Getting the most from your people strategy


For many businesses, people are both the greatest asset, and one of the greatest costs. If you’re willing to think outside the box, shaking up your people strategy can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line.

Every business is focused on people, either internally as a resource, or externally as potential customers, clients, suppliers and recruits. Whether your organisation is entirely dependent on its employees, in the manner of a professional services firm which has nothing else to sell, or is more focused on getting a product to market with the help of staff, people need to be at the heart of your business strategy.

Companies that wish to drive up the productivity of their human resources must focus on three things, according to Tania Tandon, employment partner in the firm’s London office. These are attracting the right people, retaining the right people by minimising fallout, and reducing the costs associated with dismissals.

Tandon says: “When you set out your objectives for the business over the next three to five years, your people strategy should either influence, sit alongside, or actively support it depending on the role of people within the business.”

A key element of attracting talent relates to a business’s core identity – its values, culture and mission statement can be a real differentiator in the marketplace. Retaining that talent then depends on the extent to which those statements correlate with reality. Trowers & Hamlins has created a tool which allows organisations to measure how the internal perceptions of their core values stack up against the stated aims of management.

Tandon says: “The bigger the difference between what the company is saying its values are and what the people are saying those values are, the more volatile the business and the higher the people costs. It is more difficult to attract the right people, and retain them, if, once they are in the business, they realise there’s a big gap between the messaging and the values on the ground.”

Achieving alignment with the business strategy is critical, and only then can companies deal with the key elements of recruitment, retention and termination.

One way in which businesses can 'walk the walk' in recruitment is by making sure that the people running the interviews are both on board with the business strategy, and are going to be the individuals working with the interviewee if the candidate is successful. “Often we see recruitment panels who are not going to work with the candidate if they join.” says Tandon. “The person gets an impression which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the working environment they are going to end up in. Most employees resign due to line managers and management.”

The challenge is to balance giving the best impression to candidates at interview, with driving longevity in the decisions which are made.

Tandon believes that many recruitment processes – volumes of paperwork, objective criteria, three rounds of interviews, psychometric testing, verbal reasoning tests, and so on – should be scrapped, if companies want to work smarter.

“In nine out of ten cases the processes are not needed, and they are a huge cost to the business,” she says, “both in terms of the staff and the time involved. There’s an obsession with processes in the name of transparency, and a mistaken belief that transparency means lower risk. In fact, in many cases increasing processes leads to increased risk of claims, because the processes are not applied with any understanding of what they are there for.”

When it comes to retention, innovative organisations such as the Big Four accountants have now often eliminated performance management procedures and replaced them with a new focus on playing to people’s strengths. Tandon says: “The idea is to spend less time and investment on people’s negatives, because it is rare for real weaknesses to decrease, making the return on investment minimal. People don’t change significantly once they are adults. Instead, investing in collating the strengths within an organisation delivers a competitive advantage and return on investment.”

This means continuously seeking to maximise potential by giving employees the opportunities to work in areas where they can thrive. The result may be smarter staffing of teams, thinking outside the traditional hierarchies – including someone from the catering team on a project if they have the requisite language skill, for example.

“Either someone is too weak for the business, in which case you should terminate their employment,” says Tandon, “or they are worth keeping. If you are going to keep someone in the business, focus on their strengths instead of their weaknesses, because endless focus on the latter is just depressing and time consuming for everyone involved.”

There are copious further examples of innovation around the retention piece, including through the use of incentivisation, and by addressing work-life balance challenges. Volkswagen was one of the first companies to agree to stop its Blackberry servers sending emails to its employees when they were off-shift, to stop staff’s work and home lives becoming blurred, and the boss of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, famously offered his personal staff as much annual leave as they wanted, on the assumption that they would not take
holiday if it would in any way damage the business. Such moves are aimed at encouraging agile working, and measuring people’s outputs, rather than inputs.

“There is a growing recognition that increased revenue is going to come from people delivering better because they are more satisfied, rather than because they are chained to the desk,” says Tandon.

“There is a danger of becoming buried in processes and systems, setting up committees – such as diversity committees – and following other trends without considering whether they support your business strategy or serve any positive objective.” Tandon adds, “People generally want to feel included, and not part of a group labelled according to a characteristic that may not be relevant to their part in the business.”

Finally, another way in which firms can cut the costs of people in the business, without cutting people, is by addressing the enormous amount of time and money spent on termination processes. Businesses should view people who are leaving as assets rather than failures, because there is no better PR machine for a company than someone who has worked there previously and has only good things to say.

“Also, if you have information to protect, then the closer you stay to people who are leaving, the more chance you have of protecting that information”
says Tandon.

Organisations should revisit other commonplace HR practices such as exit interviews, as they can potentially expose the business to an increased risk of claims, rather than assist them to defend any future claims or teach them any lessons. Take a step back and question the business objective of conducting the interview. If there is one, consider the balance of resources and process - in some cases, the exit process without sufficient resources to implement this effectively can increase business risk.

In most cases, by the time someone has decided to leave, it’s often too late to keep them. Employees tend to either prefer not to burn bridges and say very little or embrace the chance to complain. Do either of these meet a business objective? Instead, adopt an early mind set with a people focussed strategy placing greater emphasis on engaging with employees, which is a more productive approach to business. In the long term, this will save you time and money, as it is well known that the recruitment and training cost of hiring new staff outweighs the benefits of retaining existing staff.

Streamlining the exit process means departees can be waved merrily on their way, after some careful and tactful disentanglement on the social media side, and companies should be sure not to spend too much time or money in the process.

So in short, the message is simple – ‘declutter’ and striking a balance is key.


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