Four ways HR can overcome short-termism through strategic planning


It’s easy to get bogged down in day-to-day tasks, but it’s also critical to move beyond your business as usual mindset and engage in strategic planning. How can HR do both?

There seem to be more and more tasks that fall under an HR professional’s wheelhouse.

Over the course of the pandemic, HR was tasked with helping leaders respond to COVID-19, and in many cases, establishing plans to transition the workforce in and out of remote work.

At the same time, they’ve been called upon to help senior leaders with strategic planning, casting their eyes forward to what the future of work might look like in five, 10 or even 20 years time.

But how can HR plan for the future when they’re so often weighed down by a range of day-to-day operations?

Reanna Browne, Founder and Principal Futurist at Work Futures and member of AHRI’s Future of Work Advisory Panel, says companies can disrupt ‘short-termism’ by keeping a close eye on future trends and unlocking opportunities in the present. Here are four ways to help you do just that.

1. Look outwards

HR professionals spend the bulk of their working days on internal organisational responsibilities, whether that’s managing workplace conflict, reviewing policies and procedures or onboarding new staff, among other responsibilities. 

But it’s becoming increasingly important that they turn outwards and consider the external environment in their strategic planning, says Browne, who will be speaking at AHRI’s Convention in August.

“The pandemic has accelerated significant shifts around work and the attitudes and preferences of workers. But a lot of our assumptions, policies and processes that ground our people and workforce practices have not shifted, and are now losing fit for purpose.”

To Browne, HR is reaching an inflection point where embracing the future of work in the present has shifted from a nice and interesting side activity to a critical capacity in the here and now. HR needs to “lift its gaze” she says, to not only anticipate important changes but to bring those changes to life in the present. 

“On the one hand I see HR as pivotal architects in shaping and influencing the futures of work in the present. On the other hand, I am seeing examples where HR teams haven’t shifted quickly enough and have now been absorbed into other functions in the business.”

She homes in on UK start-up, Octopus Energy, as an example. The company has over 1200 employees with no HR team.

“I’m definitely not suggesting that this will become widespread. But it is an interesting signal of change that suggests if we don’t disrupt ourselves, someone else may.”

“It’s looking at the small bets we can make for a long game.” – Reanna Browne.

On the flip side, Browne points to some HR teams expanding beyond their traditional remit.

“A recent example is the addition of ‘People and Community’ in an HR function as well as some HR functions leading employee-centred climate change practices from the consideration of office emissions, to training all staff in ‘climate literacy’. Looking outwards to see what’s changing and rethinking HR’s value has given HR a totally new remit.”

This presents an opportunity for HR to drive organisational change on issues such as environmental concerns.

“Some organisations are rethinking the employee value proposition because they can see there’s a shifting belief around climate change and they want to start leading those practices.”

If HR doesn’t make changes in line with broader societal shifts, they’ll risk losing out in both the short and long-term. And employees are likely to label them as ‘out of touch’ with current sentiment, says Browne.

She homes in on a recent example of employee activism at Atlassian to illustrate the point.

“The founders were initially quite neutral on their position around the war in Ukraine. There was a huge response internally and they changed their position. This kind of reaction has been happening in the US in the last few years, but it’s happening more and more in Australia too,” says Browne.

For every future trend that could be on the cards, Browne advises HR to ask themselves: what are the implications and risks for us? Where are there opportunities to leverage this trend and change what we do today? What actions can we take in the present to prepare us?

Listening circles can help to understand how employees were thinking and feeling at any point in time, says Browne. Companies could expand the scope of these listening circles to gauge employee sentiment around bigger factors external to workplace related issues, such as working conditions and wages. 

They could ask what employees actually care about inside and outside of work, and then consider: how do we bring that into the present in terms of opportunities for HR to improve the employee experience?

2. Modify language to drive action

HR faces a major dilemma.

“They’re looking at how they can keep the lights on and, at the very same time, design a more viable future in the present?” says Browne. “People often ask me, why plan for the future when we can barely manage our present?”

It’s a fair question, she says, but it’s also a challenge that Browne describes as the ‘tyranny of the urgent’. “When we jump to action and dismiss the broader context of change we can exacerbate our challenges and miss important opportunities to create new HR value.”

A lot of this comes down to how we think about the future in the first place.

It’s all hidden in our language, says Browne.

