10 HR People Strategy Examples from Leading Corporate Employers
Does your company take a spray-and-pray approach to people management—scattering resources around without setting goals or knowing how to track progress?
If so, a people strategy will give you direction and shape how you manage your workforce.
People strategies are forward-looking plans which define how to get the best performance out of your workforce to meet business objectives. They often include initiatives focusing on recruitment, learning and development, employee engagement, retention, and DEI.
Our guide looks at people strategy examples from leading corporate employers who excel at talent management.
We also cover the distinctive features of a solid people strategy to help you get started with yours.
🌟 9 Distinctive features of a great people strategy
At its core, a people-first approach should enable organizations to attract, engage, and retain the right talent.
But this isn't a top-down strategy; it depends on multiple stakeholders creating a strong and consistent culture centered on innovation, growth, and collaboration.
Here are nine distinctive features of a great people strategy, with suggested examples of how to implement them.
1. Ensures alignment with business goals
Business goals and objectives go hand in hand with a strong people strategy. This alignment will ensure everyone understands how their efforts contribute to the organization's and its employees' success.
For example: if your company has a goal of boosting sales revenue by 20%, your people strategy might include identifying sales skills to improve, defining a training plan, or modifying your recruitment strategy to attract more qualified sales talent.
2. Emphasizes on priorities
An effective Human Resource strategy doesn't tackle all facets of employee engagement and development at once.
Instead, it focuses on the most important initiatives that will drive success for the organization.
For example: to reduce employee turnover, you may prioritize programs like onboarding, team-building activities, and access to professional development opportunities to keep new joiners engaged.
3. Enables regular feedback
Establishing regular feedback loops is crucial for fostering communication and collaboration between employees and employers, enabling connections, and the ability to identify challenges.
For example, a successful people strategy should include a formal process for receiving employee feedback, such as regular 360-degree reviews and employee satisfaction surveys.
4. Bridges skills gaps
Identifying skills gaps is an essential part of any people strategy. Identifying and creating plans to bridge these gaps will ensure that your organization has the right skills and resources to achieve its goals.
For example, if your company needs to develop a new app, you may need to attract developers with specific technical skills.
Alternatively, you may need more customer service representatives. In that case, you should look internally for people with solid soft skills like communication or empathy to repurpose in a customer-facing role.
5. Relies on data
Data is vital to understanding what motivates and drives people. Gathering HR analytics concerning performance, training, or team dynamics and incorporating them into your people strategy will help you make more informed decisions and ensure that your strategy is constantly evolving.
For example, a people strategy should include data points from pulse surveys, 1:1 meetings, focus groups, customer reviews, and exit interviews. These baseline insights allow you to understand better what's working well and identify areas for improvement.
6. Focuses on DEI
DEI-focused initiatives enable organizations to build an inclusive workplace, leading to better employee performance, improved morale, and a more engaged workforce.
For example, a successful people strategy should prioritize DEI initiatives such as setting up employee resource groups, offering inclusive talent acquisition strategies, and encouraging dialogue about DEI topics among employees.
➡️ Check out our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training template.
7. Prioritizes employee well-being
Promoting and protecting employee well-being is essential for any successful people strategy. The aftermath of the pandemic has made it even more vital to meet employees' needs and offer physical and mental support so they don't jump ship and seek work at a competitor company.
For example, a people strategy may include initiatives such as providing access to team-building activities and virtual events, offering flexible options to support work-life balance, or implementing mental health programs for employees.
➡️ Check out the latest trends in employee benefits to better support your workforce.
8. Encourages learning and growth
Continuous learning and growth opportunities for employees enable your company to stay competitive. Therefore, a successful people strategy should include initiatives that promote professional development and allow employees to acquire new skills in the flow of work.
For example, you may offer mentorship and microlearning programs, provide access to online courses, or encourage employees to attend conferences and workshops.
As you begin to craft your own learning and development program, remember that the key is to develop a comprehensive plan that meets the needs of each learner.
➡️ Learn more about how to foster a culture of learning in our guide.
9. Creates a culture of engagement
Creating a communicative and collaborative environment while providing employees with purpose-driven work will enable everyone to perform at their best.
For example, you may offer rewards for exceptional performance or embrace interactive initiatives like gamification to keep employees engaged.
You should also strive to create meaningful work where employees can see the impact of their efforts and feel connected to the organization.
➡️ Discover how to enable your employees by providing everything they need to succeed in their careers.
