough understanding of necessary internal organizational competencies, and how those competencies relate to the demands of the marketplace an ability to visualize internal organizational change as a process of ongoing, managed innovation

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One Central Park Sydney
By: Rob Deutscher

Greenhouse Gas Removal as a Global System: Part 1

Our planet is one large system composed of thousands of smaller systems. Though tiny, our everyday activities combine to affect the global system in a big way, and the global system, in turn, affects each of us significantly. Similarly, in any business organization there are many components that must be recognized as contributing to organizational sustainability, and therefore must be effectively managed to align towards a common goal.

The Earth’s climate is a perfect example of one such global system. From agriculture, to work, to housing, to lifestyle – climate affects all aspects of human life. We are now trying to understand how changes introduced into our environment over many years (some so small as to be hardly noticeable) are impacting our climate, and correspondingly, our personal sustainability.

One Central Park Sydney By: Rob Deutscher

One Central Park Sydney
By: Rob Deutscher

In business, leaders frequently establish “special project” teams to deal with change. Likewise, concerning our global system, many projects are underway to help us understand what factors contribute to a long term change in climate conditions. Understanding how and why the environment we live in is changing is important to both “micro” business projects and “macro” climate projects. Success however, is defined as the ability to pro actively (and practically) manage change to the advantage of the organization (system).

For example, as of 2016, there are several working models, startups, and plans to actually remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans. However, given the interrelationship of the many components of the global environmental system, the impact of executing any of these plans on the entire system (think organization) must be understood before any plan can be considered viable.

The first obstacle to pro actively managing global climate change is the “how” of actually removing carbon and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans. Several methods have been proposed: Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, biochar (a charcoal used as a soil amendment), enhanced weathering, direct air capture, C02 scrubbing chemistry, and others. Research programs, global initiatives, and startups are already addressing the practical implementation and feasibility of these methods, with careful attention to the implications to the whole system of any remedial actions.

Not unlike any organization dealing with change in their business environment, when addressing climate change, global leadership must first create a strategy that ensures all options are carefully defined, alternatives weighed, costs and benefits quantified and solutions proposed. Then resources must be aligned to support the adopted solutions (strategy).

Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant. Rendering by LeJean Hardin and Jamie Payne.

Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant. Rendering by LeJean Hardin and Jamie Payne.

Without a clear vision of how to proceed, a method to do so, and an understanding of the cost benefit relationship of actions taken most good plans are likely to fail. For example, any method of greenhouse gas removal will probably be costly in the developmental phase, and have ongoing costs past implementation. Without a clearly communicated global strategy that helps all interested parties understand the cost offsetting benefits of managed change, greenhouse gas removal projects are unlikely to gain any traction.

As previously mentioned, when taking strategic action, all parties involved must understand the strategy and ramifications of implementation. Imagine leadership funding a long-term, costly activity without a clear understanding of the potential costs or benefits. Funding could be cut at a crucial point and potential benefits lost. Essential to any project of scale therefore, is the diligent utilization of metrics. For example, with greenhouse gas removal, what type and how much of each gas does each proposed solution remove? How much does each proposed solution cost to operate? How many different proposals should be acted upon ? These types of questions will require have many points of data to be collected, stored, and analyzed in real time.

As data is collected, the scope of a project like this will likely change. By realigning resources to better fulfill their role in the evolving strategy, leadership on a project of this scope can be more effective in realizing strategic goals , use fewer resources, and keep costs down while continuing to execute innovate.

In part 2 of this blog, we will use a real life example as a hypothetical case study of how managing a project like this on a global scale requires meticulous organization to be effective, and how long term planning, design, and adherence and redesign of processes can lead to improving profitability for an organization willing to undertake such a large project.

