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People strategy trumps business strategy, every time

The fundamental driver of innovation and productivity within any organisation is the people working for it. For this reason, the establishment of a successful people strategy is one of the key considerations in promoting greater performance, both internally and within the marketplace.

As highlighted in PWC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, one of the greatest difficulties facing today’s business leaders is ensuring that their companies have the right talent to cope with the ever-changing demands of their industries. Rising competition and shrinking budgets are providing a considerable challenge to profitability and poor productivity across the UK is only adding to the concern that British businesses are facing an uncertain future. In an attempt to address these issues, many companies have correctly identified that building greater employee engagement holds the key to improving the output of their organisation. As a result, HR departments across the country are now engaged in re-evaluating their people strategies to increase the performance of the workforce and directly combat falling talent attraction and staff retention levels.

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report reveals that on the whole, corporate leadership agrees that people are the future and their companies need to shift focus over to planning for the future of the workforce. Data from the study reveals that over 92 per cent of executives see a need to rethink their existing people strategy to create a ‘new organisation’ – built on empowered teams with people-centric management models and young, diverse leadership. This is a significant development for employees, whose expectations for rapid career advancement, flexibility and a sense of purpose from compelling work are becoming increasingly common and accepted amongst peers. If bosses want to create an environment which welcomes employees and encourages them to stay at the company, greater focus will need to be placed on establishing autonomy and flexibility whilst broadening diversity and inclusion to develop greater trust from the workforce.

To the HR professional, this may sound very familiar – especially since the concept of the self-developing organisation has been central to promoting the worker-centric business model – however the c-suite is still playing catch up with this approach. Though not an ideal situation for enterprise, it provides HR with an opportunity to demonstrate its ability to bridge the gap between the employer and employee and develop people based strategies to improve performance and output for the business. To get business leaders up to speed, HR should focus on the most important aspects of the modern workplace. First and foremost, business leaders need to accept that job hopping and freelancing is here to stay, signalling the beginning of a new employment model, known globally as the gig economy. Employers have traditionally valued longevity and loyalty from their employees, rewarding workers for the time they spend at the company and avoiding new hires with varied employment records. However, with low job security and a skills deficit across the country, job-seekers have effectively taken the power from employers and pushed for greater flexibility and mobility in their roles. With organisations struggling to staff skilled positions, employers need to open the doors to job hoppers and develop strategies to tempt the best talent commit long-term.

However, this will have little impact if employers don’t tackle the internal factors which cause employees to leave. As demonstrated by Investors in People at the end of 2015, the two most popular reasons for resignation are poor management and not feeling valued by a company. One solution, would be to improve management styles with increased training, a sound investment in the future leadership of the company. However, some organisations are exploring a different approach, opening up to the idea of reduced hierarchy, where employees can feel more involved and central to the success of their company in their existing roles. This provides the empowerment that today’s workforce is looking for, whilst ensuring guidance and support are available when the need arises.

Another important factor is the perception of business, both externally from other enterprises and consumers and also internally from the employee perspective. Though millennials are beginning to show more trust in companies, there is still a strong focus on ethics and fairness amongst the younger generations, many of whom are still sceptical that businesses are truly committed to anything other than financial gain. A large part of establishing and building trust requires businesses to take diversity and wellbeing beyond compliance to make their employees feel valued, whilst also contributing to the greater good of wider society.

It’s encouraging to see that changing attitudes and continued technical innovation have influenced more than just benefits packages for new recruits and social engagement projects pursued by enterprises looking to develop a socially responsible reputation. Business leaders are starting to think about workers as customers, consequently they are concentrating on improving employee experience across all aspects of work. Nowhere else is this more important than in L&D, as evidence shows that professional development continues to resonate, particularly amongst the younger generations. In a 2016 paper from the University of Boston, researchers demonstrated the increasing importance of user experience, both in the eyes of the HR function and the c-suite. The data showed that nearly 50 percent of respondents were considering changing their LMS and learning tools provider, solely due to the poor user experience offered by their current solution.

Finally, it’s important that the business world recognises the multiple benefits provided by wider adoption of a remote first workplace. Though a longstanding subject of discussion for executives and HR professionals, flexible working is still central to the improved workplace conversation, particularly as many organisations remain apprehensive regarding the implementation of such policies. According to a recent study, only half of UK businesses are currently accommodating remote working despite national trends suggesting that the frequency of mobile working is increasing. Though some remain sceptical of the benefits, the numbers run against them, with the CIPD recently announcing that over 80 percent of businesses that had implemented flexible working policies reported significant improvements to productivity.

In order to overcome modern challenges in the enterprise market and stay one step ahead of the competition, businesses require sustained evolution and development; not only in terms of the workforce but of the company and its operations and policies. However, all of these aspects depend upon employees and their motivation to help improve practices, drive productivity and increase the achievements of the wider organisation. To this end, boosting engagement and retention are just as important as establishing stable talent pipelines to combat the growing skills gap. However to achieve this, it will be necessary to address the broader considerations arising from the modern job market.

The human element of business, including factors such as company culture, social responsibility and diversity are rapidly becoming a unique selling point for candidates looking for jobs. With no signs of job hopping abating and increasing pressure on employers to adhere to demands for flexibility and development opportunities, there’s a need to accept that employment has entered a new age. With this in mind, it’s possible to divide the employment market into two groups; businesses that are capitalising on the power of positive people strategies and those that have yet to realise that these hold the key to unlocking increased performance and driving innovation to stay ahead of competitors in the future.

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