I recently partnered with Halogen Software on a webinar about developing a people-focused strategy. We had a number of interesting questions from attendees and I thought it would be useful to write an article to summarize and build upon the best practices shared during the webinar.
Developing a people-focused strategy
All people management strategies concern people; however the focus of most of these strategies is on the business. Indeed, this increasing focus can be seen as the central aspect of the shift from traditional personnel to more modern Human Resource Management over the last few decades.
I’m not arguing that we need to reverse any of this. However, doing what we’re currently doing isn’t working either. Trust and engagement scores are on the floor, and more importantly, employers are missing out on the biggest opportunity to create a competitive advantage.
Most CEOs have given up saying, ”people are our most important asset” as they understand this statement is treated cynically by their employees. But most still understand it to be true. And they’re right! One of my favorite books, Beyond Performance by Keller and Price makes the point very well.
These authors argue that what they call organization health, largely focused on people and culture, provides the only real sustainable source of competitive success today. And what makes this my favorite book is that this isn’t an HR book, but has been written by McKinsey — the pre-eminent firm of business strategy consultants.
The real issue is that CEOs don’t see how they can take action based upon their understanding that people are the… you know what. (That’s why people are so cynical about the phrase; they don’t see their CEO and senior leaders putting any action behind the words.)
And that’s why we need a people-focused strategy. We need options to present to our CEOs that show how they can create organization health / differentiated people and cultures that will provide the basis for their success. But these options don’t come from an understanding of the business, or being more like the rest of the business, etc. They come from an understanding of people and of cultures — psychology, sociology, anthropology etc.
And therefore we need to shift at least some of our focus from the business to our employees, and put them at the center of our strategy.
Creating a people-focused HR function
As I started to describe on the webinar, HR often understands the central and strategic importance of our people. It’s usually the case, however, that our business colleagues don’t fully understand this position (I suggested buying them a copy of Beyond Performance).
To get round this situation, we need to be seen as capable, credible business professionals. This is why so much of the current discussion in our profession focuses on getting closer to the business and speaking the language of business, i.e. Finance. I’m not arguing against this either. However credibility in the business is only worth having if we do something worthwhile with this.
We need to ensure that we’re credible in the current business, and then change the business.
So yes, it’s right that we understand the business, but it’s even more important that the whole business better understands the people. It’s good that we can understand balance sheets and financial metrics but it’s an even bigger requirement that the rest of the business can speak the language of people i.e. words that are meaningful and compelling. (Talking about passion rather than engagement might be a good start.)
Technology falls into this arena too. We’ve moved on from focusing on the system of record and providing data to HR, to talent management systems and providing information to managers, but we also need to progress onto systems that enable and empower employees, and provide them with the information they need to do their jobs — liberating rather than controlling them.
Doing all of this provides a basis for re-igniting the passion of our employees and ensuring that we are not just supporting the achievement of existing business objectives but are also enabling our businesses to set new and more stretching business goals. This is the opportunity for people-focused strategy.
For more on this topic, I invite you to watch an archive of my webinar with Halogen: “Developing a people-focused strategy.”
About Jon Ingham
Jon Ingham is an independent consultant, blogger and speaker, recently included in Halogen’s HR Raging Debates. He has been included as a top 100 HR influencer by HR Examiner and as the #7 UK HR most influential thinkers for 2013 by the UK’s HR Magazine. He has also chaired HR Technology Europe conference for the last three years. Connect with Jon on his blog, LinkedIn and Twitter.