Photo byConnor Tarter  CC-BY-SA

4 Trends in Healthcare IT for 2016

Outsourcing IT Functions

As technology becomes more pervasive in the healthcare field, more and more hospitals and networks are outsourcing at least some of their IT functions. According to Healthcare IT News, “Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of health systems with more than 300 beds — and 81 percent of providers with fewer than 300 beds — are shifting their focus to IT outsourcing for development and complex infrastructure services.”

The complexity of complying with new regulations means health systems and clinics are finding it more cost-efficient to contract out functions including EHR and analytics to companies that have the knowledge and full-time staff to both handle their current needs and innovate new solutions. In addition to reducing costs, outsourcing IT can help ensure that your IT professionals have all the necessary and up-to-date expertise to tackle new problems. But you should research your vendor and set realistic budgets and expectations, as failing to do so can lead to cost overruns or capabilities shortfalls.

Electronic Health Records.

Photo by Connor Tarter - CC-BY-SA

Photo by Connor TarterCC-BY-SA

EHR was supposed to help doctors focus their attention on patients instead of paperwork, yet poor implementations have often not led to these stated claims. A paper from the Harvard Business review studied this problem and developed a number of recommendations including:

  • Clearly define “the why”: emphasize a culture that places physician performance at the forefront.
  • Ensure doctors can focus on being doctors: limit physician distractions and move as much of the insurance, billing, and records tasks to administrative teams, where it can be done more efficiently and cost-effectively
  • Focus on outcomes instead of services: by tracking healthcare outcomes and incentivizing performance, it reinforces the fundamental reason for healthcare.

Big Data Analytics

Big Data has become somewhat of a buzzword in the IT industry, but expect it to continue dominating headlines as the sheer amount of data created increases as does our ability to analyze and understand it. Apple and IBM have teamed up to create as system in which iPhone users can upload their data to IBM’s Watson Health, a cloud-based analytics service. Big data is helping researchers select the best candidates for pharmaceutical and treatment trials,
and mobile phone data was used to help track and predict the spread of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Expect also to see companies develop new ways of gathering and collecting data from different sources, which currently hold information in fragmented databases that limit the effectiveness of analytics tools.


Given the amount of personal information available in patient records, healthcare is one of the leading targets for cybercrime. The Anthem breach in February 2015 compromised the data of almost 80 million customers, and in the first half of 2015, the healthcare industry was hit with 187 breaches, accounting for 21 percent of total incidents. Ensuring IT security is more important than ever both in protecting your organization from liability and helping patients feel comfortable trusting you with some of their most intimate information. has a list of tips to help healthcare practices protect their information, the first of which being establishing a security culture. As strong as any IT strategy can be, human error can and does still lead to breaches, so training employees to do their part to prevent such attacks is critical.

Customer Service as an Internal Organizational Competency: Part 2

In order to project a consistently friendly, professional and competent image all members of an organization have to be prepared to interact with customers. That interaction can take place in a number of ways; through the written word, the spoken word, and/or through “body language”. Good customer service practices are seldom inherent in an organization. Customer service skills have to be actively learned and frequently practiced. The customer service “handshake” begins on the inside and then flows out.

Normally there is an expectation of good customer service when two people or organizations do business together. There may be a contractual agreement that one party can fall back on if the service provided is poor, but generally there is an implicit “handshake” expectation that, when the service is complete, both parties will be happy with value received. To the customer this “value” is generally provided through the entire service process, probably including sales, reception, operations, delivery and invoicing. The individuals performing each of those functions are part of the service chain.

By: Sean

By: Sean

Individual service providers at each contact point in the customer service chain must be linked through a common service language, product knowledge, readily available customer information, and the expectation that each member of the service chain will be supported by other members. The “handshake” expectation therefore, begins on the inside of the organization and flows out.

In order to ensure that the customer service chain is strongly forged, each point and method of contact with the customer must be identified, examined, critiqued and approved of. The approval process should include management of course, but more importantly must include the service providers themselves.

An excellent way to understand what type of customer service chain exits in an organization (and determining how to improve it) is through the process of “group learning”, where service providers interact with each other outside of their daily responsibilities with the intention of learning how each person’s job responsibilities impact others. During these sessions, a checklist consisting of factors important to a “values’ oriented system-wide customer service chain can be created, discussed and acted upon. The checklist may include:
the identification of the customer’s service expectations
the exploration of existing perceptions regarding departmental and/or personal responsibilities
an examination of existing standard procedures and guidelines
the creation of standard procedures and guidelines where none currently exist
the need for an interdepartmental service support structure
the development of a common service language and appropriate communication tools

In the never ending search for ways to improve the customer service a managed, bottoms-up approach frequently works best. All of the people inside of the organization impacting the customer’s perception of value received should be represented in the search. Participants will benefit greatly from a well-defined and on-going “group learning” process. When organizational insiders feel they are well supported by the others in the service support chain, the outside customers will reap the benefit and appreciate the value received.


Customer Service as an Internal Organizational Competency

Okay, now your business has a strategic plan, built by organizational leadership, clearly establishing the Mission, Vision and Objectives for all to follow. But, does the work stop there? Hardly; now responsible people in all departments must define tactics, oversee implementation, and create measurement tools to evaluate results. Seems logical, doesn’t it? So, is it reasonable to expect that all departments will work together, in harmony, for the benefit of customers; achieving the key objectives listed in the book labeled “Strategic Plan” proudly displayed on the shelf? Perhaps you are thinking, no; not so reasonable.


The value proposition of good customer service needs no defense. All too often, however, organizations rely on one department, or specific persons, to provide that value externally to paying customers, instead of recognizing customer service as a key internal organizational competency, practiced by each member of the organization for the benefit of the organization overall.

In many organizations communication obstacles, like artificial walls, exist between departments, interfering with internal processes and the best laid business plans. These walls may have been under careful construction for years to insulate one department from another one that “just won’t cooperate”. Or perhaps pride creates too much internal departmental focus, limiting an employee’s ability to see the contribution of other departments. Maybe one group of employees simply doesn’t understand what another group does. Whatever the reason, once created, these walls inhibit organizational cooperation and inhibit organization-wide customer service efforts. An understanding of the interdependence between all departments, or employees, is essential to full cooperative effort in an organization. If we limit our thinking to “serving” only the paying customer, we soon won’t have any.

When an organization’s customer service effort is too “externalized” internal communication problems may serve to diminish the value provided. Employees may not be aligned properly to create a mutually beneficial “service chain”. When people in an organization learn to appreciate the critical nature of a system-wide customer service competency they are likely to be more willing to learn the skills necessary to accomplish it. It takes time, work and leadership to create an internal customer service organizational competency. Once begun, the sound of walls crumbling will tell you that you are doing it correctly.

Change as an Opportunity in Healthcare

Implementing change in a business is often seen as a major hurdle or obstacle. To an extent, all change is essential if it is aligned to the businesses strategy for growth or development in a new market. Regardless, outside forces can create the need for businesses to change. Rather than viewing change as an obstacle, leadership in a company needs to see change as the opportunity that it can be.

"New Children's Hospital" by KitAy

“New Children’s Hospital” by KitAy

Healthcare is an industry that knows this better than others. Because healthcare has been around as long as people have, it has had to change. Healthcare providers are the first to incorporate new technology and education into their practices because the effects can literally save lives. When Alexander Fleming cemented the use of penicillin, he revolutionized medicine. His innovation created the need for change around the world. However, the use of penicillin has created resistant strains of bacteria and with this, the cycle of change of innovation continues.

Healthcare professionals have adapted to changing in their practices very well over time and cannot afford to be resistant. Management in the healthcare industry needs to follow this example as well.

Though the consequences aren’t as dire in the lives of their organization’s patients, the life of their organization can depend on integrating new, disruptive change and innovation. The real business success comes when they recognize these changes as the opportunity they often are.

