Why the future of HR is putting people first

Jon Ingham, Director of the Strategic HR Academy, highlights the importance of HR adopting a people-centric approach, with a clear focus on employees.
By: | August 27, 2021

HR’s shift in focus from employee engagement to experience, reinforced by increasingly people-centric approaches during the pandemic, indicate a major inflection point in the way organisations manage their people. This shift to experience includes:

  • An increasingly cross-functional approach, with HR and OD working together with Facilities Management, the Digital Workplace, and other areas.
  • Technologies to simplify and integrate functionality and employee journeys around organisational touchpoints.
  • Technological and more human approaches to listening to employees and other workers about their own experience.
  • Using personas, design thinking and journey mapping to redesign the experience around particular moments that matter.

The benefits of shifting focus from engagement to experience may include enabling employees to improve their work, leading to better customer experience, higher productivity and more innovation.

Paradoxically, it may also lead to higher levels of engagement than focusing on this. Engagement has always been defined as something that will benefit organisations, and therefore can seem a little like manipulation, resulting in employees asking themselves whether engagement offers any benefits to them.

Experience starts to look at our organisations from an employee perspective, which can offer the potential for developing a transformationally different approach to work, where improved engagement is a supplementary, oblique benefit of the change in approach.

However, despite the emphasis on employee experience, it is not really the experience itself which marks the main basis for this shift and many improvements do relatively little to change the way people work, or how motivated they may be.

The real key then is for HR to take on the perspectives of our employees, and come together with these people to design organisational structures, processes and systems that help and enable them. This is about taking a more people-centric perspective to everything we do, putting people at the centre of our strategies and seeing them as the main customers of our activities.

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“Moving to this truly people-centric approach will not be easy, but there are things we can start doing now.” – Jon Ingham, Director of the Strategic HR Academy.


This is firstly because the type of improvements in experience which do produce significant business benefits are those which help people do their jobs better, or to contribute in different ways, and it is generally the people doing a job who understand best how it can be improved. But these benefits are actually less about the improved experience of work, than they are down to the way work is redesigned.

Secondly, people do not come to work for the experience of work but because work provides them something that they need. This obviously includes money and other aspects of our employment value propositions, but also, often, other idiosyncratic requirements that have nothing to do with the core focus of our organisations, such as building a strong personal brand.

Moving to this truly people-centric approach will not be easy, but there are things we can start doing now.

The first requirement is to continue to make our business strategies more people-centric, looking at ways our companies can differentiate and compete through our people and the ways we manage, develop and organise them. This is because, for most organisations, putting people-first approaches will build on what we are already doing, rather than replacing these.

Secondly, we should invest in technologies that help employees manage themselves, giving them access to their own data, or better, the insights from analytics, enabling them to improve their own performance, rather than seeking to use this data to manage people more tightly.

Thirdly, we need to talk to people about their real needs and how the organisation can help achieve these. I will be talking more about these opportunities in my keynote at HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2021.

By Jon Ingham, Director of the Strategic HR Academy, who will be presenting a keynote session titled Unlocking A People Centric Approach To Employee Experience For Optimum Business Performance on Wednesday, September 22 at 3.10pm (SGT), at HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2021.