To execute strategy, all departments (line and staff) need to contribute to the strategic outcome. In the private sector this can be defined as the meeting the expectation of the shareholder e.g. profit or stock price. In the public sectors, it can be defined as achieving its mission - the outcome for the defined stakeholder, e.g. the general public.
In this process of alignment, it is critical that the designated stakeholder (recipient of the department’s efforts) are identified and satisfied. For example, in the case of law enforcement it can be “citizen protection” or for the fire department it can be defined as the “life and property” within the departmental jurisdiction. Beyond the defined stakeholders, the ability to provide either private or public services is supported by the various support functions such as finance and human resources.
Alignment of the support functions are important because they enable the service delivery functions - the line functions – to run effectively and efficiently. Therefore, it is critical that the support functions understand and support the operational demands of the department. For example, the human resource department must ensure that the department has the skills needed to deliver the services defined. Failure to have the right number of skilled employees to conduct its business or provide service would result in failure to meet its commercial or public obligations.
Therefore, the support function strategy is defined by the delivery of products or services by the line operations. Having said that, first, there must be a clear strategic definition of the products or services required to meet its business or statutory obligations. This requires that the line organization defines its strategy before the support function can develop its enabling strategy. Then and only then can the support function define its strategic plan. As the term support function implies, A support function’s strategy contributes (supports) the achievement of the line organization’s strategic objectives.
It is clear that support unit strategy follows on and is in support of the line unit strategy. To reverse the sequence would be akin to putting the “cart before the horse”.