One Monetary Incentive

A new change that all health administrators must adapt to are the Clinical Quality Measures. These are electronically-documented measures of the quality of care patients receive. According to the Health IT Committee Report from September 3, 2013, around $16 Billion in incentive dollars for meaningful use of the new policies have been paid out to eligible providers (both hospitals and professionals). Clinical Quality Measures are assessed in a 2 phase process. Providers must demonstrate their compliance with new regulations in the data storage and tracking for the services and the quality of care they provide.

The reluctance to change under these circumstances can be justified by the cost per bed to upgrade to these new procedures, but hospitals from large, metropolitan center – to mid-size and smaller, rural facilities are seeing revenues return to normal within one year and a return on this investment after 2 years. Regardless, if a facility is providing quality care, they may already be meeting many of these new changes.

Fort Belvoir Community Hospital astounds with groundbreaking technology and devotion to patient care

The following is from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Website ( and shows the type of information that is collected in the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program:

Clinical quality measures, or CQMs, are tools that help measure and track the quality of health care services provided by eligible professionals, eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals (CAHs) within our health care system. These measures use data associated with providers’ ability to deliver high-quality care or relate to long term goals for quality health care. CQMs measure many aspects of patient care including:

health outcomes
clinical processes
patient safety
efficient use of health care resources
care coordination
patient engagements
population and public health
adherence to clinical guidelines
Measuring and reporting CQMs helps to ensure that our health care system is delivering effective, safe, efficient, patient-centered, equitable, and timely care.
To participate in the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs and receive an incentive payment, providers are required to submit CQM data from certified EHR technology.

2014 Clinical Quality Measure Options
In August May 2014, CMS released a final rule that grants flexibility to providers who are unable to fully implement 2014 Edition CEHRT for an EHR reporting period in 2014 due to delays in 2014 CEHRT availability. The different 2014 CQM submission options are outlined below.

2011 & 2014 CEHRT
Providers scheduled to demonstrate Stage 1 who are using a combination of 2011 and 2014 Editions submit 2013 CQMs or 2014 CQMs, depending on whether they report 2013 Stage 1 or 2014 Stage 1 objectives.

Providers scheduled to demonstrate Stage 2 using a combination of 2011 and 2014 Editions submit 2013 CQMs if they report 2013 Stage 1 objectives, or submit 2014 CQMs if they report 2014 Stage 1 objectives or Stage 2 objectives.

2014 CEHRT
Providers scheduled to demonstrate Stage 1 or Stage 2 in 2014 who have fully implemented 2014 CEHRT use 2014 CQMs.
Visit the 2014 Clinical Quality Measure page to learn more about 2014 CQMs and 2014 reporting options.
Visit the Resources for Previous Years of the EHR Incentive Programs page to learn more about 2013 CQMs and 2013 reporting options.

It is possible that your facility is already compliant with much of these new changes and the only thing left to do is record this information. In fact, providers may have already been doing this – in which case, the issue is using the correct software and methodology to track and store data.

In addition to the monetary incentives of this program, medical staff could also operate more efficiently and provide higher quality care to patients. Change is always necessary in the healthcare field, and it may be difficult, but generations of people living happier, more productive lives are a testament to the powerful effects well-implemented change can have on your organization and the people within it.

Server Room by torkildr

5 Essentials to Successful IT Integration During M&A

Whether you are merging two roughly equally companies, or acquiring a smaller company, you will need to develop a solid strategy for how to integrate the IT departments. Every situation is unique and comes with its own set of challenges, but there are a few keys that every decision maker should be aware of.

