7/1/2015 | Chuck Leddy

As your company adapts to the middle market and its customers' needs, your human resources strategy needs to adapt along with it. The first step is to build your overall business strategy, and then identify human resources' role in reaching your goals. Do you need to develop new capabilities to better serve customers, or expand your sales or production footprint? HR should recruit, hire, train, and develop the right talent for the task.

Plan your human resources strategy around your company's growth and strategic goals.

Leadership's time becomes a valuable resource that must be invested smartly as businesses mature, particularly in strategic development. Delegating tasks to others becomes more important, as does leveraging core strengths. HR has exactly the same maturation and growth process. As your organization grows and demands more from HR, specialization emerges. For example, companies hire outside consultants to achieve specific recruitment goals. Align your human resources strategy with your company's overall strategic planning to achieve the best results.

What kinds of strategic HR goals will a maturing middle market company need to meet? Here are five common ones:

  1. Bringing in talent and retaining it. As companies grow, top talent provides a competitive advantage. There's an old football coaches' proverb that rings true in business: "It's not just the X's and O's, but the Jacks and the Joes." In other words, no matter the brilliance of your strategic plans, they'll fail if you don't have the talent to properly carry them out. When you're in a growth cycle, it's critical to establish programs and incentives that drive recruitment and retention. Competitive benefits are always a good place to start.
  2. Building your recruitment brand. A great brand adds value because it stands for something, such as quality, reliability or convenience. Just as you build brand equity in your products, you'll also need to build an image that fosters engagement with outsiders. What are your company's key values, and how would you describe its culture to a potential recruit? By answering this question and sharing the answers with prospects, your HR department will have a basis for attracting talent. Company image is important in defining your market position.
  3. Resolving compensation and motivation issues. Perhaps the toughest issue for HR is compensation strategy; it requires a complex analysis of your market, your people, the capabilities you need and the internal and external availability of those capabilities. The more your company grows, the less case-by-case compensation decisions you'll have to make. When resolving these issues, you'll need a strategic plan, a structure to support it, some external help and a lot of discipline in avoiding solutions tailored to individual employees.
  4. Training. HR has the lead role in developing employees' capabilities. It ensures that your company has the skills it needs to grow swiftly and effectively. Hiring outside talent can be very expensive, so investing in internal training is a cost-effective solution as well as a great retention tool. HR's role should be to identify skills gaps and then go about closing them. If your existing HR department doesn't have the capability to do this, you'll need to invest in people with the right skills. This is when you'd bring in consultants.
  5. Outsourcing. Seeking outside help can be a great way to expand your HR capabilities in the short-term, although it is often expensive. Whenever you use a consultant, try to make sure that someone within the company absorbs the contractor's know-how. That way, you'll develop long-term internal skills while saving money. Your human resources strategy should include a clear assessment of the gaps in the department, then identify when you need to look elsewhere. According to the HR Council of Canada, "Some organizations outsource HR activities, project work or bookkeeping. For example, payroll may be done by an external organization rather than a staff person, a short-term project may be done using a consultant, or specific expertise such as legal advice may be purchased from an outside source." Outsourcing is a good option, but developing long-term in-house capabilities is even better.

Has your company ever adjusted its hiring strategy to meet a specific goal? What factors did you account for in your new hires, and how did you evaluate prospects? Give us an example by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.