What Is The Difference Between A People and HR Strategy? With Senior HR Expert Pete Harrington

A small introduction from myself…

As many of you will know, HR has been through a large transition over the last couple of decades, as it aims to reposition itself within organisations. Modern HR functions, often branded as People functions, aim to focus on engaging, retaining and attracting talent, all of which have been proven to have a commercial impact on businesses. Traditional HR/Personnel functions tended to focus on employee relations, employee contracts and other administrative activities. Although traditional HR will always be required, I am concerned at the amount of businesses that are failing to focus on its people.

Peter Harrington, Interim & Senior HR Director, has been a close contact of mine over the last couple of years and has had a large impact on my development. Pete has held senior HR roles in organisation’s such as Trinity College and General Medical Council along with having led on a series of People Transformation Projects at the likes of HS2 and Ofgem. He has very kindly put together a short blog below that discusses the difference between HR and a People Strategy, so please take the opportunity to learn from his experience.

Your HR function has and always will be there to provide administrative support across the organisation however, this should only make up a small proportion of what the function has to offer. Your people strategy (which typically sits between HR & Leadership) should focus on areas such as: engaging employees, developing leaders, employer branding, communication, reward and recognition etc.

  • Do you currently have a strategy when it comes to people and if so, when was it last reviewed?
  • Are you capturing basic people metrics such as employee turnover and absence? Have you been associating costs to these?
  • Your people will have a huge impact on the success of your business – are you a leader that is facilitating success or are you a micro manager who’s practising old, outdated methods?

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What is the difference between the HR and people strategy? With Peter Harrington, Interim & HR Director

Organisations can spend lots of money on corporate, innovation and digital strategies but one area that is often overlooked or given a low priority is the people strategy. As an HR Director, one of the first things that I will look at is my own internal functional HR strategy, a document that sets out the direction of the teams that I manage:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How will we develop and improve ourselves?
  • How will we interact with and support the business?
  •  What are our targets and goals?

The strategy then chunks into operational plans, budgets and KPIs that I can use as a leader and manager to measure how effective we are as a function. But how does this differ from an organisational people strategy?

The people strategy must be outward looking and link the various functional strategies that build the corporate strategy. How will your digital, delivery or innovation strategy impact your people for example? A good starting point is to look at the external influences, macro environment and disruptors that your organisation might need to navigate over the period of the strategy and how changing trends might affect or impact the vision. The big potential disruptor right now is the increasing use of AI to replace or augment human interaction or tasks and the greater need for 21st Century skills globally. Understanding the external perspective and what might not be in your control or what might be different in the future will help you realise what you need to achieve in the future and what that looks like across the organisation.

Once the external aspects and vision is understood then the impact can be realised, and this is where effective workforce planning can help. Do we have the right leadership? Is our organisational design appropriate? What different mix of the workforce might be required? How does our organisational capability now, differ from the future? Will employees need different skills or at a different level? Is our culture able to facilitate changes or will this be a blocker? Are there things that you’ll need to start or stop doing? Will we have to train our people or recruit/buy these in from an external talent market?

Moving to set out how you will govern and implement solutions that will guide the organisation along the pathway of interventions that affect the workforce to achieve the goals of the strategy willfeed into the HR strategy and the people aspects of other operational strategies across the employee/talent lifecycle.

Then once the direction of travel is set out, the people strategy will need to look at continuous improvement to drive out inefficiencies in processes and enabling technologies through constant measurement.

Bringing this together as a whole will provide a compelling argument at the Executive when determining the resourcing and investment in people and set out a clear idea of where the organisation is heading and how it might or will transform. Explaining this to a workforce will be a key driver for engagement and higher performance. At the end of the day the people are a significant asset worth investing in, even where resources are stretched in SMEs, and the development budget should not just be seen as an overhead or cost.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Pete for putting this blog together. Should you have any questions or thoughts then please comment below. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to drive performance through your biggest asset – PEOPLE.

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Harry Wright 

Employee Engagement & Client Delivery Consultant

Rencai Group

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