1. Evaluate Both Companies’ Current IT Infrastructures
Your CIO or IT Director will need to create a detailed analysis which clearly outlines the people, roles, processes, and equipment for each company. This is the step where your team will want to document what aspects of your infrastructure work well, in addition to what is lacking. For those systems that do work well, you must also determine whether they will be scalable to accommodate the needs of the new larger company. For example, you may have inventory management software that works fine for one warehouse, but if you are expanding to multiple locations with their own supply chains, you might need an entirely new solution which is capable of handling

Server Room by torkildr

Server Room by torkildr CC-BY-SA

2. Find and Eliminate Redundancies
Much of the benefits of a merger or acquisition are due to cost efficiencies made possible by reducing staff and creating economies of scale. Based on your evaluation of each companies’ IT systems, you will want to choose the components of each that will scale best for the new company. If each company currently employs 5 technicians and help desk personnel, you may find the new company would be well-served with only 8 total. Similarly, if each company uses a different email system, you will likely need to choose one going forward.

3. Consider Outsourcing Some Functions
Particularly if technology is not a major focus of your company, a merger or acquisition might be the right time to rethink whether certain functions of your IT department might be better served by a third party. For instance, up until this point, you’ve operated out of one location, and have had all your computers networked on a local intranet. Now that you are expanding to several smaller locations across a region, it might make sense to contract that function out to a company which can handle it securely and efficiently rather than bringing on the talent needed to do it in-house.

4. Retain Unique Technologies
Especially when acquiring a smaller company, you will likely keep most of the IT infrastructure of your larger company. But part of the reason you are acquiring the smaller one is because they have done well in what they do. If they have a specific technology or process that your company lacks, you will want to integrate this into your new company. If you are acquiring an oil and gas well servicing company, they might have a great system for tracking equipment in real-time in the field. By retaining this technology and integrating it into your own infrastructure, you will make your whole organization more efficient.
You might also consider using the capabilities of the company you acquire to insource some functions which you had previously contracted through a third party. If your company purchases web hosting and application development as a service, but your target company hosts and develops in-house, you can integrate this competency into your own IT department and eliminate the need for the the third-party service.

5. Implement Your Strategy Quickly
A strategy is only as good as it’s implementation, and a strategy that is only half-implemented or executed over the course of years will not only cost time and money, but will prevent your new IT department from accepting its new culture and identity. To this end, you will want to put one person in charge of the integration, who will have complete authority to make technical decision, but also complete responsibility to ensure deadlines are met and that all systems are operational during the transition period. This person should have the flexibility to deal the inevitable difficulties that arise, being able to implement temporary workarounds while developing long-term solutions.

Selling “HR” Ideas to Leadership

While working with clients, those of us at Harmonic Systems Consulting (HSC) frequently hear HR professionals express concern over their inability to get leadership to “buy in” on HR sponsored ideas. When hearing this, we respond by asking the HR professional to think a bit differently about their approach. Instead of trying to promote a Human Resource Department idea, we recommend that the HR professional think in terms of crafting and presenting a proposal clearly supporting a component of organizational strategy.

Promoting new ideas, regardless of where (or who) they come from is difficult for most of us. We may be supremely competent in our area of expertise, but, when attempting to convince others of the value of a new idea, particularly when that new idea may be perceived as personally threatening by others, we struggle to overcome obstacles our daily responsibilities have not adequately prepared us for. To be effective in such cases we need to learn and apply new skills; skills related to both the “technical” side and “social” side of business.

HSC partners recommend HR professionals concentrate on four skill sets to improve their ability to promote their ideas. These are defined as:

1. Craftsmanship
2. Valuation
3. Alliance Building
4. Presentation

Skill #1 – Craftsmanship: Artfully design the idea to align with the strategic direction defined by leadership. The closer your idea matches organizational strategy, the more likely the value will be apparent to leadership, and the better it will fare against other ideas competing for resources.

Strategic initiatives may be quite technical in nature, focusing on specialized areas of expertise and/or mechanical processes. Many of these initiatives, however, will involve areas of the business directly related to the HR professional’s role and responsibilities, for example:
-The hiring, development and retention of people possessing competencies complementary to organizational strategy
-The development of compensation plans designed to improve organizational and personal engagement
-The design of both a physical and social organizational structure to facilitate process efficiency, the coordination of activity and harmonious cooperation between individuals
-The development of communication tools to monitor and convey progress towards achieving strategic goals

The point is to avoid pushing an idea

Don't be this guy....