“When we talk about the future of work, we see it as something that’s ‘out there’. It’s down the track; we think we’ll eventually get to that future point. This means we plan that way, where anything that isn’t critical or urgent today is seen as less important. But the future of work never arrives, because we are always in the present.”

Man sitting at his desk, working from home while on the phone.

Source: Pexels, photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

Thinking that the future is down the track breeds inaction, she says, because it means people aren’t motivated to make changes today.

Instead, we need to view these changes as emerging trends that must be acted upon now – trends like digital wellbeing, the rise of part-time work or even the metaverse aren’t far off. They could very well arrive in your organisation soon, if they’re not already there.

As the American speculative fiction author William Gibson once said, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Browne draws on digital ‘readiness’ at the start of the pandemic to convey the importance of embracing future-of-work changes in the here and now. 

“The organisations that embraced the digitisation and remote as an important activity to focus on in the present were ready in 2020 to mobilise their workforce,” says Browne. “The ones that saw it as something that was ‘down the track’ and thought, ‘We’ve got more important things to deal with right now’ really struggled.”

One way to open up our thinking, Browne suggests, is to “unlearn the way we think about the future”.

“When we change the way we think about the future of work, and the assumptions we have about how the future happens, we unlock new ways to think about action in the present… When we see the future as being in the here and now, created by our actions and inactions today, it opens up a new perspective, where keeping the lights on, looking to what’s changing, and designing a more viable HR today is seen as equally important.”


Want to hear more from Reanna? Secure your spot at AHRI’s Convention in August.


3. Dial functions down

As mentioned earlier, a common issue facing HR is the expectation to continue day-to-day operations and respond to immediate workplace changes, as well as be future-focused.

It’s a lot to pile onto one person’s plate, even if there’s a team supporting the HR leader. This is likely one of the major reasons HR professionals have been so susceptible to burnout during the pandemic.

For HR to consider both present and future challenges, their role needs to be re-evaluated from a capacity perspective, says Browne.

As additional tasks are added to an HR practitioner’s plate, some of their existing functions could be outsourced or eliminated altogether.

“Look at what you can dial down. There’s a range of things that we continue in HR that may have once served a function in the organisation, but has now lost fit for purpose. Not because the idea or work wasn’t important or valuable at the time, it’s more because the external context has changed, so these things have lost fit for purpose… We will never have enough time or resources, and more and more is being asked of HR, so we need to think about this strategically.”

Browne says she often comes across policies and programs that are on “life support”. 

“If what we’re doing today no longer meets the changing context, consider dialling them down so you can make space for new programs and policies to solve some emerging dilemmas.”

“We will never have enough time or resources, and more and more is being asked of HR, so we need to think about this strategically.” – Reanna Browne

Automating certain functions, partnering and even decommissioning work can also alleviate HR from more administrative tasks, and enable them to focus on strategic planning and experimenting with new ideas to meet current and future workplace demands.

“Many companies assume that HR always has to do certain activities, but I think we need to start looking at whether that actually brings value. We should question deep assumptions about the role, and where HR can add the most value.”

4. Make small adjustments in your strategic planning

Browne believes HR can fall prey to short-termism and fail to dedicate enough time towards strategic planning because of an ill-founded perception that the future of work requires organisations to overhaul their existing processes today. But preparing for the future of work doesn’t necessarily require making sweeping dramatic changes at once.

Minor adjustments can help to set your organisation up for success in the long-term.

Let’s take the example of increased digital load, says Browne.

“We’ve got an emerging, but not yet widespread, issue around health and wellbeing challenges related to digital load and burnout. Is there an opportunity there to not only mitigate this risk which is likely to only increase over time, but to create new value for the HR function?”

This is something Browne is hearing more and more organisations talk about.

“We’re reaching a ceiling of burnout and people are spending way too much time online,” she says, noting that countries including France and Belgium have introduced ‘right to disconnect’ clauses.

Closer to home, Victoria introduced a landmark clause to manage ‘availability creep’ last year to mitigate the effects of burnout and support better work-life balance among employees.

“We look to the future of work, but we can act now, in ways that aren’t about turning the whole Titanic around or letting go of everything we do today. It’s looking at the small bets we can make for a long game.”

What steps are you taking today to prepare for the future of work? Share with us in the comments.

