Last week Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced he was taking a leave of absence for health reasons. This announcement rocked the investment world and has many, including Apple employees, wondering what the future is for Apple with its dynamic, charismatic and very visible leader missing from the helm. What if he doesn’t return?

Hopefully Apple has a succession plan in place.

In the fall of 2008 the Tri-State area was whipped into submission by a powerful storm that produced winds strong enough to tear off roofs, knock down trees and power lines, and send communities into darkness for days. Many companies suffered as well, as the lack of power meant they could not open for business as usual. What if that happens again?

Hopefully your company has an emergency plan in place.

According to a recent Right Management survey of 1,400 US workers many companies may lose some of their top employees in 2011. Seems that the past few years of downsizing, stagnant wages and constantly doing more with less has taken its toll and employee discontent is rising. If the survey is accurate 84% of current employees could seek new jobs if the job market picks up. What if the employee leaving is one of your key employees?

Hopefully you have a retention plan in place.

If you ask any human resources professional what they consider to be their main function at their organization, you will get many answers: generalist, manager, recruiter, compensation specialist, benefits administrator, trainer, safety officer, counselor, mentor. I doubt that any of them will respond “I’m a planner”. But planning plays an integral part of human resources and is vital to how we to react to changes within our organization, whether those changes are anticipated or not. The beginning of the new year is a time when many organizations present their corporate strategy by sharing the goals and objectives for the coming year (or for a few years into the future). Now too is the time for human resources to reevaluate, revise and renew their HR strategies and “What If” plans.

Let me share what I learned in Strategic Planning 101 (I actually have a degree in planning). These are the three P’s of planning:

  1. Policies define an organization’s overarching strategic direction. They are typically generic, to-the-point, and provide general direction. They define the “What” and the “Why”. Policies can often be referred to as Strategies. For example:
    • It is our company policy not to employ persons who use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol. As such we reserve the right to require employees to submit to testing for drug and/or alcohol use as a continuing condition of employment as deemed necessary to the safe and efficient operation of our company.
  2. Plans are more tactical in nature. They can be, and often are, changed and serve as a guide for how you will achieve the stated policy. Plans are also referred to as Tactics (they are also confusingly called “Policies”). For example:
    • In accordance with our drug and alcohol policy, random drug and alcohol screening shall take place regularly. Human Resources will be responsible for coordinating random drug screening of employees with our third party vendor AcuScreen.
  3. Processes or Procedures define the implementation steps. They provide the framework for how specifically things are to be done – the “Who, What, When and How”. These are specific actions or tasks that execute the plan. Often the processes are included within the plan. For example:
    • Human Resources will select and notify the employee to be screened using the random selection process.
    • Selected employee will be sent a copy of the Drug Policy, a lab form and instructions for making an appointment with the screening vendor. Etc.

It is not critical that what you call your policies, plans, procedures, or processes match those of other organizations or adhere to the definitions above; only that you define and communicate your particular methodology to your organization and, more importantly, that they are written and followed.

The three examples provided above (succession plan, emergency plan and retention plan) are all instances where human resources needs to pull out their “Planning Manuals” and plan for the “What If”. For succession planning, that means evaluating the KSAs of current employees to determine if your next CEO, CFO or CIO is among them. For an emergency plan it can mean making sure emergency documents are up-to-date and the emergency chain of command isn’t “broken”. And for a retention plan it might mean taking the pulse of your organization to gauge employee satisfaction and interviewing terminating employees to find causality in turnover.

For some organizations, the policies and plans created to address these issues are already in place, the procedures may just need to be updated to reflect changes in staff, changes in job responsibility or changes in information. Now is a great time to review those policies and make sure they still reflect the needs of the organization, especially if the strategic direction of the organization has changed. Also review them with an eye toward the economic climate and other external factors (such as legal compliance) which may affect the policy or resulting plans.

For others, though, these policies or plans have yet to be written. But there’s no time like the present to begin. Stay tuned to learn more about strategic planning and policy development.

Debbie Hatke, MA, SPHR is a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant and Talent Strategy Manager with Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have questions or comments about this article, you can contact Debbie at Debbie@strategicHRinc.com.