Don’t be this guy….

—instead, let it be pulled by a strategic business objective. “Pushing” an idea usually doesn’t work.
Be like THIS guy....

Be like THIS guy….

You will want to use the “pull” method by attaching your idea to an organizational goal already established. If your idea does not match very well with an organizational goal, there is little reason to promote it.

Skill #2 – Valuation: Orchestrate the effort to “dollar-ize” your proposal. The commonly accepted business standard for evaluating an idea is its economic benefit. If you can quantify a benefit in dollars, (even if that benefit is simply an estimate) you are more likely to strengthen your case.

Estimating the benefit of a new idea in terms of dollars is difficult. It requires a clear understanding of current circumstances, judgments, probability analysis (sometimes guesses) and financial tools.

The actions you take when “dollarizing” your idea will almost certainly be subject to challenge. An unfriendly audience can undercut your efforts from the start by challenging your approach. The key to success is a clearly defined set of assumptions and a generally accepted approach to quantification. When attempting to assign a dollar value, therefore, don’t try to keep your idea a secret; get help from a financial professional in your organization. Financial people have experience doing this sort of modeling, and generally have earned a reputation for caution and prudence. When you deliver a proposal that includes a cost-benefit analysis supported by Finance, you will have gained credibility, and probably an ally.

Skill #3 – Alliance Building: Build a harmonious team to evaluate the merits of your idea before presenting it to leadership. Many times an HR professional will feel too strongly about an idea being prompted to be truly objective. Organizational resistance or skepticism may be taken personally, damaging both the HR professional’s sense of self-esteem and the idea’s chance for acceptance.

If your idea has merit, other people will be able to see it. If others can’t see it, maybe your idea is not fully consistent with organizational strategy and should be revised or abandoned. Assuming you have a compelling idea that others can accept, perhaps with some tweaking, use their help. Decisions are usually made in organizations by an evolving informal consensus, coupled with the assent of the senior leadership. It is important for the HR professional to understand how this works and what can do to increase the odds of your idea being accepted:

First, become project manager of your idea and its acceptance. Accept personal responsibility for all of the planning, promotion, education, communication, politicking and other activities required for an idea to gain acceptance in an organization.

Second, make alliances with key managers and peers:
-Ask for help. Approach them by articulating how your proposal will help them personally. Ask for help in planning to get appropriate approvals. Who needs to consent to this? How can we approach them? If we need to give a formal presentation, who should we invite? What are their needs and concerns?
-Seek a management sponsor, someone who will agree to provide resources to open doors to other managers once your idea is sufficiently developed.
With your allies, build or strengthen the business case and the financial return on investment.

Skill #4 – Presentation: Stage a performance to present the idea as an execution step towards realizing the goals defined in the organizational strategy. A successful presentation of your idea in the form of a proposal to leadership will be similar to a stage performance in many ways. You will need a carefully composed script, probably edited many times by you and your alliance partners. You will have rehearsed your presentation thoroughly, anticipating and preparing for the critics’ response. You will clearly develop the character of your proposal as financially supporting organizational strategy. Finally, as you deliver your performance, you will see heads in the audience starting to nod in a positive fashion.

Generally speaking, the effort to “push” a new idea through an organization all too often ends in failure because of the natural human resistance to forced change. It is almost always better to have a new idea pulled through the organizational approval process by attaching it to a component of defined organizational strategy.

In order to successfully promote new ideas to leadership, HR professionals sometimes need to develop skills different from, but complimentary to, their core personal competencies; skills related to both the “technical” and “social” sides of business. As defined by HSC, these skills include the crafting of the idea into a message supporting organizational strategy; proficiency in defining the financial value of the idea; the capability to build an alliance to critique, support and translate the idea into a proposal and the ability to deliver the proposal to leadership in a thorough and convincing manner.