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More on HRM

Four ways HR can overcome short-termism through strategic planning


It’s easy to get bogged down in day-to-day tasks, but it’s also critical to move beyond your business as usual mindset and engage in strategic planning. How can HR do both?

There seem to be more and more tasks that fall under an HR professional’s wheelhouse.

Over the course of the pandemic, HR was tasked with helping leaders respond to COVID-19, and in many cases, establishing plans to transition the workforce in and out of remote work.

At the same time, they’ve been called upon to help senior leaders with strategic planning, casting their eyes forward to what the future of work might look like in five, 10 or even 20 years time.

But how can HR plan for the future when they’re so often weighed down by a range of day-to-day operations?

Reanna Browne, Founder and Principal Futurist at Work Futures and member of AHRI’s Future of Work Advisory Panel, says companies can disrupt ‘short-termism’ by keeping a close eye on future trends and unlocking opportunities in the present. Here are four ways to help you do just that.

1. Look outwards

HR professionals spend the bulk of their working days on internal organisational responsibilities, whether that’s managing workplace conflict, reviewing policies and procedures or onboarding new staff, among other responsibilities. 

But it’s becoming increasingly important that they turn outwards and consider the external environment in their strategic planning, says Browne, who will be speaking at AHRI’s Convention in August.

“The pandemic has accelerated significant shifts around work and the attitudes and preferences of workers. But a lot of our assumptions, policies and processes that ground our people and workforce practices have not shifted, and are now losing fit for purpose.”

To Browne, HR is reaching an inflection point where embracing the future of work in the present has shifted from a nice and interesting side activity to a critical capacity in the here and now. HR needs to “lift its gaze” she says, to not only anticipate important changes but to bring those changes to life in the present. 

“On the one hand I see HR as pivotal architects in shaping and influencing the futures of work in the present. On the other hand, I am seeing examples where HR teams haven’t shifted quickly enough and have now been absorbed into other functions in the business.”

She homes in on UK start-up, Octopus Energy, as an example. The company has over 1200 employees with no HR team.

“I’m definitely not suggesting that this will become widespread. But it is an interesting signal of change that suggests if we don’t disrupt ourselves, someone else may.”

“It’s looking at the small bets we can make for a long game.” – Reanna Browne.

On the flip side, Browne points to some HR teams expanding beyond their traditional remit.

“A recent example is the addition of ‘People and Community’ in an HR function as well as some HR functions leading employee-centred climate change practices from the consideration of office emissions, to training all staff in ‘climate literacy’. Looking outwards to see what’s changing and rethinking HR’s value has given HR a totally new remit.”

This presents an opportunity for HR to drive organisational change on issues such as environmental concerns.

“Some organisations are rethinking the employee value proposition because they can see there’s a shifting belief around climate change and they want to start leading those practices.”

If HR doesn’t make changes in line with broader societal shifts, they’ll risk losing out in both the short and long-term. And employees are likely to label them as ‘out of touch’ with current sentiment, says Browne.

She homes in on a recent example of employee activism at Atlassian to illustrate the point.

“The founders were initially quite neutral on their position around the war in Ukraine. There was a huge response internally and they changed their position. This kind of reaction has been happening in the US in the last few years, but it’s happening more and more in Australia too,” says Browne.

For every future trend that could be on the cards, Browne advises HR to ask themselves: what are the implications and risks for us? Where are there opportunities to leverage this trend and change what we do today? What actions can we take in the present to prepare us?

Listening circles can help to understand how employees were thinking and feeling at any point in time, says Browne. Companies could expand the scope of these listening circles to gauge employee sentiment around bigger factors external to workplace related issues, such as working conditions and wages. 

They could ask what employees actually care about inside and outside of work, and then consider: how do we bring that into the present in terms of opportunities for HR to improve the employee experience?

2. Modify language to drive action

HR faces a major dilemma.

“They’re looking at how they can keep the lights on and, at the very same time, design a more viable future in the present?” says Browne. “People often ask me, why plan for the future when we can barely manage our present?”

It’s a fair question, she says, but it’s also a challenge that Browne describes as the ‘tyranny of the urgent’. “When we jump to action and dismiss the broader context of change we can exacerbate our challenges and miss important opportunities to create new HR value.”

A lot of this comes down to how we think about the future in the first place.

It’s all hidden in our language, says Browne.

