On the most recent episode of our podcast Extraordinary Entrepreneurs Together, we interviewed Andrew Akal, from Librae Consultancy, about creating an effective people strategy. He was able to help me to really dig into the questions of, “What makes a good people strategy?” and, “Where do you start?”
Andrew has had what he describes as “a career of two halves”. Originally getting involved in people strategy through working in financial services – building and leading teams in addition to working in HR – he quickly realised how important looking after people through significant periods of change was.
He then went on to work in the consultancy division of one of the big four accountancy firms – helping and putting back on track major programmes and projects that were going off the rails for clients.
Andrew: “What I learned was that actually at the heart of some of their (firms) issues was that they weren’t taking their people on the journey with them. And that they hadn’t actually thought about how they needed to evolve their people strategies to ensure that the change that they implemented (often quite suddenly) was actually going to be sustainable. Also, that people were going to be able to embrace it, understand it, and effectively enable it to be successful.”
Often, companies focus on recruitment – however, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Andrew, over the years, has learned many ways by which you can ensure that your people strategy is not separate from, but integral to, your pitch and business strategy. He shared what he considers to be the four fundamental cornerstones or pillars of an effective people strategy.
Pillar One – Connecting your people to your purpose
The first questions that you need to ask yourself and have a clear answer for are, according to Andrew, “What is our purpose?” and, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?”
Andrew: “You start with being really able to articulate the purpose of your business to your people. So you enable your people to see alignment between what they want to get out of their careers and what you are offering as a business in terms of their career progression. Not just that, but also what your business plans are, what your strategy is, and what your ambition is. It’s not just the what – it’s the why.”
As Andrew explains, these days – particularly after the pandemic – people are questioning what they’re spending their time doing (at work or outside of it). Helping your people understand what they’re part of and how they fit into it is an increasingly important part of attracting talent.
Pillar Two – Engagement with your people
Retaining talent is the idea at the heart of Andrew’s second pillar. He describes engagement as what needs to be at the heart of growing and nurturing your people – making sure you have the right people and mechanisms in place to maximise their potential.
However, there is a challenge to be overcome for our modern times – specifically for hybrid working and the question of whether people are as productive at home as they are in the office. Andrew believes that the concept of “engagement” needs to be updated to reflect the new situation.
Andrew: “I’m not quite sure that organisations are measuring the right things yet. I think they’re still stuck in their old ways of, ‘How many hours are you working during the day?’
I think that the way in which we measure performance and value has got to be absolutely at the centre of your people strategy. That, for me, is something I think organisations wrestle with constantly.
We did this when I was at the consultancy – and we were really looking at how you measure value. What we actually found was it is what you do, but it’s how you do it as well. So, it’s not just the outcome in terms of sales, revenue, products, or services, but also the way you behave.
Are you a role model? Are you doing the right things? And so on.”
By understanding the value that you want your people to be contributing to your organisation, and recognising the value that they are contributing, you can measure their impact far more effectively than just by how many hours they spend at a desk or in an office.
Pillar Three – Understand how your people are feeling
While this, arguably, could fall under engagement, its value is enough to make it a cornerstone by itself. Listen to your people: ensure that they have ways in which they can speak up, be heard and influence what is going on.
Andrew: “One of my most enjoyable periods when I was head of performance development was that I led the 360 programme for our leaders. And it was wonderful to see – leaders welcomed and invited feedback, and colleagues were quite prepared to give it.
What that meant was that we had an open and honest and reciprocated culture growing within the firm. That meant that the firm headed and was steered in a direction that everyone felt was right.
So I think ensuring that you’ve got great open and safe environments for your people to be themselves and be able to have a view is as important as valuing them for what they do. And I think that then builds trust and loyalty and it makes people want to work with you now.
Then in the future, they become ambassadors of your firm, and you will then start the cycle of attracting new talent.”
Pillar Four – How you look after your people
Fourth, and finally, is caring for your people – physically or mentally. For Andrew, this comes back to building the environments within which people can operate and thrive.
Andrew: “It’s about leadership having a heart and about saying, ‘I want to look after my people, because I care about them and it’s the right thing to do. I’m going to create this as one of the business priorities in my firm every year, to ensure that it’s sustainable, and we’re going to be measured against it.’
That will absolutely make your environment and your workplace more inclusive, more diverse. I think that you will then find that your people will thrive – because they will feel safe, looked after, and nurtured.”
Plan your business and people strategies together!
In comparison to business strategy, these four concepts are quite soft – there are no hard metrics to measure or meet. Weaving the two strategies together ensures there is no potential conflict between the two – as Andrew describes.
Andrew: “I was with a client once where their business strategy had been set and HR were effectively told to go away and work out how they could create a people strategy that would fit it.
It was really, really difficult to retrofit an effective people strategy into a set of business priorities that had already been set – because they hadn’t taken the people with them.
So a really, really important piece of advice is: don’t sit down in separate rooms to create your business strategy and your people strategy – sit in the same room and actually build them together, and you’ll find that they’re far more sustainable.”
Have you been wrestling with creating an effective people strategy for your business? Have you got any questions about any of Andrew’s cornerstones? Find him on LinkedIn, via his website, or send him an email.
We also have loads of free resources in the EHE community. If you would like to share your experiences of developing people strategies – things you’ve done well (or maybe things that have not gone so well) – we would love to hear them. Join our community of entrepreneurs to be part of the discussion around all things business growth, and drop us a line if you’d like to learn more about the specific support we offer at EHE Capital.