In the fast-paced corporate world, a robust people strategy is the linchpin of organizational success. It’s not just about filling seats but about cultivating a culture that aligns with your business’s heart and soul. Here we look at how you can sculpt a people strategy that resonates with your organization’s core and propels you towards your goals.  No people strategy will be worth its salt unless it is inclusive and resonates with everyone working in your business.

If a business wants to drive up performance and get the best out of its people it needs a comprehensive people strategy.  Underpinning, business outcomes with a people strategy can be a pretty smart move.

People Strategy Not An HR Strategy

Developing a people strategy mustn’t be confused with an HR strategy.  A lack of understanding of terminology can make or break the success of a strategy, particularly around your people.   An HR strategy will include elements of transactional and policy functions.  It may also include elements of planning and activity through the employee lifecycle.

In contrast, a people strategy will be about the culture and the performance of employees.  A great people strategy will not only increase the odds but also accelerate the speed of success for any organisation.  However, there is not always a lot of information about how to develop an effective people strategy.  The following steps will help you formulate your strategy.

1. Horizon Scan Internally and Externally To ContextualIse Your People Strategy

Horizon scanning should be an ongoing activity to gather knowledge and information which informs the strategy.  Organisations benefit from ensuring future scanning is a cultural norm. This information will include events and situations which will shape the organisation.

There are a variety of horizon-scanning models, used to pull external information together.  It is worth researching to find the best fit, but STEEP (PEST) is one of the most commonly used formats.

2. Understand the Business and Its People To Get Your People Strategy Right

To tailor a strategy that fits like a glove, you must know every nuance of your business and its people. The HR team’s insights into the workforce’s capabilities and potential are invaluable. With this understanding, you can craft a strategy that not only meets business objectives but also harnesses your employees’ full potential.

The organisation’s business objectives, priorities and constraints must be understood inside out. The HR team will understand the capacity, capabilities and current potential of the people in the organisation. Understanding these elements will help to shape the outcomes and timelines.

3. Establish the Top Five Priorities

Focus is key. Identify the top five priorities that will have the most significant impact on your business outcomes. Avoid getting lost in the minutiae; instead, target those vital few areas that will drive the most significant change. Remember, a laser-focused approach can cut through any obstacle. Cultural changes must be considered alongside any desired outcomes.  Quite often “the way we do things around here” can sabotage the most exacting and thought-out outcome-based people strategy. Too much detail dilutes efforts, while a vital few things will create the biggest impact.

4. Involve Others and Share Widely to Gain Maximum Input at All Stages

The business must own the people strategy.  Call it, the “people plan” or the “people element of the business plan”.

The ‘people plan’ should be a collective vision, not a top-down decree. Engage a diverse group of employees, representatives, and even customers to gather a wealth of ideas. Embrace constructive feedback, and if certain suggestions don’t cut, communicate the reasons. Inclusion breeds commitment.

5. Benchmark Across Both Industry-Specific and Non-Specific Companies

Look beyond your industry’s horizon for inspiration. Innovative practices from different sectors can spark creative solutions for your own. Learn from the success stories of others, like how cross-industry benchmarks have inspired companies to adopt unconventional yet successful practices.

6. Monitor and Measure Progress

What gets measured gets managed. Set SMART goals and track your progress with a simple, effective system. Link people outcomes to business results, and monitor these milestones diligently. This approach ensures that your strategy is not just a plan but a part of your business’s DNA.

7. Produce a User-Friendly Working Document in Simple Language

Your final strategy should be as accessible as it is insightful. Craft a document that’s clear, concise, and can be grasped by anyone within or outside your organization. Use the Flesch–Kincaid readability test to ensure your strategy is not lost in translation.

8. Embrace Continuous Learning and Development In Your People Strategy

Investing in your team’s growth is non-negotiable. Create learning opportunities that keep your workforce agile and informed. Google’s ‘20% time’ is a testament to how empowering employees to pursue their passions can lead to groundbreaking innovations.

9. Foster a Culture of Open Communication

Encourage a dialogue-rich environment where every voice can be heard. This transparency not only nurtures trust but also uncovers insights that might otherwise remain hidden. As Richard Branson wisely puts it, putting employees first is the secret to customer satisfaction.

