Hello Reader,

I’m the Business Owner of Your Learning Days Ltd which, compared to some businesses, is relatively young at three years. I have many years experience in the learning and development environment and understand the public and private world of business strategy and how people can sometimes get left behind when engagement provisions are not planned and communicated.

I had the privilege to speak recently at a Business Network morning seminar and to share my experiences with regards the complex requirements of business and people strategy and how the dove-tailing of both resources are required to compliment each other.

Conscious I was talking to business owners and high level strategic business leaders in the seminar I didn’t want to come across as ‘teaching granny . . .’ as the old idiom denotes, especially if they work at a level within their businesses that includes strategy and forward-planning. However, I wanted to share that this doesn’t happen in every business and my experience has been numerous discussions with senior leaders in businesses that haven’t thought about, let alone produced, a people strategy that would be of benefit when identifying gaps in their employee’s knowledge, skills and abilities which will allow for the discussion in support of training, learning and development opportunities.

"Companies have a hard time distinguishing between the cost of paying people and the value of investing in them" - Thomas A Stewart 1997

The above quote describes neatly what I’ve experienced when going into businesses often hearing ‘we pay their salary they should do what’s expected of them…’! My response is ‘people don’t know, what they don’t know’ and investing in them saves time in the long-run and benefits all parties!

Spending time, effort and, in many cases, money producing focussed business plans, identifying strategies for developing and introducing deliberate activities in the hope and belief, of a guarantee to aid the longevity of the business will sometimes be in vain if time isn’t spent identifying workforce behaviours, understanding, knowledge, skills and abilities in the present in order to advance the future.

I’m inclined to start a people strategy discussion by asking leaders to identify their employee AVATAR (creative profiling that has visual impact) which is a fictional character that represents their ideal business. When complete, it helps them understand the motivating beliefs, fears and secret desires that may influence. Their avatar, or perfect employee…is the person who they are creating their business around and will rely on to build their brand and culture.

Challenging leaders throughout this creative session around their avatars knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviours helps them to clarify what their avatar needs to know about their business; what do they need to be able to do; what about their capabilities, talents, scope, competency and when they look at them what do they want to see with regards, traits, characteristics, conduct and performance?

People are the driving force of business and will impact the culture within it. Business culture refers to the beliefs and behaviours that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle business transactions. Often, culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the collective traits of the people in the business and the rules for working together.

Time was leaders would manage through conformity and cultures would be created around passivity, obedience and submission. However, the business environment has changed and is focussed on engaging individuals in contributing to the vision and values agreed and developing them to reach their own, individual potential – winning their hearts and minds – which in turn allows them to participate and contribute in growing the business.

Challenging leaders to think about the climate and culture within the business by using tools such as Johnson and Scholes Cultural Web below may identify: what the culture enables them to achieve; what blockages and challenges there are; what leadership style and behaviour is encouraged etc.

Identifying the stories of past events that people talk about; spotting the daily behaviours and actions of people that signal acceptable behaviours; recognising the visual representation including logos, formal and informal dress code, offices etc; looking at structures which include the defined organisational charts and pinpointing the unwritten lines of power and influence; understanding the way the business is controlled, what’s measured and how; and noticing where the pockets of real power is in the business and who has the greatest power and influence.

The four stages within a People Strategy discussion I have found useful are set out below.

Focus leaders on identifying a set of desired values and behaviours which will eliminate any negatives that may have been identified. This means coming up with behavioural descriptors for each of the values defined and addressing how these will be translated, articulated and measured throughout the business for every level.

Align culture with strategy and processes by looking at the mission, vision and values for the company that have been agreed and stated in the business strategy. Consider how they align with HR processes, including recruitment and retention; talent management, total reward and health and wellbeing activities. Are their succession plans really creating the people they want? Do their processes engage with everyone? Can they honestly say people are at the heart of their business?

Advocate from the top down because for culture change to stick, it must be a priority of the senior leaders. Having a framework (people strategy) for understanding organisational culture and its impact on performance, which outlines activities to develop agreed values and behaviours and has the links to the various processes, which can be communicated to all leaders will encourage responsibility, accountability and conscientiousness and create a fair climate for development and growth.

Start to invest in people because culture change is not a one-and-only exercise, there is always more work to be done. It changes over time and the more they invest in people the more acceptable and change-ready they will become. Equipping people to deliver priorities and focus in on bottom-to-top line deliverables will stretch them and furnish them with confidence for future progression.

Making sure time is spent discussing the ideal employee (Avatar), identifying the current climate and culture (Cultural Web) and focusing on the fundamental activities and processes within the business will ensure that the People Strategy created IS at the heart of the Business Strategy!