Winning People Development Strategies

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The term ‘People Development’ is often used casually within organisations as a cliché. However, it signifies different things to different people. For an employee who is dedicated to his/her work, ‘People Development’ is the staircase to a brighter future and a meaningful career. While for an organisation it can be the core on which the success of its business goals depends.

While drawing out an effective ‘People Development’ strategy an organisation needs to ask itself some very specific questions such as:

  • Is it something that is based on what employees need?
  • Is it what the organisation wants its employees to live up to?
  • Who decides what such strategies should look like?
  • And finally, how does one ensure impactful execution?

In this article, I will attempt to answer some of these questions, based on some real-world examples from my own experience.

The foundation

Any strategy needs a strong foundation, which grounds it to reality. A good people development strategy has the following pillars in its foundation: (i) business need, (ii) deep understanding of employee ability &willingness to develop themselves, (iii) a strong measuring tool for monitoring execution progress and (iv) a feedback mechanism.

Let’s dissect these four pillars of the foundation:

  • Business Need: There can be no strategy without a clear business need for focusing on people development. The question to be asked is ‘What are my business goals in the near-term and long-term?’ followed by ‘What is the gap on the people side which might slow down progress towards these business goals?’ Answers to these questions help buttress the foundation for a good people development strategy.
  • Ability & Willingness: I believe in using the twin lenses of ability & willingness as a filter to see if an employee is ready to be part of my people development strategy. Both are critical for the success of any people development strategy. On the flip side, having one and not the other can slow down implementation. Therefore, one has to look to answers two questions simultaneously – ‘Is she able to walk the talk when it comes to focus on her own development?’ and ‘Is he willing to go the extra mile for making up for lack of resources for development?’
  • Measurement: This is non-negotiable and an integral part of any strategy implementation. What gets measured gets done, and gets done better if measured frequently.
  • Feedback: A key success factor even more critical for people development strategies. Every employee is a stakeholder in this case, and looping feedback to the owners of the strategy helps refine it further.

About a year ago, we embarked on our journey of using strengths as a philosophy for people development. Interestingly, its genesis lies in the larger business strategy & purpose of the organisation (serving patients and changing the narrative to “Care”) which was clearly outlined right at the beginning of the year. Ability & willingness were measured using tools like development centres & hackathons. Measurement & feedback using the Strength Finder tools and coaching forums, and pulse surveys, made the journey worthwhile. Every aspect of the employee career-life-cycle was translated to speak in the language of strengths.

Structure

Building blocks of a great people development strategy get their strength from the stakeholders who develop it; everyone who is involved has an equal stake: the employee, the HR function and the CEO! At the same time designing a sound and sustainable structure depends on the desired outcome. Whether we need the strategy to be agile to include changing environmental factors or fixed and watertight such that it soldiers on till it dies a natural death, will determine how the building blocks are laid out.

The best people development strategies have two binding factors in terms of structure:

  • Investment: An organisation must determine the amount of time, money, effort, and human resources it is willing to dedicate towards its people development strategy at the designing stage. This is crucial as it will determine the sustainability of the strategy and, in consequence, the optimal utilisation of the investments made.
  • Expertise: A thorough assessment of both internal and external expertise is required in order to ensure that the strategy is executed to perfection. This will further lead to decisions regarding investments in developing some expertise, if required. These decisions bring up some fundamental topics that will drive structural stability for the strategy.

In one of my previous assignments, we focused on using a mixed model of internal and external expertise to drive our people strategy. There were no easy answers and we were left with no choice but to also invest in developing capabilities within, to ensure the strategy endured the strong winds of change in the organisation. While it was not easy at the time, looking back it now seems like it was worth the while!

Impact

All the effort on putting down the foundation and the building blocks of a good people development strategy come to naught if the impact is not felt or seen. For such a strategy, the impact is always seen over the longer-term, and one must not fall in the trap of looking for quick-wins. Over time I have learnt to individualize the impact for different stakeholders. Employees look for learning and new insights that could positively impact their careers. For HR function success is reflected in analytics pointing out large numbers of career graphs taking off, strong participation and recognition of their efforts, as well as pulse surveys that showcase the positive feedback for these strategies.

Business leaders point out the impact such strategies have on the bottom-line as well as employee morale and happiness indicators for the organisation. Finally, any positive impact has to be strongly communicated over and over again to the organisation for it to have a multiplier effect!

Overall, a strong people development strategy is one that drives a whole ecosystem around itself, in terms of stronger business, better talent depth and a larger purpose of building a workforce which prides itself in learning agility, personal growth and development. Ask yourself the questions I have asked myself, and these will guide you to the right people strategy for your business.

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