10. Leverage Technology for Strategic Alignment

Embrace HR technologies to ensure your people strategy is in lockstep with your business objectives. Tools like BambooHR and Workday can provide analytics that inform better decision-making and streamline HR processes.

11. Prioritize Employee Well-being

A healthy employee is your greatest asset. Introduce wellness programs that address physical and mental health. Companies like Zappos have demonstrated that a focus on employee well-being can translate into higher productivity and satisfaction.

12. Encourage Diversity and Inclusion

A mosaic of backgrounds and perspectives can lead to richer ideas and solutions. Strive for a workforce that mirrors the diversity of the world around us. IBM’s commitment to diversity has been a cornerstone of its enduring success.

13. Implement Agile HR Practices

Incorporate agility into your HR practices. This flexibility allows your organization to pivot swiftly in response to new challenges and opportunities, much like a tech startup operates with sprints and iterations.

14. Develop a Strong Employer Brand

A magnetic employer brand can be your best recruitment tool. Highlight your culture and the success stories of your employees. A compelling brand, akin to Tesla’s, can turn your workforce into passionate advocates for your company.

By weaving these strategies into the fabric of your organization, you create more than a plan; you forge a dynamic ecosystem where your people flourish and your business thrives. It’s about setting the stage for your employees to perform at their best, driving your business towards unparalleled success.

Strong People Strategy Examples

Successful people strategies often become case studies for HR professionals and business leaders due to their innovative approaches and positive outcomes. Here are a few examples:

Google: Cultivating Innovation Through Employee Autonomy

Initially, Google stands out for its people strategy that emphatically encourages creativity and autonomy. Notably, their “20% time” policy allows employees to dedicate a full day each week to projects outside their regular responsibilities. Consequently, this freedom has sparked the creation of groundbreaking products such as Gmail and AdSense. Furthermore, Google invests in comprehensive wellness programs and generous parental leave, which, in turn, leads to high employee satisfaction and retention.

Netflix: Culture of Freedom and Responsibility

Netflix’s people strategy is encapsulated in its culture memo, which outlines the company’s values and expectations. The strategy focuses on hiring “fully formed adults” who are responsible and self-motivated. Netflix offers its employees unprecedented freedom, such as unlimited vacation days and a no-approval-needed expense policy, under the expectation that they will act in the company’s best interests. This approach has helped Netflix attract and retain top talent while maintaining a high-performance culture.

Zappos: Commitment to Company Culture In Its People Strategy

Zappos is famous for its company culture and customer service. Its people strategy includes hiring for cultural fit and offering new hires a “pay to quit” option after the initial training period, ensuring that only committed employees stay. Zappos also has a flat organizational structure, which encourages employees to take initiative and contribute ideas, fostering a sense of ownership and collaboration.

SAS Institute: Focus on Employee Well-being

SAS Institute, a leader in analytics software, has consistently been ranked as one of the best places to work due to its focus on employee well-being. The company’s people strategy includes providing a supportive work environment with on-site healthcare, childcare, fitness centres, and flexible working hours. This approach has resulted in high employee loyalty and low turnover rates.

Semco: Radical Corporate Democracy

Semco, a Brazilian company, has a radical approach to corporate management, which extends to its people strategy. Employees at Semco choose their roles, set their salaries, and even have a say in corporate decisions. This democratic approach has led to high levels of innovation and employee satisfaction.

Southwest Airlines: Employee-Centric People Strategy

Southwest Airlines‘ people strategy is centred around the idea that happy employees lead to happy customers. The company invests in comprehensive training, career development opportunities, and a profit-sharing program. Southwest’s focus on employee engagement has helped it maintain a strong company culture and a competitive edge in the airline industry.

Patagonia: Aligning Values with Work

The company offers its employees environmental internships, and on-site childcare, and encourages outdoor activities as part of its work-life balance ethos. This alignment of personal and corporate values has attracted a dedicated workforce that is highly aligned with the company’s mission.

These examples demonstrate that successful people strategies are those that align with the company’s overall mission and values, focus on employee well-being, and foster a culture of trust, responsibility, and innovation. They show that when companies invest in their employees, they can expect better performance, higher job satisfaction, and ultimately, greater business success.

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