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Integrated line management and HR planning

Integrated line management and HR planning


1. Introduction

Today’s business challenges demand a focused human resources agenda. To close the gap between the "strategic-HR haves" and "have-nots," practitioners need a thoughtful, but practical approach to HR planning to connect people priorities to business priorities, clarify line ownership for HR outcomes, and reach a contract for the responsibility HR people will have across all divisions in (large) organisations. The challenge in the planning process is to deliver depth of thinking without complexity and to do it in a manner that involves line management in the process.

2. How to build an HR agenda

Four elements or tasks need to be accomplished, roughly in sequence, to produce a meaningful HR strategy and agenda:

1. THE COMPANY’S PEOPLE PHILOSOPHIES AND THEMES: Human Resources work becomes a priority for line management when the chief executive and his/her HR Director demonstrate a strong point of view about the role people play in the business. The CEO and the HR Director should provide an umbrella view from the top that defines the role of people in making the enterprise competitive, over-arching themes related to vision, values and business strategy.

2. BUSINESS-UNIT PEOPLE PLANS: A business unit people plan is the second piece of the overall HR agenda. Each business unit develops their own plan. These should be built into the strategic and operating plans of the business units and major functions -- completed jointly by HR and line executives. It represents people planning at the front lines-of-business. These line-of-business people plans are to HR planning what ‘competitive strategy’ is to strategic planning.

3. COMPANY-WIDE HR PRIORITIES: The objective of this step of the agenda building process is to define the degree of integration or commonality that is needed among HR practices – across the various business units – to move the business forward. Defining the right degree of commonality in HR policy, practice and objectives among HR professionals in the business units is a challenging but healthy dialogue, which needs to be done.

4. HR OPERATIONS PLANS: Many companies have created new roles for HR referred to as a partnering approach for HR. Many transactional (repetitive administrative) practices have been outsourced, and some are now being brought back to the inside of leading companies in shared services centers.

Companies like Warner-Lambert, Motorola, Coca-Cola, and Whirlpool have focused on the need to create new HR-organisation structures and to realign roles in order to separate repetitive and customer service work (such as enquiries about leave, accumulated pensions benefits and so on) from the consultative, and business partnering work. These and other companies have reported significant improvements in delivering strategic results when traditional generalist roles are replaced with more consultative organisation-effectiveness roles, supported by small centralised staffs of expert resources and transactional-service providers. Partnering resources are increasingly assigned directly to line business units, while service activities are aggressively consolidated.

At the heart of this agenda building and partnering process is step 2 – the ability for HR to work directly with corporate and/or SBU top teams to facilitate the development of company wide and business-unit people plans that mesh with and support the strategic plan and priorities of the company and local SBU business plans.

Unless line managers consider workforce issues during the planning process, HR is likely to face impossible challenges and will be doomed to disappoint. HR should not-in fact, cannot-shoulder sole responsibility for workforce-related issues; business success today requires line managers to assume ultimate ownership of workforce management decisions.

The remainder of this article is a ‘facilitator’s guide’ for an integrated line management and HR planning session. Illustrations and graphics of the major output for each step in the agenda building process are referred to in the guide.

The process is summarized from a case study of the work done by corporate HR at Mobil Marketing, part of Mobil Exxon and is reproduced here for teaching and learning purposes only. The material in the case study may not be used for commercial purposes.

3. Facilitator guidelines for an integrated line management and HR planning process

Each SBU top team develops an integrated action plan to address the workforce implications of company's business strategies, and SBU business plans. HR leads the team through a 6-step methodical, two-day process of projecting workforce implications of strategy. The process results in the formulation of metrics and action plans. The goal of the planning exercise is to develop line ownership of the workforce strategy, and provide HR with a clear, logical connection between the activities of the HR function and the business objectives of the company (or the line unit).


The central purpose of the first step is to bring the group to consensus on the meaning of and the need for a ‘people strategy and agenda’. This accomplishes two things: first, it surfaces any misconceptions or disagreements among the group regarding the definition of a people strategy. This facilitates a rich line-led discussion regarding the need for an HR strategy, engendering line buy-in of the process.

At this two-day workshop the business unit executive review business objectives in light of any issues likely to impact the business. As key input to the discussion, HR uses business-planning methodologies to provide information regarding social, legislative, and labour markets affecting the workforce.

Figure 1

Establish a context for planning

Click image to see detail


Using the business objectives as a framework for discussion, the business unit top team identifies potential workforce-related barriers to the unit’s success and segments the workforce implications into HR programmes.

Encourage participants to think of ‘workforce’ in a broad context, to include the people needed (skills, competencies, and experience), the practices/systems/procedures needed, the processes needed (how work gets done), and the structure needed (reporting relationships).

