Strategic HR Focus at Year-End

Strategic HR Focus at Year-End | vcfo

The year is coming to an end, and like many other operational functions, the People Operations team is busy with their annual year-end processes. Although this time of year comes with many tactical tasks, it is important to incorporate careful planning, strategic thinking, and a sharp focus on both operational efficiency and long-term organizational success as plans are made for the coming year.

Throughout the planning process, it is critical to pay attention to the broader strategic direction of the organization, collaborating with department leaders to understand how decisions in one area impact the workflow of another. Following are some strategic ways to make year-end deadlines more impactful.

Strategic Focus with Collaboration

Some leaders struggle at year-end with striking a good balance between devoting ample time to the future of the business versus tactical tasks that keep the wheels turning.

A common outcome of this mindset is a rationalization on the part of the CEO that they (perhaps along with the CFO) can adequately represent the views of People Ops as strategic planning commences, check some HR-oriented items off the list themselves, and not bring focused People Operations expertise to the table. This is a risky proposition that suggests an underappreciation of the perspectives that stem from People Ops’ direct connection to the workforce. If HR leadership is not a direct participant in the strategic planning that happens at year-end, miscommunication and overlap of effort can occur, causing many undesirable ripple effects.

In short, People Ops leadership should be a principal part of strategic planning to ensure alignment on organizational objectives is achieved and that the implications of decisions on the workforce are fully understood. They need to work together with the CEO, CFO, and other key leaders to collectively develop priorities and approaches for a wide range of issues to ensure the workforce is fully enabled and empowered to deliver on those objectives.

Reactive vs. Proactive

It is now Q4. If planning for the upcoming year has not started, you are a bit behind. If you have not started, start today and next year plan to start earlier. Be mindful that waiting too long to begin focusing on key items may bring about reactiveness and hasty decisions that are not optimal. This often leads to misguided agreements or relationships with the wrong business partners that are entered into with a rationalization of checking something off the list or moving it onto a partner’s plate.

Benefits is a good example of an area that should be addressed well before year end. It is important to evaluate the benefits you offer to determine whether they align with the needs of your team, the organization’s strategic plan, budget, attract talent, and are compliant with regulations. If you wait until the end of the year or when your provider comes to you with the renewal quotes on last year’s plan design, you will usually have a very small window to perform the right amount of due diligence to ensure that provider and plan align with your needs. With 401(k) and similar plans, it’s vital to check plan requirements related to required year-end data submission dates to avoid potential penalties. Many plans require data submission between January 31 and February 15. Consider requesting early testing to mitigate potential issues. It is never fun failing testing and having to return money and reprocess W-2s.

A comprehensive, strategic People Ops plan can be extremely helpful in mitigating these issues. An effective calendar that identifies key initiatives, milestones, deadlines, and related considerations or steps that are expected to be especially impactful and require added preparedness in the year ahead. It should also note dependencies on other groups or leaders, such as times when they will need to provide information or input. A strategic plan to incorporate a detailed project plan, compliance due dates, and consideration of the internal deadlines to align to is one way that will allow you to be proactive as opposed to reactive.

Develop the Future Impact

Along with assessing due dates and deadlines and preparing for the year ahead, year-end is also a great time for objectively reviewing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the strategic plan you developed and followed for the current year. Focused discussion in each of these key areas yields insights that will strengthen your People Operations strategic plan moving forward. This may include:

  • Regulatory Compliance: Are you aware of any upcoming labor laws and/or regulatory changes? There’s been a lot of action with new state and federal laws. Review your employee handbook, policies, and procedures to identify any updates and changes that are needed to remain in compliance.
  • Performance Appraisals: Are you seeing needed performance improvement and driving the right behaviors? Have you set clear achievable goals that allow the employee to see their contribution to the organization’s objectives?
  • Strategic Workforce Planning: Do your current staffing levels and skillsets align with the organization’s strategic goals? Does your forecast account for promotion or address skill gaps? Take into consideration the staffing, training, and succession planning for the year ahead.
  • Succession Planning and Talent Development: Have you identified a succession plan? Do you have a training plan in place to develop current talent?
  • Employee Engagement and Retention: When was the last time you got feedback from your employees through a survey? What is your turnover ratio? Is the organization’s culture one that is an inclusive workplace? High engagement often leads to better retention rates and higher productivity, so it’s an area where strategic focus can have a direct impact on the bottom line.
  • Benefits and Compensation: Are you competitive in your industry? Do you have a compensation philosophy? Are you able to attract and retain talent with your total rewards offering?
  • HR Information Systems: Is the data easily accessible to help make decisions for those who need it? Do you have an HR scorecard? What HR metrics are you tracking or do you need to track?
  • Communication and Transparency: Do employees feel that leaders and upper management are open and transparent in their communication? A workforce that is informed is usually engaged, compliant, and productive.

The list above represents only a portion of the breadth and depth of initiatives and elements that People Operations are typically responsible for. While it’s important to review these regularly, year-end provides an excellent opportunity to be strategic in your approach, setting the organization on a path to long-term success.

Strengthening Your Future

Year-end should not just be a rush to check off the tactical items so you can breathe a bit before the new year. Just focusing on the current check list is actually weakening the future of the organization. It is important to collaborate with the leadership team and align the organization’s goals for the upcoming year with all functional areas. Reviewing your current processes, procedures, and policies allows you to build and enhance a solid foundation.

To strengthen the future of the organization requires a proactive strategic plan that will maximize the involvement of your people in your plan. You don’t have to be overwhelmed feeling you need to do it alone. If you need assistance with these matters – we are here to help.


Have questions on how to strengthen your strategic planning and HR operations for the year ahead? Request a free consultation from a vcfo expert who can help. We’ve partnered with more than 5,000 businesses in our 27 years and would love to put our knowledge and experience to work for you.