Isn't it time we put people at the heart of our HR Strategy?

Focusing on creating an unrivalled experience for your people is a key driver of a good HR strategy.

One of the questions we often get asked as HR consultants is what the key driver of a good HR strategy should be. What is the silver bullet? The 80/20? If only it was that easy, but let’s give some context before we answer the question…

There’s no doubt that we are living in exciting and uncertain times – especially if you are in business, and even more so if you are in the HR space. Hopefully after you’ve read this article we can agree to call it the ‘People Experience’ space.

At the moment we are seeing many influences disrupting business –

  • Technology influences. Yes, a robot might one day replace some of your tasks at work but that’s a conversation for another day. Who knows, maybe it was a robot that wrote this article for us?

  • The millennials. And their desire for flexibility, GIGS, purpose at work. The list is endless and exciting;

  • New business models. Imagine applying an Uber type model to HR outsourcing, or recruitment?

  • Work life balance/integration.

  • etc…etc.

And since this article is about HR Strategy, let’s talk about all the HR trends floating around out there. To name but a few:

  • Digitization of HR - We’ve lost count of how many IT experts overnight became HR Tech experts;

  • Leadership development and the new type of leader required for these new ages. Never mind the fact that there were so many leaders who couldn’t lead properly in the ‘old days’;

  • The need for Business focused HR functions;

  • New operating models. Theoretically this should be a core HR practitioner competency but most companies pay exorbitant amounts to consultants to do this for them;

  • Perceived Inadequate HR Capability and authorization. Even as seasoned HR experts it pains us to admit that HR has not always added real value to the businesses we serve, and even where they could have done so they haven’t always been authorized to do so by C-Suite;

  • The impact of the future of work on organizations.

  • The list goes on…

It is clear that organizations have no choice but to change the way they ‘Do HR’ – If not, they are dead in the water, and that’s a fact. Many organizations have started to realize this and there has been a remarkable increase in the amount of ‘HR Transformation’ projects which organizations have put on their list of strategic priorities. This is great news for all involved in the People Agenda and definitely a step in the right direction…

With all this in mind and a common understanding that organizations need a new type of HR function, the REAL question is what is the silver bullet that can assist HR in attracting and retaining the best talent to make themselves future proof?

Simply Put - What should a great HR strategy focus on?

The truth is that there never is a silver bullet. Business is complex and people are even more complex. Sustainable success requires pulling various levers at the same time (or at different times). But we believe that a large part of the answer lies in focusing on creating an unrivalled experience for your people.

We call this a People Experience. You may have heard this term bandied around in various formats recently, but what does it actually mean and how do you implement it as a Business and HR strategy?

Here are our constantly evolving thoughts on what a PEOPLE EXPERIENCE means:

1. A people experience puts people FIRST in business

Candidly speaking, if we cannot agree on this as an overriding principle then there’s no point in continuing the discussion. But don’t take our word for it. The below quotes from some business greats confirms our thinking.

  • ‘Clients do not come first; Employees come first. If you take care of your employees they will take care of your clients…’ Sir Richard Branson

  • ‘Don’t hire smart people and tell them what to do; Hire smart people and let them tell you what to do…’ Steve Jobs

  • ‘The responsibility of the company is to serve the customer. The responsibility of leadership is to serve the people so that they may better serve the customer. If leaders fail to serve the people both customer and company will suffer’ – Simon Sinek

People aren’t important in business… People ARE the business. Even in the digital world how people interact with digitization can be your organizational competitive edge.

2. A people experience understands deeply what engages people and builds the business and HR Strategy on these principles

Much research has been done around what truly engages people at work, but we believe that a large piece of the key lies in intrinsic motivation factors (self-motivated, self-directed). We believe that 3 things keep people intrinsically engaged:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives

  • Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters

  • Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

We believe that if organizations can create a people experience that plays to these innate human needs then they are a long way towards success.

3. A people experience is holistic

A people experience does NOT only include work related activities and environment – That’s a piece of it.

A holistic People experience considers the following:

a) The deep rooted needs of the people. These include the Intellectual, Emotional, Physical, Social & Financial aspects of their lives;

b) Connection to the outside world of customers, family, community and world;

c) An innovative, flexible business model that connects Business Purpose, Strategy and HR processes to the innate human needs mentioned above and ultimately creates value for the customer, and

d) The Digital world is a critical component of a people experience.

4. A people experience is built WITH your people

Just like a great customer experience is built with the customer, a people experience is built in a collaborative process with your people. It is an inside out program, not a waterfall program.

The implementation generally requires strong agility competence in a business. Yes – you will possibly need to learn how to scrum!

5. A people experience requires connection to an authentic organizational purpose

A People experience needs to connect/align/synergize with a strong organizational purpose (not just words on a wall, but lived and breathed).

In other words an awesome people experience is supported by a powerful organizational purpose! They affect each other deeply.

A People Experience can only succeed sustainably if people are at the forefront of the organizational purpose; and similarly a deep purpose can by co-created by undertaking a People experience transformation!

6. A people experience evolves

A people experience will constantly evolve. It needs to be flexible and agile, and so does the business environment in which it is built. A people experience thrives in an operating model that is based on informal way of work rather than rigid structures, processes and systems.

7. A people experience is business focused

A people experience does not forget about business strategy and goals. On the contrary – Business purpose, strategy and goals are deep drivers (and outputs) of the people experience. Organizational goals are achieved by creating an amazing environment for their people, who then in turn serve their customers with excellence, and achieve audacious corporate goals.


It’s no secret that businesses have traditionally focused on the ‘HARD Stuff’ (Strategy and structure).  A people experience approach acknowledges that the ‘SOFT Stuff’ (People and culture) should be a key driver for success. Culture does indeed eat strategy for breakfast.

Or as Tom Peters says – ‘The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff!’

We believe that gone are the days of defining strategy, building structure and process and then ‘plugging’ people into the above. An authentic People Experience might start with people and purpose, and build the business (Structure) around their deeply rooted needs.

So in conclusion – if we were given a shopping list of various strategic priorities for a sustainable HR Strategy and we could only choose 1 guiding principle we would say the following:

Make people experience a part of your strategy – or even better MAKE PEOPLE EXPERIENCE YOUR STRATEGY!

About the authors

Dean Davey | Executive Director People Advisory Services @EY Belgium

Dean Davey | Executive Director People Advisory Services @EY Belgium

He is a seasoned Business and HR Transformation Professional who has a passion for enabling corporates to achieve their purpose and goals by building and implementing a business focused and people inspired approach to transformation.

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