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Putting People First: The Birth of the Outperformer

From administrators of transactions to agents of transformation, the evolution of HR has created a new breed of businesses. Sir Dave Brailsford shares what it takes to be an Outperformer.

“People are the assets that create all other assets.” Peter Cheese understands the value people bring to business. As CEO of the CIPD he has witnessed a shift in understanding in recent years, as more organisations recognise the fundamental impact employee engagement has on performance. And with that shift, the HR industry has changed, forever.

In 2010, management thinker Andre De Waal proved that what really counts when it comes to high performance isn’t strategy, technology, or management structure. It’s people. In studying 290 examples, he found that the culture of an organisation is inextricably linked to its performance. Since then, study after study has shown that an engaged workforce delivers real impact against a wide range of business outcomes, from customer loyalty and staff retention to stakeholder returns.

It’s a principle that’s informing the evolution of HR, moving the discipline into a more strategic place where it can affect real change. “We need to figure out how we ensure our businesses continue to grow in a very uncertain world,” Cheese continues. “It’s this sort of agenda that’s exciting for the HR profession, linking it to strategy and outcomes and driving a strong future, for businesses and individuals.”

The Outperformers

Of course, this is no revelation for leading organisations. By putting HR front and centre, they are continually improving, achieve results that are consistently better than their chosen peer group. In short, they are Outperformers.

Outperformance is fast becoming a term to reckon with, as more and more organisations look to their people management practice to keep them ahead of their competitors. But what are the principles behind it? In its recent research into what it takes to be an Outperformer, Investors in People spoke to over 1000 organisations and found three recurring enablers – purpose, leadership and creativity.

Forming a united front

“If you want your people to come together and achieve something greater, they have to be aligned towards a goal,” explains Sir Dave Brailsford, former Team GB cycling coach and a man who knows what it takes to outperform. “If there isn’t a purpose and a real desire to deliver that purpose, you aren’t going to achieve what you need.”

With Olympic success and the Tour de France victory under his belt, Brailsford’s emphasis on finding a uniting purpose is proven. He’s also quick to acknowledge the importance of leadership at every level, alongside talent development. “If there’s one thing that will motivate people, it’s ownership,” he continues. “As humans we all want to have a say in where we’re going, what we’re doing and how to get the best out of us. It’s about constantly enforcing the whole process that you’re trying to deliver within your culture.”

Small changes, big difference

Creating a culture of continuous improvement sits at the heart of Brailsford’s ‘Marginal Gains’ approach and chimes strongly with Investors in People’s findings, making him a natural spokesperson for their new Framework.

“Performance edges its way up when you look at the resources you have, then ask the question, how can we improve?” he continues. “If everybody is in the same place, looking for improvement all the time, it’s phenomenal the amount of improvement collectively that everyone can make.”

How do you measure up?

But seeing a business benefit isn’t just about implementing processes, it’s measuring them. Organisations thinking strategically about their HR are always looking for ways to assess how they’re doing in relation to their peers.

“To become an Outperformer you need to benchmark what Outperformance looks like for you,” explains Paul Devoy, head of Investors in People. “Our new Framework does that, helping you turn Outperformance into a reality by finding the right level for your organisation to really fly.”

Launching in 2015, the Investors in People Framework combines metrics to benchmark performance with a simple maturity model to roadmap progress. It gives organisations a clear picture of performance relative to their peers, helping any organisation move towards a culture of continuous improvement.

“We’re interested in people, not paper,” Paul continues. “We’re focused on every individual achieving their potential, because that drives Outperformance.”

A new perspective on business

To thrive in today’s ever-changing economic landscape organisations need to make sure they’re as strong as they can be. HR’s evolution into a transformative force that informs business performance is central to that, but it’s also indicative of a paradigm shift in the way we look at business itself.

 “We need to be able to innovate more in business, by getting the best out of our people, connecting with different ideas and recognising that everybody has got a voice,” Peter Cheese concludes. “Ultimately, encouraging the individual will change business and through that the economy and society, because if we want effective working societies in the future then how people shape the world of work today is an absolutely vital component of that.”

Find out more about Outperformance and the new Investors in People Framework:

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