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Christina Lattimer

People Development Magazine


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Developing A Winning People Strategy


When I first began to develop people strategies to increase the odds of businesses being successful at delivering on their key outcomes, I researched my topic widely on the internet and in professional circles, but I found there was little guidance.

That was some years ago and while there is a lot more around about people strategies,  these days, the advice and information varies widely in content and form.  

I quickly realised I had to develop my own formula for success, and in this week's article, I share how I approach developing strategy which has proved successful for me.  I hope you find the 7 steps useful. 

Underpinning business outcomes with a people strategy can be a pretty smart move.  Too often, business plans, aims and goals are set without any corresponding detail describing how people will help to deliver and achieve what the business has set out to do.

Developing a people strategy mustn’t be confused with an HR strategy.  Lack of understanding about terminology can make or break the success of a strategy, particularly around your people.   Too often an HR strategy is focussed on transactional and policy functions and this dilutes the emphasis about developing strategies to make sure the right people in the right roles deliver the right outcomes, in the right time.

In reality though it matters not what the strategy is called, except that it must be about people and not HR processes or transactions.   Making sure everyone is on the same page in respect of terminology being used when developing strategy is absolutely crucial.  A great people strategy will not only increase the odds of, but also accelerate the speed of, success.

Following these seven steps will help to maintain focus on what is needed to develop a great people strategy.

1.      Horizon scan internally and externally

Horizon scanning should not be a one-off event which is carried out to inform a proposed strategy, but an on-going knowledge/news bank preserved within a pre-determined framework to make sure new factors are identified at the earliest opportunity.  Organisations benefit from ensuring future scanning is a cultural norm.

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

It is crucial the organisation’s business objectives, priorities and constraints are understood inside out. If the people strategy is being developed through the HR Department, then it’s essential that HR are involved in the formation and decision making of overall business strategy.   This is because HR will understand the capacity, capabilities and current potential of the people and such insights can temper and shape expectations around outcomes and any timelines being worked to.

3.      Establish the top five priorities

Establishing the top five people priorities is a key step, as they will contribute directly to help deliver on desired business outcomes and priorities.  Required cultural changes should not be sidestepped.  Quite often “the way we do things round here” can sabotage the most exacting and thought out outcome based people strategy.   Being tempted to include more than five priorities can be counterproductive, and using a Pareto Principle approach is more effective.  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

If  HR is developing the strategy, make sure it is not perceived as being “owned” by HR.  The business must own the people strategy. The name must be carefully chosen, so it represents inclusion of everyone in the organisation.  Call it, the “people plan” or the “people element of the business plan”.

Involving as many people as possible is crucial to the success right at the formative stage.  Using focus groups made up of a cross-section of employees, employee representatives and external customers is an effective way to capture ideas and feedback.  Take constructive suggestions on board and if you don’t act on them, explain why.

5.      Benchmark across both industry specific and non-specific companies

Identifying innovative and emerging people practices across a range of industries can help develop great ideas and create achievable standards and benchmarks.   Finding out about success stories in alternative industries can invoke creative and “out of the box” thinking and can lead to fresh parameters around best practice or introduce new processes.

6.      Monitor and measure progress

Setting specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART) criteria is essential to measure success.  Put in place a credible, simple and easy-to-compile measurement system to track progress in hitting specific goals. Link any people outcomes clearly with business outcomes   Monitor results using measureable milestones.

7.      Produce a user friendly working document in simple language

Present the final strategy in employee-friendly language so that everyone both inside and outside of the organisation can understand it. If it doesn’t fit on two sides of A4 paper at most, it’s too long and so will be put in a drawer and forgotten about. A teenager should be able to understand it.  Check it against the Flesch–Kincaid readability test which gives some ideas about how plain the English should be.

Christina has managed people for twenty seven years and led hugely successful teams. She has worked with people at all levels in various organisations to help them achieve their potential, and she has been actively involved in the learning and development field in a number of different roles.

People Discovery is a Leadership Development coaching consultancy,  based in North East England, working globally.

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Christina Lattimer


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