The new HR playbook

Breaking people strategy into 12 manageable chunks could help manage today's volatile, uncertain and complex world

As an HR professional you’ll know that only by engaging, enabling and empowering an organisation’s people can true competitive advantage be achieved. You’ll also know that the world has never been more volatile, less certain, more complex or more fraught with ambiguity than it is today.

Heated labour markets, diminishing talent pipelines, freelancing employees and socialised recruitment are the new norm.

However, the world is crying out for simplicity; less really is more. When it comes to people strategy business leaders still tend to overcomplicate the issue, engaging in a silo mentality, implementing tick-box strategies. and consigning much-needed action to the ‘too difficult’ box. Unfortunately this is an unwelcome hangover from the time when manufacturing trumped service and when people strategy was process over common sense.

As a result even the most savvy ‘people people’ are drowning in swathes of policies, tied up in compliance and legislative matters, and desperately trying to make the numbers work without the right tools to do the job they’re actually there to do.

Looking at falling productivity levels of UK plc, this approach is clearly not working. Business as we know it is in far too many instances just not cutting it. Gallup continually reminds us how shocking the state of engagement is across the globe; just 13% of the working population does more than show up on time and meet minimum expectations. Deloitte informed us last year that engagement and culture have skyrocketed to the number one issue of business leaders, and Investors In People highlighted that 65% of employees are not happy in their role.

The Deloitte report also made the case for a new HR playbook, one that encourages HR to be more agile, forward-thinking and bolder in its solutions. Last year I set out to write this approach. Through interviews with leading HR professionals across the globe, conversations with highly regarded academics in the area, and discussions with CEOs from a wide range of sectors, it became clear that business success is dependent on three key I’s:

  • Ideas – compelling innovations, around which you can create an easily marketable brand
  • Investment – capital for start-up and growth plus cash flow, which is the life-blood of every organisation
  • Individuals – the right talented people, in the right roles, exceeding expectations, enthusiastically

Yet in far too many businesses the third ‘I’ receives too little attention, investment, time and resourcing.

The alarming matter is that it’s not lack of understanding that prevents this. Purple Cubed carried out research a few years ago that found 100% of business leaders said a business needs a people plan, with 90% convinced that people create competitive advantage. Yet, despite this, 86% do not have a consistent plan in place.

HR departments can no longer be solely responsible for the third ‘I’; it’s a team job, one in which everyone has to play their part. Though to convince and achieve this united approach ‘the people stuff’ must be seen as a straightforward, cohesive and manageable activity. People should be placed top of the agenda at board meetings. People analytics should be reported on with the annual report, alongside financial metrics.

I believe the easiest way to achieve this is by breaking down people strategy into manageable chunks, which are then split between short-term wins and long-term gains. Demonstrate success and then move forward. When I asked my interviewees what these chunks were, the same 12 appeared time and time again. And so ‘The People Formula’ was identified:

  • Buy-in from the top
  • Culture and values
  • Digitising and socialising HR
  • Employer brand
  • Internal communications
  • Employee engagement
  • Health and wealth
  • Talent and performance review
  • Leadership and productivity
  • Succession planning
  • Learning and development
  • Embedding service excellence

I believe, and have witnessed, that organisations that focus on these 12 areas achieve greatest success. Think: John Lewis, Virgin, Google and Netflix. This formula is the key to productive, profitable and performing business in the modern age. And it’s this formula that will enable HR to step out from the transactional mask and become the transformational function it truly can be.

Jane Sunley is author of The People Formula and CEO of engagement experts, Purple Cubed

HR magazine readers are invited to receive a 25% discount on The People Formula (published in April) by emailing with the code HRMag25