Figure 2

Identify workforce implications

Click image to see detail

Click image to see detail


The business unit top team uses the output of the previous session to analyse the gap between people requirements and business objectives alignment. The team assigns a value to the relative importance of closing each gap. Quick prioritization focuses line’s attention on critical gaps.

Figure 3

Gap analysis

Click image to see detail

Click image to see detail


The SBU top team analysis the effectiveness of current actions in the light of previously identified gaps and discusses any potential new initiatives necessary to close the gaps. Use the following rating scales: High = no initiative in place to address gap; Medium = some initiatives in place, but not sufficient to close the gap; Low = Significant formalised process exists to address the gap.

The clear advantage of a line-led process is that any new initiatives receive explicit buy-in when the top team agrees on the need for various actions. Line endorsement regarding the continuation of current initiatives ensures clear understanding of value-added by each action. Any initiative that is not clearly supporting current business objectives is terminated.

Figure 4

Evaluate value added of current actions

Click image to see detail

Click image to see detail


The SBU top team breaks down all intended actions into steps, ensuring that all necessary supporting actions are accounted for. For each step, the team assigns responsibility for completion; the natural owner of the step is very often line. Similarly, accountability is assigned for each step; while responsibility and accountability often have the same owners, in some cases the line is ultimately accountable for the completion of a step.

Figure 5

Assign responsibility and accountability

Click image to see detail


The SBU top team develops metrics to gauge progress against action plans. Measures are tracked on an ongoing basis to ensure the successful implementation of the plan. Key measures are integrated into the business unit’s performance measurement system such as a balanced scorecard and/or an integrated performance management system. Where possible measures should be linked to employee compensation. Line executives then monitor metrics and performance on projects throughout the year, ensuring that priorities remain in line with current business needs.

Figure 6


Click image to see detail

4. Revitalising the HR functtion

The six-step process provides a practical approach to building an HR strategy and agenda for an entire company, or a major business unit within a larger organisation. The process is ongoing, and the work is not simply an addition to the HR function’s workloads. Instead, it is the channel through which the right people do the right things and are held accountable for adding value to the business strategy and objectives.

But, how does one take the giant leap forward to transform the HR organisation to partner with line management on an equal footing? Research has shown that this type of change can be successfully achieved only by a total overhaul of HR’s:

>> Mission

>> Competencies

>> Processes and systems

>> Structure and role design

This requires an overhaul of how HR work gets done. Those companies that have successfully transformed the HR organisation to be in a position to take on a partnering role have learned the following lessons:

  1. Incremental change produces little progress - changes in mission, structure, process, and competencies are required to overcome inertia and other obstacles.
  2. A different HR generalist role is needed, in which service fulfillment and partnering work are clearly separated.
  3. Ongoing involvement of line partners is critical in the long term and is often the single greatest challenge.
  4. Momentum requires risk taking and tangible improvements in processes and work design.
  5. New HR competency profiles/models are only likely to help in changing the function if they are applied effectively in selecting people in and out of the HR function, and to support specific development tactics (growing people into these roles over time seldom produces real results for the company or HR)
  6. Information systems are a persistent obstacle, but should not be used as a reason for not moving forward aggressively. In any case, the data system is not an effective place to begin.
  7. Service centers provide numerous options for consolidating transactional work. Both short-term and long-term solutions need to be planned and acted on.
  8. Ultimately, changing HR means returning some so-called ‘HR work’ to the line organisation; information technology has opened many new options in this regard.

Potential starting points to start the transformation of the HR organisation are to:

  • Determine what strengths within the HR function are needed to support the shift and execute the company-wide objectives and the business-unit people plans.
  • Conduct a study with line leaders to determine whether line currently has the capacity to take ownership for various HR outcomes
  • Agree action plans to close any gaps identified and build capacity for line management to deliver their HR role.

Human resource leaders need to initiate an action-oriented approach to defining a strategic HR agenda in a manner that defines clear roles and relationships among the principle players. This can best be done by involving line leaders in practical, robust dialogue, and concluding agreements that are achievable within the capacity constraints that exist today, and agreeing what is needed for the future, buying in scarce HR talent, weeding out dead wood, and re-skilling line management and HR to take on their agreed roles.


Kesler, G: Four Steps to Building an HR Agenda for Growth: HR Strategy Revisited,

Competitive Human Resources Strategies, LLC, 2001

Meceda, E, Justice, R: A higher calling. Redefining HR’s priorities in the new economy, CLC, London, 2000

* This article is an adaptation of a case study of Mobil North American Marketing and Refining integrated line management and HR planning process; graphics presented in the article are copies of actual workshop materials.

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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

Managing Director


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