“When we talk about the future of work, we see it as something that’s ‘out there’. It’s down the track; we think we’ll eventually get to that future point. This means we plan that way, where anything that isn’t critical or urgent today is seen as less important. But the future of work never arrives, because we are always in the present.”

Man sitting at his desk, working from home while on the phone.

Source: Pexels, photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

Thinking that the future is down the track breeds inaction, she says, because it means people aren’t motivated to make changes today.

Instead, we need to view these changes as emerging trends that must be acted upon now – trends like digital wellbeing, the rise of part-time work or even the metaverse aren’t far off. They could very well arrive in your organisation soon, if they’re not already there.

As the American speculative fiction author William Gibson once said, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Browne draws on digital ‘readiness’ at the start of the pandemic to convey the importance of embracing future-of-work changes in the here and now. 

“The organisations that embraced the digitisation and remote as an important activity to focus on in the present were ready in 2020 to mobilise their workforce,” says Browne. “The ones that saw it as something that was ‘down the track’ and thought, ‘We’ve got more important things to deal with right now’ really struggled.”

One way to open up our thinking, Browne suggests, is to “unlearn the way we think about the future”.

“When we change the way we think about the future of work, and the assumptions we have about how the future happens, we unlock new ways to think about action in the present… When we see the future as being in the here and now, created by our actions and inactions today, it opens up a new perspective, where keeping the lights on, looking to what’s changing, and designing a more viable HR today is seen as equally important.”


Want to hear more from Reanna? Secure your spot at AHRI’s Convention in August.


3. Dial functions down

As mentioned earlier, a common issue facing HR is the expectation to continue day-to-day operations and respond to immediate workplace changes, as well as be future-focused.

It’s a lot to pile onto one person’s plate, even if there’s a team supporting the HR leader. This is likely one of the major reasons HR professionals have been so susceptible to burnout during the pandemic.

For HR to consider both present and future challenges, their role needs to be re-evaluated from a capacity perspective, says Browne.

As additional tasks are added to an HR practitioner’s plate, some of their existing functions could be outsourced or eliminated altogether.

“Look at what you can dial down. There’s a range of things that we continue in HR that may have once served a function in the organisation, but has now lost fit for purpose. Not because the idea or work wasn’t important or valuable at the time, it’s more because the external context has changed, so these things have lost fit for purpose… We will never have enough time or resources, and more and more is being asked of HR, so we need to think about this strategically.”

Browne says she often comes across policies and programs that are on “life support”. 

“If what we’re doing today no longer meets the changing context, consider dialling them down so you can make space for new programs and policies to solve some emerging dilemmas.”

“We will never have enough time or resources, and more and more is being asked of HR, so we need to think about this strategically.” – Reanna Browne

Automating certain functions, partnering and even decommissioning work can also alleviate HR from more administrative tasks, and enable them to focus on strategic planning and experimenting with new ideas to meet current and future workplace demands.

“Many companies assume that HR always has to do certain activities, but I think we need to start looking at whether that actually brings value. We should question deep assumptions about the role, and where HR can add the most value.”

4. Make small adjustments in your strategic planning

Browne believes HR can fall prey to short-termism and fail to dedicate enough time towards strategic planning because of an ill-founded perception that the future of work requires organisations to overhaul their existing processes today. But preparing for the future of work doesn’t necessarily require making sweeping dramatic changes at once.

Minor adjustments can help to set your organisation up for success in the long-term.

Let’s take the example of increased digital load, says Browne.

“We’ve got an emerging, but not yet widespread, issue around health and wellbeing challenges related to digital load and burnout. Is there an opportunity there to not only mitigate this risk which is likely to only increase over time, but to create new value for the HR function?”

This is something Browne is hearing more and more organisations talk about.

“We’re reaching a ceiling of burnout and people are spending way too much time online,” she says, noting that countries including France and Belgium have introduced ‘right to disconnect’ clauses.

Closer to home, Victoria introduced a landmark clause to manage ‘availability creep’ last year to mitigate the effects of burnout and support better work-life balance among employees.

“We look to the future of work, but we can act now, in ways that aren’t about turning the whole Titanic around or letting go of everything we do today. It’s looking at the small bets we can make for a long game.”

What steps are you taking today to prepare for the future of work? Share with us in the comments.

guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
More on HRM