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What’s a people strategy, and why do you need one?

Does your company have a people strategy? Which is another way of asking: Are you focused enough on your company’s most valuable asset: your people?

If not you’re not sure, you might be falling behind in your efforts to procure and retain employees during the Great Resignation. Furthermore, your organization may not be achieving the performance and results that you expect.

This is because your people have a huge impact on the ability of your business to:

  • Meet goals
  • Realize overall success
  • Boost your bottom line

What is a people strategy?

It’s your company’s strategy for how you’ll support the needs and professional growth of your team over the employee lifecycle and, ultimately, how you’ll leverage your people to grow your business, improve productivity and achieve specific business goals.

This includes how you plan to:

Think of people strategy as an umbrella that covers all the employee-related, big-picture things that prevent you from getting wet and even drowning. Examples of what a people strategy encompasses are:

Why do you need a people strategy?

The purpose of any business strategy is to lay out a plan of action for how your organization will get to where it needs to be.

For employers, a thoughtful and well-executed people strategy constitutes a roadmap for how you can best use your people to accomplish business goals. It sharpens your focus on:

  • Hiring the right people who embody the competencies your organization needs
  • Guiding employees’ efforts and activities in the right direction
  • Getting the right people in the right roles, at the right time
  • Obtaining the growth, development and performance that you need from your employees
  • Helping you identify your best performers and formulate their next steps

Your people strategy demonstrates your commitment to and investment in your people, which can increase their engagement and encourage them to stay.

It can also reduce your organization’s exposure to certain risks, such as:

  • Widespread employee dissatisfaction
  • Sudden increase in turnover
  • An unexpected talent gap
  • Failing to meet goals and falling behind

For individual employees, a people strategy also:

The more loyal your employees feel to your company, the less you have to deal with frequent turnover and its associated costs.

Getting started: The basics of people strategy

Here’s what you can do to get on track with a successful people strategy.

1. Gather information from leadership

Facilitate a meeting with executive leadership during which they’re challenged to describe their perceptions of the workplace culture and employees. Prompt them to think about high-level characteristics of employees as well as more detailed observations, such as how meetings go, how colleagues interact or even whether employees arrive on time for work. It’s important that everyone gains as comprehensive a picture as possible of the workforce.

You can also obtain people analytics from HR leadership to inform the conversation, including figures on turnover and retention.

These analysis-gathering meetings must take place within an environment that’s conducive to open conversation and participation without judgement. Leaders must feel that they can be vulnerable with each other and share their honest thoughts.

2. Solicit employee feedback

Once you know what managers think, now you must understand what employees think – and determine if there are any gaps in perception between leadership and employees. This will balance and complete your view of the employee experience.

Employee feedback can be obtained from surveys or focus groups. Ask employees the same questions you asked executive leadership for consistency and ease of comparison.

For tenured employees, you can also conduct stay interviews to find out why they have remained with the organization for so long.

When engaging with employees, practice transparency and let them know upfront that company leaders are interested in finding out information such as:

  • Employees’ perception of the workplace culture
  • What employees need to succeed
  • How they want to be developed
  • Which competencies are missing, in their view
  • What else the company can do to improve the employee experience

Emphasize that this is a win-win for both the organization and employees – the company values them, wants to invest in them and will give them more opportunities to develop and grow. The more you involve employees in the process, the more they’ll trust you and share valuable feedback.

Otherwise, people tend to get nervous about getting called in for interviews with HR representatives. In the absence of any other communication, employees may worry that something negative is happening within the organization and that their jobs may be at risk.

This is especially true following the COVID-19 pandemic. The emotional scars from this experience have contributed to a general unease and heightened sensitivity in the workplace. For this reason, how managers and employees work together has permanently changed – employees now have much higher expectations of manager communications than they did before.

3. Accumulate findings and come up with a people strategy to support business goals

After interviewing leadership and employees, trends should emerge. If there are any gaps between leadership and employees’ opinions, this will become apparent.

This is where you contemplate:

What are my overarching goals? Where does the business need to be in three to five years?

What do I need from my people to get there? What’s missing right now?

How can I fix these gaps in perceptions?

What are the next steps I need to take?

Present your findings to your leadership group, and work with them to create a plan.

4. Communicate any new plans or revisions to existing strategies

Once plans are solidified, the next question to ask is, now will leadership share any updates or changes with everyone?

Consider starting by sharing the information with middle managers, who can discuss any changes or additions with their departments and teams. Regardless of the exact route you take to distribute new information, your people strategy should be clearly communicated and defined, especially if there are new actions being implemented.

It’s possible that this exercise can unveil weaknesses in the management team. Although this can be uncomfortable for executive leadership to acknowledge, and it can cause stress within the workplace, they may need to pause and develop managers further in carrying out people strategy.

Summing it all up

A solid people strategy is instrumental to your company’s ability to attract, develop, train, engage and retain a talented workforce and get the right people in the right role at the right time – all of which impacts goal achievement and the overall success of your business. A people strategy is a great tool for both employers and employees, providing each group with focus and a concrete direction forward. It can also strengthen relationships between the two parties. To get started, engage in conversations with leadership and employees to get a full picture of the workforce, and then use these findings to formulate a strategy and plan next steps.

Interested in learning more about how a PEO can help you implement a people strategy, among other crucial HR functions? Download our free e-book: HR outsourcing: A step-by-step guide to HR professional employer organizations (PEOs).