Uncertain times demand a new approach to strategic people management

A street scene of workers in LondonIs the management of people in organisations today really about growing the long-term value of an employers’ most important asset in an increasing uncertain and skills-short labour market? Or is it more to do with continuing to drive costs down and shareholder returns up; and meeting the bare minimum standards required by legislation? The Institute for Employment’s (IES) latest research, carried out in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), looks at the reality of people management and comes up with some generally positive findings and conclusions.

An earlier academic literature review from the IES highlighted the difficulties of implementing many HR policies as intended in today’s rapidly changing and flatter organisations, and in the aftermath of a decade of real pay cuts and the growth of more insecure work models.

This new research concludes that a variety of techniques are being used to make a strategic approach to people management a successful reality in these organisations.

Key findings include:

? The uncertain Brexit-battered context and the scale of the challenges this presents – of sourcing and retaining labour, developing talent, managing the risks presented by new employment legislation, and of making change happen – actually seems to be increasing the influence of the HR function.

? People management has become increasingly integral to business strategies and their delivery for all employers, in low paying sectors such as retail and care homes, just as much as in knowledge-driven public service and higher education employers.

? Medium to long-term workforce plans, covering the numbers and skills and competencies of future staffing, are becoming more common and important components of the people management strategy.

? Diversity, inclusion and employee health and wellbeing have become critical components of the people management strategy, as employers increasingly recognise their contribution to the performance of their organisation and of the national economy.

? Employers are also recognising and being forced to recognise the importance of a multi-stakeholder-driven agenda, and HR policies play a vital role in delivering on this.

? Similarly HR policies are regarded as key to avoiding the dreaded ‘say:do’ gap in actually practising an organisation culture and values.


Even more challenging times ahead

Key capabilities required by HR professionals delivering on their people management ambitions include: clear prioritisation of goals and effective HR metrics to track their delivery; managing the interplay between short term operational activities and longer-term policy goals in a flexible way; an effective HR function operating model; a focus on line managers and developing their people management skills and exceptional communications and political skills.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Leaders need to be politically savvy, flexible and tactical in how they pursue and deliver on their long-term vision of building an engaged, high performance organisation[/perfectpullquote]

IES’ Head of HR Consultancy Duncan Brown said: “The heart and the soul of people management seems very much alive and well in our case study employers, with the organisation’s purpose, values and culture being an integral part of business and HR strategies. This explains the focus we found on employee wellbeing and developing appropriate leaders and leadership behaviours. But HR leaders need to be politically savvy, flexible and tactical in how they pursue and deliver on their long-term vision of building an engaged, high performance organisation.”

CIPD’s Head of Research and Thought Leadership Edward Houghton said: “In uncertain times we know organisations must look to their strengths and invest to survive. This research showcases some fascinating data as to how HR functions are responding to the challenging context, looking at their medium and long-term plans and developing their capabilities for the future. It is hugely insightful to see HR functions in this research looking beyond their traditional stakeholder groups to explore their impact in a more holistic way. This appears to be clear recognition of the growing strategic value of the function, and the ongoing role it must play through the challenging times ahead.”