5 People Strategy Secrets from the CEO of Investors in People – Paul Devoy

Split image, Paul Devoy smiling on one side with the Investors in People log under his face, the other side reads "There's a demographic time bomb not only in the UK, but it's a Europe-wide problem" with the Wotter Future logo underneath the text.

About Paul Devoy

Paul Devoy is the CEO of Investors in People (IIP), whose purpose is to make work better. The IIP works with a community of organisations, employing over 1 million people providing digital diagnostic tools, advice, support and assessment against their internationally recognised Frameworks. 

Previously, Paul was the Director of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and has worked in the Scottish Prison Service for 4 years leading change management programmes. 

How to push your people strategy forwards

In a recent Wotter Future podcast episode, we sat down with Paul to get his take on the future of work and how we can shape it for the better.

Paul gave us 5 tips any organisation should be using:

  1. Attract wasted talent back into the labour market
  2. STOP doing appraisals – do THIS instead…
  3. Give your first-line managers ongoing training
  4. Quit supervising your team, start empowering them
  5. Create a safe environment and employees will embrace change

1. Attract wasted talent back into the labour market

The biggest problem in the world of work right now is the lack of people. Every CEO I talk to is worried about recruitment and retention. 

More people are leaving the labour market than there are people joining, and this is a structural issue which is not going to change. Prescriptions of the past like immigration and the movement of people aren’t an easy answer anymore, and all European countries are facing the same problem as us here in the UK – it’s a Europe-wide ticking time bomb. 

This is not a cyclical issue related to recession or specific issues; it’s a structural demographic problem and it will be a challenge for employers for years to come. 

We’ve got record numbers of people of working age not working, two of the main groups being people who are ill (stuck on increasingly long NHS waiting lists or suffering with long COVID) and people in their 50s exiting the labour market early. There’s a lot of untapped skill and talent in this pool of labour.

To attract older workers back into the workforce, there needs to be a rethink about the way work is structured. Offering more flexible working patterns will make your company more attractive to this group of people who may have more commitments. It’s also essential to look at your culture and make sure it’s open to employing older workers, as we’re still seeing some unintended bias towards this demographic. Companies like B&Q I think have great policies around hiring older workers, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

2. STOP doing appraisals, do THIS instead

We’ve all been in a stuffy appraisal meeting, where your manager’s holding a balance sheet of the things you did well and things you could’ve done better totted up over the last year…

Appraisals don’t work. 

I think HR designed appraisals to engineer managers to have the conversations they should be having anyway. They just create extra bureaucracy and paperwork that doesn’t add any value. We don’t have appraisals at Investors in People. 

Instead, we coach our managers to have what we call Transformational Conversations. The idea behind these is that we celebrate good work in the moment and equally, if there’s something that could’ve been done better we talk about it straight away – when it can have the most impact. 

3. Give your first-line managers ongoing training

Gallup did a study with a massive data set (using 80,000 interviews conducted with great managers all across the world over 25 years) that identified the most important area in any organisation as the first line of managers. 

If I could just give organisations one tip, it would be this: train your first-line managers. 

Don’t just send them on a 2-week training course when you promote them up; invest in them for the long term. Give them ongoing mentoring, peer-to-peer support and proper leadership that continually develops their skills.

At Investors in People, we invest a lot in our leaders, which is key to their ability to manage change, engage the workforce and be productive. 

4. Quit supervising your team, start empowering them

Allow your employees to work autonomously and you’ll empower them to do their best work.

At the IIP, we give our employees autonomy by measuring output and not measuring how many hours are worked. Everybody has their own targets and metrics, and we give them the freedom to work how they want, as long as: 

  • They hit their objectives
  • The way they organise their work is not at the detriment of their colleagues
  • There is no detriment to a client client 

We use these rules of thumb/heuristics instead of giving every employee a big handbook full of policies – and it works a lot better. 

From working in HR, I’ve seen how policies have been designed around the 1% of employees who won’t play ball rather than the 99% who can be trusted and will do the right thing given the right conditions. 

When you empower your people they will pay you back in spades by being more productive, by being loyal to your organisation and by looking after your customers. I see this loads within our community. 

For example, Glasgow’s Housing Association has a ‘think yes’ policy. Employees have complete autonomy to decide what changes need to be made to a tenant’s house, so if they go in and see something wrong, they don’t need to fill in any forms, they just get on the phone and within a few days there’s a plumber or a joiner there to fix it. There’s no bureaucracy and procedures getting in the way like with most housing associations, and it’s completely transformed their organisation. 

5. Create a safe environment and employees will embrace change

Humans don’t like change. 

Our brains haven’t changed very much since we were hunter/gatherers out in the Savanna, where we were short of food and always looking for certainty about where our next meal would come from. We’re naturally predisposed to crave certainty, even where there is none, which is why we invent it in the form of forecasts. Even though forecasts are almost always wrong, they help to calm us down and switch that bit of our brain off. 

Whilst people don’t like change, change is going to continue and the rate of change is going to continue to speed up. And our brains aren’t really wired for it. So what does that mean for our organisations and leaders? 

We need to create organisations that are a safe environment for change, where there is a lot of trust and transparency, where change is seen as part of the norm, and where people believe that change will be done in a progressive and positive way – otherwise, people completely shut down. 

A successful change management strategy should account for the fear and uncertainty most employees are feeling around the rate of change nowadays; building a supportive culture is essential to guiding your team through this anxiety.

Check out the full episode for more…

We’ve covered just 5 bits of advice from the podcast, but there’s plenty more in the full episode – give it a watch or a listen!

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And make sure to let us know what you think.


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