Focusing on people strategy & planning

Strategy & planning

This is the second in a series of blogs looking at the concept of business management in the people function and this week we’ll be looking at strategy and planning.  If you missed the first blog we talked about the overall principle, and had a look at finance within the people function.

So, how good are we at strategy and planning?

We probably think we are okay at defining and delivering a people strategy? Many organisations have adopted the Ulrich model, which should mean that Business Partners and Centres of Excellence can actually focus on strategy, so that’s good right?   However, there is little research within people functions to confirm this view. Looking at a wider context, research conducted by Harvard back in 2016 suggested that on average 67% of strategic plans fail to deliver. So, would it be bold to assume that as a function we do a better job?   In fact, InFocus HR’s own experience would tend to suggest that people plans run into exactly the same issues as highlighted in the Harvard report. So in this blog we will share some hints and tips to help your function with setting that winning strategy and planning a successful delivery.

So, how should you go about defining your people strategy and plan?

A good starting point is to understand what approach you’ll actually use to define the strategy.  There are lots of models on the intranet but If there’s an agreed organisational approach then adopt that, there’s no point doing something different.  Hopefully your organisational model will define the stages, timeline and required outputs.  If not, it’s worth getting these clarified at the start, it can save a lot of time and rework later on! It’s really important to do that when it comes to requirements around additional funding or headcount.

If your organisation doesn’t have an agreed approach then we at InFocus HR would suggest using the 4 D’s (note – there are lots of different versions of the four D’s), however we like:

  • Discover
  • Define
  • Develop
  • Deploy

We will now look at each one in more detail.


The discover phase is all about research, so finding out what’s already going on, what needs to happen and understanding the priorities.  Areas of research we’d suggest a focus would be:

  • Understanding your organisation’s vision, strategy and plan as the people strategy and plan really needs to align to this.
  • Engaging senior directors and managers in each business area and function. This will build shared understanding of how the plans and priorities align.
  • Understanding the external context for people initiatives.   We’d make some recommendations for people/organisations to follow, but each one brings a different perspective. So, it’s worth finding out who has industry/sector specific insight.
  • Talk to peers in different organisations or at least get some insight into what they may be doing.
  • Managers often want to understand benchmarks with competitors. We’d certainly recommend talking to the team at HR DataHub if you want help with people benchmarking data.
  • Understand the political, economic, sociological, technological, legal and environmental context. The Chartered Institute of Personal Development have a simple guide that’s great for anyone unfamiliar with Pestle.
  • Understanding what your own people data is telling you, combining this with finance, marketing and operational data can provide some unique insight. The team at Simple Get Results have some great tools that can help with this analysis as well as assessing scenarios.
  • If you have risk logs and outstanding audit items they should be considered, especially if they can reinforce your strategic direction, we will cover risk management in a couple of weeks.
  • Finally, one often forgotten area is your own BAU operations. This might include upgrades / new HR technology (a technology roadmap really helps here) or requirements to re-tender for key suppliers. These activities can be costly and will drain time from BAU resources.


The discovery phase should start to highlight areas of focus, for now and the future. As a result it’s worth getting your team together to brainstorm ideas, options and then prioritising. The strategy needs to underpin your organisation’s strategy and balance your operational needs. Areas that seem to crop up frequently include:

  • Defining and delivering a workforce plan.
  • Improved line management and leadership capabilities.
  • Talent and succession planning.
  • Improved employee experience.
  • Learning & development focused on key skills and capabilities.
  • Innovation in reward and benefits options.
  • New and revised people policies, contracts.
  • Brilliant basics i.e. getting the people basics right.
  • Revised people function operating model, with support technology – often required in order to deliver / manage the future people strategy.

The define stage may take several iterations as it’s worth engaging with key stakeholders to ensure plans align to need. Understanding the high-level resources (i.e., budget, headcount) you’ll need to deliver the potential plan ties into the finance side of business support we highlighted last week.    However, be realistic about what can be delivered, the day job doesn’t go away! So, unless you can access additional resource you’ll have to balance day to day delivery and any urgent requests alongside your plan.


As you finalise the define stage you can turn your team’s attention to the specific policies, processes, technology and services you’ll need to amend or implement as part of your plan.  By developing these areas into tasks you’ll start to define your plan. The key things to consider at this stage:

  • Define what will be delivered or needed in enough detail for people to understand what will change. A basic scoping/requirements document can help.
  • Thinking about scenarios here is also helpful, so are there different ways to deliver the end outcome that might be more manageable?
  • How will you measure success? It’s worth thinking about this now so that it can be built into the plan.
  • What resources will be needed? This could be people, budgets, technology or suppliers. Linking back to the finance blog you will need to have enough detail here to support the finance and planning process.
  • Estimating the time required for each activity will give you a sense of delivery dates. This needs to be considered as air traffic control i.e. how many changes can you land at once and also in what order?
  • When developing the plan, focus on short term milestones. Detailed planning for the next three months, through to higher level thinking for activities likely to be deployed after nine months.
  • Start thinking now about how you’ll engage the people function and the wider communications you’ll want to deliver to the organisation.


The deploy phase speaks to itself in terms of action and we will look at project delivery in a few week’s time. However, the one learning we’ve had at InFocus HR is how often the people plan fails to deliver all the agreed outcomes (mirroring the Harvard insight) within the timelines set.  There are many reasons for this including external impacts (i.e., who could have foreseen the impact of Covid-19 on people functions) down to internal pressures (i.e., responding to cost controls). Setting shorter term plans can help mitigate these impacts, as it means you can adjust more quickly.


An area that InFocus HR has been exploring is how much of this is down to having the right people? Clearly having the right skills is important.  The key question though is whether the team have the opportunity to make the right impact and contribution? Our recent blog on understanding individual impact and contribution is a useful read.  Having the right skills is key, but so too is having people who can make the right impact.

Further insight into Business Management

Over the next 4 weeks we will continue to explore the concept of business management within the people function covering:

  • People & functional analytics.
  • Risk Management.
  • Supplier Management.
  • Project Management (including continuous improvement).

Do you want to find out how InFocus HR can help you with implementing or reviewing your current business management approach? If yes then click here for more information and to request an initial obligation free conversation.

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