Strategic vs. Systematic: Planning and Implementing Your People Strategy

Developing an effective people strategy requires both a strategic and a systematic approach. What’s the difference between the two? The strategic side is more creative, subjective, and focuses on the big picture, whereas the systematic side is more logical, objective, and emphasizes the parts or the details. Strategic thinking is chiefly concerned with “concept,” whereas systematic thinking centers on “execution.” For example, strategic thinking can produce a great idea or resolution for a business, product or service. Systematic thinking can help generate the technical processes to realize it. Both approaches work hand in hand to produce great things.

Naturally, most people prefer one style of thinking to the other. But a successful human capital plan includes a mix of both styles. You can come up with a great idea, but if you lack the means to implement it, it will die on the vine. It’s just as bad if a project, program, or technology is launched without any strategy behind it—if it is disconnected from a forward-thinking goal or vision, it doesn’t serve any real purpose.

Engaging in both types of thinking produces a more complete human capital strategy in which the strategic and systematic elements strengthen and reinforce each other. It’s a proven approach that has bolstered our organization and the thousands of businesses we’ve supported for more than 25 years, and it’s a reliable framework for working through the day-to-day challenges of human capital management.

Culture is one area where we can see clearly the distinction between the strategic and systematic side—and the symbiosis between them. Culture, by design, is driven by strategic objectives. It’s based upon chosen values that support your long-term vision for the company. But organizational culture doesn’t really mean anything if it’s not implemented in visible and concrete ways (in other words, systematically). This means deploying programs, processes, and perks that allow the core cultural values to be practiced on a daily basis. It’s a synthesis of strategic and systematic thinking.

As another example, look at employee compensation, which goes a lot deeper than “how much do we pay people?” Your approach to compensation must be aligned with your overall corporate strategy. Articulating a clear and concise “compensation philosophy” is an effective, strategic way of aligning the two approaches.

Systematically, there are multiple ways to put the compensation philosophy into practice. For example, determining salary based on an assessment of “internal equity” is a methodical way of establishing fair pay ranges for each position in line with what your competitors are offering. An active rewards and recognition program will serve to reinforce the behaviors you’ve articulated in the compensation philosophy. Concept and execution, thought and action—that is effective human capital management in a nutshell.


For further reading on devising and implementing a world-class people strategy, pick up a copy of my book, Take Care of Your People: The Enlightened CEO’s Guide to Business Success.

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