The development of such a skill set is an act worth clapping for.

This Blog is based upon observations originally recorded by Brien Palmer, a founding partner in Harmonic Systems Consulting.

The 4 Part Harmony of Organizational Competency

Vicente Mina / AFP / February 8, 2015  Team SCA, left, and Dongfeng Race Team, right, leave port in  Sanya, China at the start of Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race

Vicente Mina / AFP / February 8, 2015
Team SCA, left, and Dongfeng Race Team, right, leave port in
Sanya, China at the start of Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race

By Janet Hayes

One imperative for organizations in successfully executing their strategies is to ensure that they have the necessary competencies to carry them out. Concepts like the core competence of the corporation and hedgehogs imply that identifying and strengthening competencies are necessary in order for companies to distinguish themselves from competition. Once an organization determines which competencies are critical, though, how does the leadership team build or strengthen them?

Individual Skills vs. Organizational Competency

Many organizations treat organizational competencies as though they were simply a sum of the skills of the people in their organizations. While individual skills are critical, however, relying strictly on them to embody critical competencies is not enough because:

1. The organization may not have enough of the right skills to distinguish itself.

2. Individuals come and go, but to continue to thrive over time, the organization needs to maintain its competency without regard to changes in personnel. In fact, if your company’s competency relies strictly on individual skills, then competitors can take over your competency simply by hiring away your company’s best people.

3. Individual skills alone do not encapsulate everything the company needs to do well in order to compete. For example, even the most highly skilled individuals working in an uncoordinated way will not fare well in the eyes of the customer or gain efficiencies for the company.

Definition of Organizational Competency

Harmonic Systems Consulting defines “organizational competency” as the harmonious blending of four basic components of organizational identity. This competency identity includes individual skills, but only as one of the four necessary components. Harmonic Systems Consulting’s view of the four components required for organizational competency is depicted in the picture below:
Organzational Competence
These components must be orchestrated to work together in daily harmony for the long term benefit of the company’s customers and associates.
The Four Keys of Organizational Competency

Following are descriptions of the four keys that comprise organizational competency. To illustrate the concept, we will use an example of a Project Management competency.

skillsAs mentioned above, individual skills are critical to an organization. However, to be part of an organizational competency, the company needs multiple individuals with the necessary skills. Most competencies require a subset of individuals with a very high level of skills and many more individuals with a lower level of skill.

Skills and training programs must be directed toward developing the appropriate level of skills necessary for the desired competency, but that does not imply that a high level of skill is always required. A custom furniture shop may require their craftsmen to have high skill levels because each piece is unique and processes are dynamic. McDonald’s, however, cannot expect a high level of skill from every employee in their restaurants, so they rely more on highly defined processes.

For an organizational competency in Project Management, a company would need one or more highly trained and experienced project managers and a broader, company-wide, group of individuals to be trained on project management techniques.

resourcesA second critical component to organizational competency is having resources that support the competency. These resources might include tools, software, methodologies, checklists, templates, etc.

For Project Management, resources might include templates for charters and meeting agendas and minutes, project management and project portfolio management software, a new product development methodology, a method for decision-making, forms for tracking issues, risks and changes and project budget tracking tools.

resources (Case Conflict)In order for the company’s customers to benefit from the competency, the skills and resources must work together in a coordinated way. That coordination comes via the third key, processes. Processes might include manufacturing steps, research and development scientific methods, application development, order entry, customer service, etc.

For Project Management, a process might start with creation of a charter and a budget, then assignment of personnel to the project, followed by development of a plan, etc. There should also be a process for prioritizing projects and deciding which ones need to be started or stopped.