🏆 10 Winning people strategy examples
Be inspired by how these top employers use their people strategies to enhance the employee experience to create an exceptional workplace culture.
As you can see, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to people management.
🎥 Netflix's approach to performance reviews
As one of its people strategy pillars, Netflix takes an innovative approach to performance management, foregoing the traditional annual review in favor of regular 360-degree feedback cycles. Patty McCord, the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, introduced this continuous feedback system to promote transparency and accountability in the workplace.
The process works as follows:
- Employees are evaluated by a wide range of colleagues, including their managers, peers, and subordinates.
- Feedback is based on specific behaviors and accomplishments, enabling employees to receive targeted feedback on areas where they can improve.
- Feedback is signed rather than anonymous to promote trust and transparency throughout the organization.
- Netflix doesn't provide KPIs; instead, employees are encouraged to take ownership of their performance by setting goals, tracking progress, and making adjustments as necessary.
- Companies conduct performance evaluations regularly so employees receive timely feedback and make adjustments as necessary.
Georgia Hume, Coordinator of Physical Production at Netflix, explains how to succeed at the company, even though there are no clear parameters to work with.
"There are no formal measurements in place. You're measured by your team and your cross-functional partners. But ultimately, you are the measure of your own success."
And Cynthia Kambou, Netflix's Manager of Events in EMEA, agrees that set goals and objectives would hinder progress.
"If we set KPIs, we wouldn't be what we are today. People would just want to hit targets and forget about taking risks and being creative. We are in this company that has a mentality of testing things which other companies wouldn't do."
Netflix also uses "The Keeper Test" to make cutthroat decisions about which employees to hang onto and whom to let go.
It's undoubtedly brutal, but it enables the company to encourage a culture where employees want to succeed through collaboration, ownership, and continuous improvement.
➡️ Check out a step-by-step guide to running performance reviews like Netflix.
👥 Google's focus on recruiting the industry-best talent
Google launched its service engine offering in a crowded marketplace, competing with the likes of Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, AltaVista, AOL, Microsoft, and Infoseek.
As a startup, it didn't have the budget to match these giants, so its people strategy focused on attracting the best of the best to give them a competitive edge. And the company still follows this practice today.
In his book "Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead", Lazslo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google, explains the ethos behind the company's focus on talent acquisition:
"Refocusing your resources on hiring better will have a higher return than almost any training program you can develop. At Google, we front-load our people investment. This means the majority of our time and money on people is invested in attracting, assessing, and cultivating new hires. We spend twice as much on recruiting, as a percentage of our people budget, as an average company. If we are better able to select people up front, that means we have less work to do with them once they are hired.
The worst case with a 90th percentile candidate is they have an average year. They are unlikely to become the worst performer in the company. An average candidate, however, will not only consume massive training resources but is also just as likely to end up performing well below average as above average."
It's certainly not easy to join Google.
- A hiring panel of five or six current employees at Google first evaluates each potential applicant.
- This panel scores candidate applications based on five aspects, two of which include internal references and employee referral notes.
- External candidates are likely to progress through the three rounds of interviews and be hired if they can present recommendations from internal employees.
From Google's point of view, this dramatically reduces the chance of bad hires creeping into the ranks.
In further acknowledgment of the strength and depth of its internal talent pool, Google has recently embarked on a quiet hiring spree.
This process involves promoting internal employees who have gone above and beyond the expectations of their role by taking on extended responsibilities.
The company promotes these individuals and enjoys the cost benefits of not having to recruit or onboard them.
📈 Spotify establishes an employee growth mindset culture
Spotify's people strategy focuses on a growth mindset culture that values continuous learning and development.
The company encourages employees to take risks, learn from failure, and embrace new challenges. The Spotify Band Manifesto outlines this philosophy and has become the foundation of the company's culture.
In terms of performance management, each employee creates an individual development plan which outlines the career goals and steps they need to take. Managers work with employees to review and update these plans regularly.
Spotify also supports career mobility by enabling employees to explore new roles and opportunities within the company.
They have an internal talent marketplace named Echo, which uses AI to match opportunities with current employees. From here, people apply for roles that align with their career goals.
➡️ Learn more about how Spotify nurtures a growth mindset, including how performance management plays a pivotal role in employee success and engagement.
🗓️ Adobe opts for regular check-ins
Back in March 2012, SVP of Human Resources at Adobe, Donna Morris, told a reporter: "We plan to abolish the annual performance review format."
