How to put your people strategy down on paper

Author: PM editorial | Date: 29 Sep 2016

If you don’t have a defined strategy you’re likely to end up fighting fires and losing focus on what matters, says Marjola Rintjema

Strategy is the cornerstone of business growth, and most HR departments – as well as most CEOs – will have a clear idea of where they’re going and where they want to be in the future. But the concept of an ‘HR strategy’ is relatively insular. By instead defining a ‘people strategy’, most experts agree, you can improve return on human capital investment and ensure you have the right talent to meet your goals.

Marjola Rintjema, lead consultant for communication and change management at Willis Towers Watson in the Middle East, believes all businesses should have a defined people strategy and that, in most cases, it should be captured as a written document.

“If you don’t define a people strategy, you’re likely to end up fighting fires and losing focus on the things that are really important,” she says. “The process of writing it down helps create structure and alignment and makes it easier to share. It doesn’t mean writing a book – try and keep it concise and as simple as possible.”

While a people strategy requires buy-in from senior managers, its ownership is usually delegated to the HR department. But defining it means consulting widely with the business. “Discussing [your people strategy] with people from diverse areas of your company will help integrate different perspectives and make it more relevant and effective,” Rintjema says.

Deborah Woollard, vice president of HR for Asia, Middle East and Africa at InterContinental Hotels (ICH), agrees: “A people strategy is as critical as a corporate strategy and should be developed holistically across functions. This will ensure the gap between current and future talent is minimised.”

If, for example, you want to be more innovative in the products and services you offer, you’ll need to look at people structures and culture to ensure innovative behaviour is encouraged. If you want to achieve 20 per cent growth in a particular area, your people strategy needs to address how this will be achieved. It might mean hiring additional staff with particular skills, or upskilling existing employees.

“You may need to adjust your recruitment strategy to target a different type of candidate, change team structures and management styles to increase empowerment, include idea generation in your performance management goals or adopt a more flexible work environment,” says Rintjema.

At ICH, Woollard says the people strategy is developed around four key pillars – organisation, talent development, learning and development, and winning culture – to ensure it is ‘people ready’ to deliver against company strategy over the coming three to five years.

Once you have a people strategy in place, regularly reviewing it is key. This will depend on the pace of change in your sector, and your other business goals, but if there are any indications that your people strategy is not working, it’s vital to intervene.

Woollard says employees are also starting to take note of these issues. “Increasingly, employees take people strategy into account when they are selecting a company to remain with or to work for. A people strategy needs to be attractive to colleagues, especially millennials,” she adds.