Shared KnowledgeThe final key to organizational competency, shared knowledge, is the one that is most often neglected. Knowledge held by individuals must be shared in order for the competency to be institutionalized within the organization. Sharing knowledge is crucial to maintaining the competency as individuals get promoted, transferred or leave the organization and to continuously improve. Knowledge may be shared through formal or informal means, but must be accessible to everyone who needs it. It might be shared via an intellectual capital database, a wiki or in a file drawer that everyone knows about. It could also be shared by mentoring or birds-of-a-feather meetings to share learnings.
For Project Management, shared knowledge might include a repository of previous project plans, a collection of post-project completion reports that capture learnings and a project office where less-experienced project managers can go for mentoring by highly skilled experts.

Culture’s Role in Organizational Competency

One important factor in developing or strengthening an organizational competency is the company’s culture. If the company culture doesn’t support the development of a competency that is critical for the strategy, it must be addressed or it will put the organization out of alignment (for more about alignment, see our blogs on the Orchestra Model© and Alignovation©) and the competency will not be realized.

For example, a company strategy may determine that better attention to efficiency and quality is necessary, so they may embark upon developing a competency in Lean Six Sigma. If, however, people in the organization are not accustomed to data-based decision-making or disciplined execution, that culture will need to be addressed via change management and clear definition and communication of desired behaviors in order to build the new competency. Demonstrating that the desired competency is built upon existing capabilities and emphasizing the career opportunities that result from the new competency will help to support the change.

Individuals may also see a downside to sharing knowledge if they believe that their skills are what makes them uniquely important. In that case, rewards and compensation focused on sharing knowledge a crucial. Techniques for creating a learning organization should also be considered.


The word “competency” comes from the Latin word competere, which means “strive together”. Our Harmonic Systems Consulting definition of organizational competency includes the four interlocking components of skills, resources, processes and shared knowledge. This multi-faceted definition guides companies in defining all of the elements they need to develop for their organizational competencies in order to “strive together” harmoniously for distinction in their highly competitive markets. Understanding organizational competency in this comprehensive manner is especially appropriate because competere is also the root word for “competition”.
 Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner Oracle Team USA celebrates after it completed the  biggest comeback in the history of the America's Cup (2013)

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
Oracle Team USA celebrates after it completed the
biggest comeback in the history of the America’s Cup (2013)

HR Strategy H&H Comic

The Critical Role of Human Resources in Strategy By Janet Hayes and Darren Hayes

A common problem faced by many companies today is the lack of involvement of Human Resources in formulating new strategies for a company in the process of transforming itself. HR departments may not get much respect if they are viewed as “feelers” who function only as administrators, so they may not be asked to the table when the company’s executive team is developing a new strategic direction.

The fact is that everything in a business is done through people. In order to get your employee base properly acclimated to any new strategic changes, HR’s involvement is an absolute necessity. People at all levels in the organization need motivation and some degree of counsel in order to adjust properly and quickly to critical changes.
To achieve the best results, companies should consider the following when developing or updating strategies:

1. The company’s leader (CEO or President) should ensure that the head of Human Resources is engaged in the strategy development process. In particular, the executive strategy team should look to the HR head to provide input on how the new strategy affects culture, compensation, structure and competencies and how the strategy should be communicated to the organization. The executive team should be counseled to value HR’s “feeler” perspective since employees’ reaction to the strategic change must be considered when planning implementation.

2. The HR representative must demonstrate the ability to think strategically and ensure that he or she is properly informed about the business in order to be involved in executive strategy meetings. If the HR representative has the means and ability to contribute, then his or her presence will be welcomed.

Consider this issue in relation to the Orchestra Model©: if the Conductors (executive team) decide to have a change in the score (strategy) it is necessary for the HR representatives (concertmasters) to not only pass out the score to the musicians (employee base) but to also be able to explain how each part is played. Being able to adjust who plays what parts and with what instruments lies more on the end of the HR reps who would be more familiar with individual employees and their strengths and weaknesses. In short: harmony can only be achieved if everyone plays their parts AND plays them together, and HR is critical to ensure a great performance.

HR Strategy H&H Comic

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