Although this was only one of many changes that Adobe made to its HR processes, it was an important milestone in terms of how the company viewed performance management.
Adobe has since implemented a series of more frequent and informal check-ins to replace the annual performance review process.
These meetings are similar to "pit stops in race car competitions" —they occur frequently and focus on:
- setting goals;
- providing feedback;
- discussing progress.
This shift away from the traditional annual review enables managers to monitor individual performance and provide timely feedback to employees closely.
Adobe now fosters a more collaborative environment between managers and their teams. Employees use these conversations to refuel, allowing them to forge ahead and put in a peak performance alongside their teammates.
➡️ Learn more about Adobe's check-ins under the magnifying glass, including how they relate to compensation decisions.
👋 Zappos' unusual onboarding technique
Zappos knows that recruitment is only the beginning of a successful future at the company. So they use unorthodox onboarding methods to weed out the new joiners with the most potential to ensure they'll succeed at the company.
Here's a glimpse at their four-stage onboarding strategy:
- Customer loyalty training: all employees, whether back-office staff or specialist engineers, will take customer service calls during onboarding as a crash course in understanding how their role impacts the overall business.
- Pay to quit: the craziest part of Zappos onboarding is the employer offering $4,000 to new joiners who don't enjoy the company or its culture. This payoff ensures that only those excited to progress will remain on the team.
- Graduation party: new hires enjoy a huge celebration, said to be larger than a high school grad party.
- On-the-job training: new team members take specialist development programs relevant to their roles.
➡️ Check out our case study to learn more about the reasons behind Zappos' unique onboarding strategy.
🫂 Cisco's approach to creating a company culture
Cisco is committed to creating an inclusive culture where employees feel valued and respected. They have employee resource groups (ERGs) that support diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and offer training and development programs to help employees build their DEI skills.
Cisco's approach to flexible work arrangements appeals to employees, allowing them to balance their work and personal lives better and encouraging a highly supportive company culture.
Francine Katsoudas, EVP, Chief People, Policy & Purpose Officer at Cisco, explains: "Hybrid work allows us to redefine what's possible by bringing out the very best of work through empowering flexibility, choice, and inclusion for employers and employees alike."
Data from the Cisco Global Hybrid Work Study 2022 reveals that 73% of global workers feel more motivated when allowed to work remotely, and 60% feel more closely connected to their organizations.
And geographical distance certainly doesn't erode bonds between employees, with 61% of employees claiming their relationships with teammates are now stronger.
➡️ Learn how Cisco combines data with human-centric people processes in our case study.
🤝 Microsoft's dedication to DEI
Since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the company has strived to increase Black representation in its ranks by incorporating the following measures as part of its people strategy:
- Using analytics to improve internal DEI
- Using its influence to encourage supply chain members to embrace inclusivity
- Boosting its DEI budget by $150 million over the next five years
- Setting a target to double the rate of Black and African American employees in its senior leadership team by 2025
- Launching its Amplifying Black Voices program, which highlights Black thought leaders and innovators changing the world.
Besides taking steps to conquer racial bias, Microsoft also aims to overcome other types of unconscious bias in its company.
More than 70,000 company employees have already completed its unconscious bias training, available in 7 different languages.
It also runs several initiatives to boost the number of women in STEM, such as the DigiGirlz program, which allows school girls to join practical technology workshops. Similarly, Microsoft supports several groups, such as Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code.
🧑💻 HubSpot's commitment to a hybrid work culture
HubSpot's people strategy works because employees bring their best selves to the workplace when offered flexibility and autonomy.
The employer allows employees to work at one of HubSpot's 14 global offices, remotely or mix both (in a hybrid model).
Since 2021, non-office workers now enjoy a full range of relevant benefits. New joiners complete remote-first onboarding to set them up for success regardless of location.
Although HubSpot had a head start on creating a flexible hybrid culture, with several remote-first vacancies available before the pandemic, the company's Chief People Officer, Katie Burke, outlines that it's an ongoing challenge. She said:
"We've gone from a mostly office culture with 10% remote folks to a truly hybrid culture, and like so many organizations, we're trying to figure out how to do it, and we're not perfect yet. I can't think of the last time we were all in the same space conveying a message, and that has been a fundamental change."
🌎 Patagonia's focus on being mission-driven
Patagonia melds its business and people strategies by taking a firm stance on protecting the planet and staying true to its core values. Environmental policies may be relatively new in the business world, but Patagonia launched its company mission statement in 1991.
