Connecting the Dots: The Ultimate Challenge for HR

The typical Human Resources department has responsibility for a broad set of activities — from ensuring that people get paid, maintaining employee data, complying with labor regulations and reporting mandates, to administering health and retirement benefits, managing recruiting, training, performance management, and a host of other talent management activities.

While much attention is paid to how to execute these activities and benchmark their performance, relatively little is directed at how they connect to each other, and more importantly, to how the outcomes of these activities drive organizational performance.

i4cp’s People-Profit Chain™ model illustrates the influence of these people-management factors on organizational performance. It represents a high-level schematic that shows the connections between key human capital domains — Market, Strategy, Culture, Leadership, and Talent — and how their outcomes work together to drive market performance.

Vail Resorts, described in a recently published i4cp case study, provides a compelling illustration of how one organization identified and connected the dots that matter most. In particular, this case example demonstrates how HR leaders can go beyond the traditional responsibilities of the human resource function to play lead roles in defining integrated market vision, business strategy and cultural values while ensuring that leadership and talent programs and practices align with them.

A Common Challenge Met by an Uncommon Leader

Vail Resorts Management Company operates businesses in three distinct areas: mountain resorts, lodging (including luxury hotels, condominiums, and golf courses), and real estate development (linked to the areas near the company’s resorts). Senior leadership had the perception that Vail Resorts’ three business areas lacked interconnectedness–a sense that their operations were not synchronized–that motivated company leaders toward change.

They aspired to create an integrated, holistic strategic plan to drive long-term success. At the same time, they sought the synergies that grow from an engaged, cohesive workforce, and the economies inherent in consistent processes and enterprise-wide purchasing power.

The effort to tackle this challenge was initiated and led from an unusual place: the HR organization. Mark Gasta, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, guided this effort.

Defining Values First, Then Customer and Business Strategies

Gasta’s first move was unconventional. He started by examining the company’s culture and values rather than customer needs or business strategy. He formed a cross-functional team that engaged staff at all levels across the entire organization. The team identified six key principles that define Vail Resorts’ culture, then worked to infuse each principle with an action orientation and created colorful icons representing each one to make the values more memorable for employees. The simply stated values include: “have fun, be safe, serve others, do good, do right, and drive value.”

Vail used these mission and core values to define their core business–to operate ski mountains–and a strategy built on providing an integrated set of products and services that delivered on its mission to create the ski experience of a lifetime. Having clarity about the core business made it possible for executives to prioritize, and helped leaders make tough decisions about other product, service and business opportunities.

The values were also incorporated within key talent and leadership activities. Says Gasta, “in fact, we’ve built our communications around them, and we include them in new-hire orientation and in development programs. Our employees get these, they resonate, they make sense.” Gasta says that the values now figure strongly in Vail Resorts’ employee performance appraisals as well.

The Result: Strategic Clarity and Organizational Synergy

Vail Resorts integrated HR strategies and practices and also identified and applied a single defining logic and set of values to its business strategy and operating model, which sharpened the company’s competitive differentiation and galvanized its workforce. With those vital fundamentals in place, it became possible to gain new clarity about the organization’s core business competencies and to craft a compelling vision strong enough and inspiring enough to move Vail Resorts toward a unique and successful future.

Gasta says that the several years of effort by company leaders and the Culture Team enabled Vail Resorts to “galvanize everyone around a shared mission, shared values, clarity around our core, and where we’re going to focus so that we really have one agenda for the company.”

Lessons for HR Leaders

Gasta sees the work accomplished by Vail Resorts as a good illustration of the valuable role of HR at the strategic level.

“It’s facilitation of cross-functional, cross divisional groups and who else can take the lead? HR is well-positioned to do this kind of work and begin integrating agendas toward a common purpose. We may not be subject matter experts in every piece of this, but we’re facilitation experts who can bring people together, establish a shared vision and begin creating movement toward that. The value is strategically significant for the organization, but it’s also the reason we are in HR–enlisting our employees in a greater purpose–something more than themselves. It’s getting them fully involved in the organization, providing services and creating products because they are passionate, connected and engaged.”

In other words, connecting the dots for all employees to the company’s vision, values and strategy.

Gasta cautions HR leaders to avoid the tendency to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the work to be done and advises: “Envision the future state you want, and begin your roadmap with just the first few steps. The thing about vision is that you may not be able to chart your course all the way to the end, but if you just know those first few steps, you can see a little farther from there. Then the next step will become clear.

“Too often, we don’t act because something seems too big. Just do what you can. Momentum builds momentum. You’ll look back a year from now and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how far we’ve come.'”

Reprinted from i4cp

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