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How to accelerate business growth by becoming a People Company

At the Future of HR Summit, held in Sandton recently, I discussed the challenges of shrinking workforce productivity, why employees are demotivated and disengaged, and how businesses can turn things around.
How to accelerate business growth by becoming a People Company
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Productivity crisis

We’re in the midst of a global productivity crisis. Sage’s recent Why your workforce isn’t working survey found that 66% of respondents are partly or not at all engaged at the office, and are productive for less than 30 hours a week.

But we can’t only blame the distractions of the modern world for their lack of focus. As businesses, we’re partly responsible because we’ve assumed that we know what makes for a positive work experience, rather than asking employees directly. We’ve been getting it wrong all this time.

Hint: It’s not beanbags, ping-pong, or free beer.

In fact, 47% of respondents have never been asked by their employer how they can improve their working experience, with 53% saying games are actually distracting.

So, what do employees want?

  • 81% want flexibility and remote working,
  • 66% want to feel valued, recognised, and appreciated, and
  • 92% want positive workforce experiences.
For the majority, a positive experience is recognition for a job well done; ongoing, two-way communication with regular performance reviews and feedback; and the autonomy to work when they feel most productive – which might not be during office hours.

But, because they’re not getting these experiences in the workplace, employees are not as productive as they could be – and this is slowing business growth.

The good news is, it’s not too late to turn things around. It’s not too late to become a People Company – the type of company that treats its people as its most valuable asset, understands their needs and preferences as deeply as it understands its customers, and is more people-oriented and less admin-focused. It leverages technology to provide great workforce experiences and to design new, better ways of working.

How to accelerate business growth by becoming a People Company

The journey to becoming a People Company

Most businesses think they’re People Companies but even high-performing, future-focused organisations are still trying to get it right. Nearly all of them struggle to get the insight they need, only 37% have HR self-service on multiple devices, only 37% use data and analytics to make people decisions, and only 39% focus on designing great workforce experiences.

In similar research, PwC found that, in Africa, the top three at-risk capabilities when preparing for tomorrow’s workforce are virtual working, data-driven workforce decisions, and work-life balance.

Becoming a People Company requires a shift in understanding how to improve productivity through a more engaged workforce and great experiences.

There’s an opportunity for HR to close the gap and to focus on developing the traits that make a successful People Company. It starts with understanding your workforce and the value that technology can add to your HR strategy.

How to become a People Company

As you progress along the journey, you can adopt more People Company traits. These include:
  • Having clear goals and an insight-driven strategy before deciding on what technology to use.
  • Knowing what motivates and drives your people.
  • Establishing continuous, two-way communication, listening to employees, and acting on their feedback.
  • Moving away from transactional HR processes, like annual surveys and performance reviews.
  • Adopting technology for self-service, on-demand access, integrated recruitment and onboarding processes, and HR task automation.
  • Using data insights and People Science to inform people decisions, and treat them as seriously as financial and operational decisions.

Start by enhancing your employer brand through people marketing and great candidate experiences so that you attract the right people. Then, help them to reach their potential through ongoing communication and feedback. Understand what motivates them and use that insight to deliver great workforce experiences.

It’s a new world of people management. Businesses need to transform how they acquire, engage, manage, and develop their employees, to increase workforce visibility and HR productivity, and provide better experiences.

How far are you on your journey to become a People Company? Try our profiler at to find out.

About Gerhard Hartman

Gerhard Hartman is the regional director, Medium Business, Sage Africa & Middle East.

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