View from HR: Why it’s important to make plans that will change

Every time I hear this I cringe: “There is no need to set business goals beyond two or three years because everything will change by then!”

Nonsense. This is a short-sighted and limiting way to view your role as HR leader, manager, employee or other person responsible for forward movement.

It is true the only things known and under control are the things already done. Everything else, including lunch today, has risk, variability and chance.

If we allow lack of predictability to prevent us from declaring who we want to be, what we want to offer, who we need on staff and what the context for all this might look like in 3, 5 or 10 years out, we will never meet our potential.

Lots of variability

Here’s why: the most important consequences of any significant decision are the unintended consequences. Think about the times you worked hard to plan, predict, figure, calculate, test, focus group, survey and such before your team acted. Good and necessary work. But how often were the results very different than expected in key ways, good or bad, and how did they change over time? How did the product, service or talent needs change over time?

My point is there is variability and unpredictability at all levels of planning and for all time frames. The bigger the issue or opportunity, and the longer the time frame, the greater that variability. That is precisely why very long-term planning is important: not because the future is predictable, but because it is not.

Yes, long-term planning (say, 10 years) is different than short-term planning. The long-term is less about revenue, number of employees or other quantifiable goals. It may be (I think should be) more about subjective goals, perceptions, market position, big talent shifts and needs, exit issues, culture, being something we are not today, and such. It is about keeping your eyes on the prize.

Be an advocate

We recently set a 10-year target at CAI that goes like this: “By 2025, membership in CAI has a clear and meaningful value proposition in the eyes of all employers in our region that want an effective, engaged, well-managed, well-led and low -risk workplace.”

What do we expect to happen as a result of setting this big target? First, our goal is not to enroll every appropriate member out there, we want to be on their radar and with a clear value. Second, we are doubling-down on our belief in the combined power of great manager/leader skills plus sensible risk reduction plus modern HR skills. Third, this ten year target supports our mission and purpose within a market context.

Our 10-year target affects today’s big decisions: what sort of classroom facilitation we offer, our plans to provide employment law services to members, who we communicate with and what we say, and how we can remove more pain and risk from HR to free up time for their businesses.

Become an advocate for long-term planning in your work. Use it to shape and focus today’s decisions!

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit