First Chicago’s HR Strategic Diagnostic

The human resources strategic diagnostic is First Chicago's way of overcoming such tunnel vision and objectively prioritizing all issues related to HR management.

Pablo Picasso was known for painting in haptic style—that is, he painted the way people feel. If his portrait was of a person with an injured finger, the finger would be painted disproportionately large to indicate pain.

According to Jim Alef, senior vice president and head of human resources at First Chicago Corp., HR professionals often work in much the same fashion by giving their individual challenges a disproportionately large share of attention. The human resources strategic diagnostic is First Chicago’s way of overcoming such tunnel vision and objectively prioritizing all issues related to HR management.

“As I looked at our HR activity, I saw a lot of well-intentioned people working on recommendations related to individual issues,” he explains. “What I didn’t see was an attempt to pull those recommendations together.”

In 1989, under Alef’s direction, the HR staff worked in concert to identify and prioritize all its HR issues. Extensive input was sought from other departments including corporate strategy, economics, government and legal affairs and the line areas. The resulting diagnostic was the company’s first comprehensive, objective list of HR challenges.

Alef’s staff uses the diagnostic to anticipate upcoming challenges and take early, decisive action on HR issues. What staff members may intuitively think are issues, the diagnostic confirms. By making decisions based on fact, not suspicion, the bank not only avoids potential problems, it experiences greater program success. Specifically, the document:

  1. Identifies and examines the major external and internal forces that have or will have implications for the management of First Chicago’s human resources.
  2. Establishes a sound database that describes First Chicago’s total workforce, as well as the workforce composition of each major line of business.
  3. Promotes possible courses of action for upcoming human resources challenges.
  4. Crafts a time-phased agenda that reflects opportunities to put First Chicago ahead of those challenges.
  5. Helps determine an appropriate organizational structure for the HR department, as well as corresponding staff and budget requirements.

The diagnostic, which is constantly being updated, measures the company’s corporate business objectives against political, educational, demographic, economic, judicial and social issues. This “living document” is used as a strategic HR roadmap, allowing HR professionals to act on changing circumstances, rather than react to them.

Among the HR programs developed as a result of information revealed in the diagnostic are enhanced basic skills training efforts, a revised pensioner health care program and stepped-up recruitment for entry-level, non-exempt positions.

“Upon compiling the diagnostic,” says Alef, “we learned there are a vast number of things going on in this world that are HR related and, if we could do human resources right, what a tremendous competitive advantage we would have.”

Personnel Journal, November 1991, Vol. 70, No. 11, p. 55.

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