Your People and the Ghosts of Christmas Past

As you reflect on the year just gone, and look ahead to 2017, perhaps whilst sipping (yet another) glass of mulled wine, how would you answer this question? Is your people strategy working?

Are you recruiting the right people? Are you retaining your best people? And are you developing your people to enable them to drive your organisation forward?


Why is it so important?

For those of you who say: “Why should I care?”, let’s see if this helps.  Grab a piece of paper, and draw an arrow across it, left to right.  Go on, try it, what have you got to lose? At the tip of the arrow, write what your organisation is trying to achieve. For example, it could be ‘Excellence.’ Or it could be ‘To be the market leader.’ Or ‘to hit a turnover figure of x’.

Then put three horizontal lines across the page. You may have one already, from your arrow. If so, make this your middle horizontal line, and add one above and one below. Alongside the top one, write strategy. Alongside the middle one, write culture and environment. And alongside the bottom one, write people.

Now imagine that your organisation is a person.  So the top line, strategy, represents the overall ‘shape’ of your organisation; how you are set up and structured, what your overall strategy is, and what mechanisms and structures you have in place to facilitate this. The second line, culture and environment, represents the character of your organisation. How you go about things, how you act, your beliefs, values etc.  The bottom line, people, represents the individual limbs of your organisation, the actual people you have in place to achieve your aims, and how you use and develop them. 

All these layers are interlinked, and when we talk about your people strategy, this ‘hits’ at each of the three levels. 


What matters most – skill or character?

Now within your people strategy, where do you put most of your focus? Is it on their skill base, is it on their experience, or is it on their approach and attitude? And how does your environment work to get the best out of your people?

Do you hire on skills and fire on attitude, or recruit for attitude and train for skill?

To put it another way, do you want to know what happens if you want to become a fighter pilot in the military? You spend six months in officer training.  And that six months involves no flying at all. Why? Because it’s only worth teaching you the technical skills if you can pass the teamwork and leadership stuff first.  The Red Arrows takes a similar approach – from a one week selection process, only 20 minutes is devoted to a skills test.  The rest is an extended informal assessment of cultural fit.*

What about sport? We have blogged before about the culture and environment of the New Zealand All Blacks, the most successful rugby union team in the world.  One of the key aspects from the All Blacks is that no one is more important than anyone else, and that they all, from the captain down, have to bring the right mentality and approach to being an All Black, even if that means sweeping the sheds at the end of the day. 


The perfect team…..

We will return to sport shortly, but those of you who are regular followers of our blogs will remember Project Aristotle, and the light this huge research project shed on what goes into the perfect team. Fundamentally it came down to a couple of key behavioural norms - essentially listening to one another and showing sensitivity to each other’s needs. What Project Aristotle taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We have to bring the ‘human’ to the workplace.  

So understanding those you work with, as individuals, is key.  Two of the biggest success stories in sport this year demonstrate the impact this can have.  First, the GB Women’s hockey team.  One of the most significant factors in their turnaround, from a hugely disappointing performance at Bejing in 2008, was the awarding of central contracts, and the impact this had in terms of the squad spending more time together and getting to know each other better. As Kate Richardson-Walsh, the captain, said: “I was part of Team GB at the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008, but everything really changed in the run-up to the London Olympics in 2012, as the women’s hockey team won a National Lottery grant enabling us to train full time.” This meant also that they could spend much more time together as individuals, eating together as a team, going out together as a team etc. All of which bonded them as a team and enhanced their understanding and empathy with one another. 

And now to Saracens, winners of the double last season – the Premiership and the Champions Cup.  Time together, as a squad, outside of their ‘rugby environment’ is key to them.  In fact just today they are off to the slopes of the French Alps, as a squad, to get to know each other even better in a different environment.  Watch out on the slopes…..! 


Take the time to get it right in 2017

So, whilst sipping your mulled wine over the Christmas break, what is your answer to the question posed at the beginning of this piece? Is you people strategy excellent? If not, why not? And why not see if we can help….

*taken from Justin Hughes, former Red Arrows pilot, writing in the HRZone.