What Does it Mean to be an HRD Strategist?

What does it mean to be a strategist? How does one apply strategy to human resource development (HRD) management? First, let’s discuss what strategy is and how it differs from other type of management activities. Then we’ll discuss how we can actively pursue full integration of strategy into HRD management activities.

According to Thompson and Strickland, strategy can be defined as “the ‘game plan’ management has for positioning the company in its chosen market arena, competing successfully, pleasing customers, and achieving good business performance” (Thompson and Strickland, 1998,  p. 12).

Other authors are a little more specific in describing strategic HRD functions as needs assessment, planning and analysis, and evaluation, or that considering the right factors at the right time is paramount to being a good strategist.

So, then, what does it mean to be an HRD strategist?

For most folks it means thinking of the bigger picture. All too often we are caught up in the process of everyday minutia and forget the big picture. Or as was conveyed in a Stephen Covey illustration, we need not to be so concerned with how sharp the machetes are and how well we are blazing the trail, as much as how sure we are in the right jungle in the first place (Covey, 1989).

In addition to having the big picture vision, we need to be sure that the tactical, everyday activities of the company match the vision. For example, an organization that develops strategy through corporate staff meetings and then does not make any effort to change the corporate culture in order to insure the rank-and-file are in synch with the new strategy, is only kidding itself about its success. In order for the strategic vision to be implemented, everyone in the organization must be aware of and have some buy-in in the new vision.

Another facet of being a strategist is to always consider the competition in our everyday activities. For example, when thinking about adding or expanding the HRIS system, one question should be with respect to what the competition is doing. If the competition has the latest and greatest HRIS package and is fully using its abilities, then this immediately puts the company at a disadvantage.

In terms of training, the same is true. If the competition is implementing successful new training programs and we are not, this can create a strategic disadvantage for our company. This is where Noonan’s (1994) ideas of assessment, planning, analysis, and evaluation come into play.

By assessing the current training environment against the corporate strategy we determine if there are any gaps that need to be filled. Perhaps, as we mentioned earlier, new corporate strategies have been developed. This would be opportune time to assess the need for new training based on the new strategic plan.

Planning/analysis further implements the corporate strategy by having in place a ready response to any rifts between strategy and actual performance.  Basically, we are deciding what to do about the various problems and issue discovered during assessment.

And finally, HRD strategists will evaluate the success of the implemented training to ensure it achieved its goal.

So, to summarize, we can say that as an HRD training manager we can improve our strategic ability by:

  1. Getting the big picture – understand how your piece of the world (training, in this case) is part of the overall strategic vision of the organization.
  2. Consider the competition – try to discover how our department ranks within the industry, and specifically with direct competitors
  3. Assessing the current environment – how does the current training plan support the current strategic plan
  4. Planning/analyzing the problem – if there are discrepancies between the current training plan and the current strategic plan, how can they be resolved?
  5. Evaluating the outcomes – how successful was the training in closing the gap between the current strategic plan and knowledge, skills, and attitudes


Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Fireside.

Noonan, J. V. (1994). Elevators: How to move training up from the basement. Wheaton, Il: Twain Publishers.

Thompson, A. A., Strickland, A. J. (1998). Crafting and implementing strategy (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.


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