Evelyn Doyle, HR Director of EMEA at Patagonia, explains the gist of why the company is proud to make bold moves and challenge the status quo to protect the environment:
"First and foremost, we're a mission-driven business. Yes, we make clothes and outdoor equipment, but more importantly, we are in business to inspire others to come up with solutions to the environmental crisis. We believe that we're not just in business to extract from the planet but that we take care of the community and planet we live in."
On a practical level, Patagonia is exceptionally committed to supporting employees who want to make a difference, including those who require legal representation.
For example, in June 2022, the company announced it would support employees who protested against the overturn of Roe vs. Wade's abortion laws.
Equally, the company will post bail for employees arrested during other campaigns. Evelyn explains:
"We have allowed our employees to participate in Extinction Rebellion events and marches. We have a bail policy where if you get in trouble during campaigns or protests, we will pay to get you out. We've also put together Civil Disobedience training to make sure our employees stay safe when they want to protest on important causes that are close to our hearts. And we allow them the time off to do that. It's ok to be an activist."
By offering full support to employees, Patagonia creates a highly engaged workforce that boasts less than a 4% turnover rate.
For context, the average retail and consumer product sector rate is 13%.
🪜 Zapier opts for internal mobility over layoffs
Workflow automation company Zapier takes a refreshing approach to handling talent excess, especially during times when other software companies are going down the road of mass layoffs.
Zapier redeploys talent where needed, focusing on helping employees find new opportunities within the company.
Brandon Sammut, Chief People Officer, explains how they match existing skills with open roles at Zapier:
"When we're doing secondment matching, the number one criterion is a business need which we define as in alignment with our overall strategy and goals. The second criterion is where business needs and relevant skills overlap, and the third circle in the Venn diagram is the interest of the folks who are available for secondment. Wherever we can, we're looking for where those three circles overlap, but we consider them in that priority order.
An example of secondment: we have a Zapien who has been self-teaching for a career in data science. So they're on our talent acquisition team, passionate about data science. We have some internal skill builders on that topic; they've been doing external training and studying up on all of it. We have a need for additional capacity within our data science team, so it's a natural secondment match."
Brandon explains why this approach is still relatively novel in the HR industry.
"We'll never claim perfection in our ability to nimbly shift people across the business, but our interest is there, and we're stoked to be part of a community of other talent leaders who are thinking about this type of thing as well. It's really energizing to be in conversation with a group of folks who are thinking about this because it's still quite frontier.
Organizations have been talking about skill inventorying, skill mapping, skill matching, for decades now, but it's interesting even at world-scale organizations how illusive putting this into practice can be."
➡️ Check out our HR trends article to learn more about this practice.
Plus, check out how to design a skills matrix to support your secondment plans.
➡️ Kickstart your people strategy with Zavvy
Zavvy offers an entire people enablement suite to support your company's specific enablement strategy. Here are the solutions you'll need to achieve your employee empowerment:
- 🚀 Onboarding: your employees deserve an exceptional employee experience from the beginning of their tenure. Our onboarding process maximizes engagement and provides opportunities for connections. Welcome all team members warmly and give them the tools to ramp up rapidly and become productive.
- 🔁 360 feedback software: create an open feedback culture using the 360-degree feedback approach. Instead of the traditional top-down approach, employees will receive feedback from every hierarchical direction (up, down, across, and self-directed feedback) to reduce the chance of feedback bias.
- 📈 Performance review software: ensure that your teams are performing at their highest level of productivity with our performance review software. The intuitive interface allows for meaningful conversations, guided feedback loops, and efficient goal-setting processes in a unified platform.
- 👯 Connection programs: employees with a strong sense of belonging at work will perform better and forge meaningful bonds with their co-workers. Our tools facilitate peer connections and give employees a positive outlook on their work.
- 💪 Learning management systems: allow employees to grow and develop skills with our learning management system. Employees can expand their knowledge and acquire new roles with a personalized learning path.
- 🧭 Career pathing software: we enable employees to visualize their career trajectory, access resources for growth and development, and uncover new career opportunities.
- 🌱 Employee development software: keep employees engaged by continuously planning and monitoring their development. With our software, managers and direct reports can track individual development progress and ensure they are on the right track.
Ready to kickstart your people strategy? Take Zavvy for a spin by arranging a free demo today.