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Crafting a People Strategy

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Article by 
Cascade Team
  —  Published 
January 2, 2023
June 7, 2023

David Doe, VP of Talent Strategy and Excellence at Shell, joined us for World Strategy Day 2022. In his session, “Crafting a People Strategy,” he covered the main questions regarding this topic: 

  • What is a people strategy? 
  • Why would you want one? 
  • Where's the value? 

In the end, he also shared insights into Shell's approach and tips to take away and apply in any context.

Shell (1)

Visual representation of David’s session

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What is a people strategy?

But first, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: what's the difference between a people strategy and an employee value proposition?

Usually, these two get confused, and it’s fundamental to understand their differences to successfully craft a people strategy.

An employee value proposition is the mutually beneficial handshake between the employer and the employee. Whereas the people strategy is around how you arrange your whole system and approach to unlock human performance in support of your business strategy. 

Successfully executing a people strategy, which is intrinsically linked to your firm's business strategy, delivering both engaged people and commercial success, is where HR's value should be judged.

Why would you want a People Strategy?

Your organization may already be doing some strategic people choices from time to time, mainly around leadership, diversity, and inclusion, or resourcing. But these isolated choices do not build a well-crafted people strategy. To build your people strategy, you need to change the approach to ensure your people strategy is connected to your purpose and business strategy. 

David recommends two things to consider for this approach shift:

  • What are the people implications associated with your business strategy?
  • What are the underlying drivers in the macro environment?

If your business strategy is changing, it’ll definitely affect your people strategy. Be mindful of new trends, changes in business models, and new skills that will be required to fulfill that business strategy. 

Also, be mindful of the macro environment. We know the macro environment to work is changing. What people want and expect from their employees is changing as well, and you need to adapt to that.

Where's the value of having a People Strategy?

Your People Strategy will only add value - and succeed - if it’s connected to your Business Strategy.

To ensure they are, take a step back and think: what does your business strategy look like?

Start by answering the following questions regarding your Business Strategy:

  • What are your company’s vision and beliefs?
  • What are your Business Strategy’s focus areas and pillars?
  • What are your goals and objectives?
  • What role do you want to play regarding market or cultural changes?
  • What value do you want to generate for your key stakeholders, customers, and society?

You can add as many questions as you feel necessary to clearly understand the direction your Business Strategy has and determine how your People Strategy will help achieve those goals.

Recommended reading: if you still haven’t crafted your Business Strategy, our article “What is Business Level Strategy? How to create + Examples” can help you.

The real value: holistic people choices that focus on execution

Now that you clearly understand how your Business Strategy and your People Strategy will be connected, you need to define your holistic people choices. These will be the critical enablers for your People Strategy. 

David suggests picking five themes that will provide the frame and options to differentiate across the different businesses.

In the case of Shell, they’ve identified five holistic people choices:

  • Mindset & Behaviours
  • Leadership
  • Talent
  • Capabilities & Skills
  • Drive Performance

As David explains, each of these is connected to Shell’s Business Strategy’s needs. These choices may not seem very different from what we’d see in other companies. And that's true because the real value of any strategy doesn't lie in an intellectual model but in the execution. 

None of these themes are new or necessarily unique to Shell. However, the philosophy, the framework, the approach, how they’ve interwoven it, and how they go about execution are the key differentiators. 

You can get more granular and determine a set of pillars or focus areas for each of these choices. For example, for “Mindset & Behaviours,” Shell determines five areas that will have the biggest impact on their business:

  • Grow trust in us
  • Maximize our performance
  • Live our values and goal zero
  • Engage and inspire 
  • Learner mindset

But how do you connect these choices (and sub-choices) to the actual execution of the strategy?

Let’s look at an example. 

One of Shell’s sub-areas for Mindset & Behaviours is "Grow trust in us." This value, in its execution, is fundamentally about how Shell is transitioning from an asset and supply-led organization to a more customer- and demand-driven one. And because of this, the ability to think back from the customer, to move from an inside-out to outside-in thinking, becomes increasingly important.

So, this is the moment to define the holistic people choices that will be at the center of your People Strategy and will act as critical enablers to achieve your Business Strategy goals. After you have determined these high-level choices, get more specific: what areas will you need to focus on for each of these? And, most importantly, how will you connect them to your Business Strategy execution?

Recommended reading: Read our article on How to develop an effective people strategy that will help you build your People Strategy in 7 steps.

Tips for building a successful People Strategy

Before closing the session, David shared some tips to make sure you’re building a People Strategy that will be a success:

Captura de pantalla 2022-11-23 151156

Let’s break them down!

#1 Building on: strengths of heritage

Provide clarity on what binds you, what makes you who you are, and where you're going. Successful cultural change recognizes where you've come from, what makes you unique, as well as the transitions you need to be successful in the future. 

#2 Tailor to: unlock integrated value

In large organizations, a one size fits all approach just won't cut it and it won't unlock human performance. So, tailor to unlock your integrated value. Choose and sequence what you want to deploy in each business, including which elements you want to dial up or down. Differentiate on business unit performance, but not the expense of the integrated value.

#3 Focus on: execution

The value of any strategy isn't in an intellectual model. In some respects, there's nothing new under the sun, but the value is in the execution: 

  • Define the minimum standards. 
  • Use the frameworks and solutions you've got in place. 
  • Be persistent with minimal changes to the language.

#4 Replacing: all current models

Make sure you don't attempt to market the engineering of the solution. It'll only add complexity to your process. Focus on the key messages you want to convey to your organization and ensure they are simple. Use simple, persistent language and avoid adding new concepts.

#5 Ready for: all future bookends

And finally, be ready for all future scenarios. No strategy survives the first action with the enemy. Be ready to pivot and update.

Recommended reading: Strategy Report "You're doomed or you adapt."

Watch the complete session:

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