Your Company’s People Strategy: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Improve

September 13, 2019 at 8:00 am
Group of colleagues sitting at a table building a puzzle together.

Helping employees improve engagement is the core of effective people strategy.

Companies often think in terms of overall strategies that will make their business successful, but they don’t realize that people strategy will affect their success the most. Developing an effective people strategy will impact hiring, productivity, skills development, succession planning, and retention–the entire life cycle of an employee.

A company’s people strategy is in many ways the single biggest determining factor in its success. It’s time to start thinking about your company’s people strategy and planning how to implement it going forward.

What is a “people strategy”?

At its core, people strategy has to be about more than an HR plan, recruiting plan, or a list of things to do around staffing. The Oxford dictionary says that strategy means “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” In other words, a strategy is not just a bunch of great things to do. Instead, it’s a comprehensive plan of action that will meet your company’s goals and objectives.

The goal of having a people strategy is to improve performance and impact the company’s bottom line. It has to be about more than processes aimed at attracting, motivating, and retaining quality talent. When a company gets its people strategy right, a lot of moving pieces come together and things begin to work for the company’s optimal functioning.

While a company’s people strategy may seem like something that can be delegated to the HR department, it actually reaches to every part of the business if done well. Fundamentally, your people strategy is more about creating an engaging and motivating work environment than about talent sourcing methods or yearly reviews.

How does your people strategy impact the business?

People strategy is at the same time people-focused and results-driven. This is the paradox of people strategy: when you focus on building a strategy that will engage and motivate your employees to enjoy their work and do their best at their jobs, the results take care of themselves.

When employees are engaged at work, they have a far higher level of commitment to the company and to their jobs. They work harder and are more careful to do their jobs in the best possible way, with the highest possible level of effort.

Many companies invest in perks and gimmicks to impact employee engagement. While having foosball tables and massage chairs in the break room may seem to promote the idea of fun in the workplace, a people strategy is more focused on making sure employees are being given meaningful work and that they know their supervisors and managers care about their well-being as they do their jobs.

It takes some effort to craft a workplace environment that conveys respect for employees and concern for their well-being. That said, the company’s bottom line can’t help but improve because your people strategy pays dividends in productivity gains and high employee retention rates that only happen when the company genuinely considers employees as people and not just merely workers.

How can companies improve their people strategy?

One way to improve your company’s people strategy is to gather the information you need to make positive changes. Ask employees to evaluate the current work environment. How engaged are your employees? How likely are they to leave for a different opportunity? How much do they think the company cares about them and their well-being?

Some of these answers may not be easy to hear. As Dr. Phil says, however, you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. You really can’t expect to have an effective people strategy when that hasn’t been your focus previously. Finding out what your employees think can be a good starting place for improvements.

Creating an optimal people strategy will be nearly impossible without really knowing your employees. Assessment tools can give you objective information about employees so that you can craft an environment in which they can be authentic and give their best to their work.

Using Assessments to Improve People Strategy

It could be that your employees don’t have the skills they need to be successful. Cognitive assessments can reveal skills gaps and point toward appropriate training to gain the needed skills. Cognitive assessments also reveal thinking tendencies and can give insight into how to best reach employees on a cognitive level.

Behavioral assessments show the dominant traits of your employees and how they use those traits in the workplace. If you need insight into how employees might respond to different management styles or techniques, these assessments can provide objective information and overcome the biases of co-workers and the employees themselves.

Assessments can also be used to ensure that the right people are in the right jobs within the company. It’s not unusual to discover through the use of assessments that some moving around of employees will improve the environment because people are doing jobs better suited to their abilities.

Group of colleagues sitting around in a circle discussing a project.

Seeing people happy to be at work shows that your strategy is working.

Important Improvements to Make

Once you’ve worked to get to know your employees, it’s time to brainstorm ways to improve the workplace environment. Improvements are not a one-size-fits-all solution that can be done the same way in all situations, but some improvements will be more universal.

Start at the top. Having managers that can build employee engagement is a step in the right direction, but it’s even better to have employees see the C-suite–the top leaders of the entire company–demonstrating that they care about employees’ well-being and respect them. Policies that encourage engagement may include encouraging employees to take breaks, asking for frequent input and acting on it as much as possible, and training managers and supervisors to touch base with employees every day about their needs, even if only for a minute.

Be flexible. A workplace that is based on rigid rules cannot also send the message that employees and their well-being matter. Flexibility can work if it involves an attitude of working together so that the workplace environment works for everyone involved.

Treat employees like adults. Another drawback of a rules-centered work environment is that it destroys trust between employees and management by assuming employees won’t be mature and do what they are supposed to do. It is possible to treat employees as adults with an expectation that they will do the right things without having to be given a long list of rules. When employees don’t act the way that’s expected, one-on-one communication with respect can usually correct the issue.

FIx problems in the physical environment. If leaders are honest with themselves, they can admit that the physical work environment impacts productivity and engagement at a fundamental level. Fixing problems with lighting, temperature control, and aesthetics can go a long way toward making the workplace more pleasant so that employees are not hindered in their attempts to get work done.

Show gratitude. It is nice to be appreciated. Thank employees for working hard, even if you think they could be working harder. Finding things to appreciate about employees will spread through the culture like wildflowers, and soon the environment will be noticeably more positive. Appreciated employees are more engaged and willing to work harder than those who feel like they are just pieces of a machine.

Respond well to honest feedback. Employees will give honest feedback if they are not penalized for it and if they feel leaders really want to know what’s on their minds. It is important not to react negatively to feedback if you want to know what your employees really think. Making improvements based on employee feedback is the strongest way to send a message that you value their honesty and input.

Share concerns when they are small. When honesty becomes part of your culture, employees and leaders can both share concerns without worrying that they won’t be taken well. This way, little problems don’t become big problems, and the workplace functions a lot better with a lot less drama. Best of all, no one has to worry about what someone “really” means when they say something. People can be themselves and feel accepted.

Be transparent. Don’t make your employees wonder what’s actually going on behind the scenes and whether they’re getting the real story about what’s going on in their team or in the company as a whole. When employees figure out that what they’re seeing is how things truly are, their trust levels will rise. Well-functioning, transparent workplaces are unfortunately rare, and employees who value them will likely try to avoid leaving them for almost any reason.

Narish International wants to help your company get and keep the best people for your organization. Let us help you build higher-performing teams today.