HR Vision Podcast #40 – People Strategy ft. Andrew Bartlow

Andrew Bartlow is a man of talent.

He has 25 years of Human Resources and Talent Management experience at organizations across a wide range of sizes and industries. He’s an entrepreneur, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of the People Leader Accelerator, an executive development program designed to help HR leaders propel their organizations forward.
He’s also Founder and Managing Partner of Series B Consulting where he helps organizations design management processes. And that’s not all! He’s also the co-author of the book “Scaling for Success: People Priorities for High Growth Organizations”.

In this episode, he joined us to discuss the importance of having a People Strategy, how to prioritize, and he shared his views on talent management considering the current trends in the market.

An insightful conversation that we hope you enjoy as much as we did!

Learn more about Andrew’s People Leader Accelerator at and download his guide to help you get your People Strategy started at

Hello there, welcome to episode 40 of the HR Vision podcast. We have a very special guest today to talk about people's strategy. So let me say hi to Andrew Bartlow. Hi Andrew, how are you today?

Hi Ivo, great to be with you.

Great to be with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. Andrew is a man of talent. Pardon the pun. He has 25 years of human resources and talent management experience. And organizations across a wide ranges of sizes and industries. He's also an entrepreneur and the Co. Author of the book Scaling for Success People Priorities for high growth organizations but better than me presenting him. Let's hear it from the source.

So Andrew once again thank you for being here. Let's start with you. Tell us who are you and what you've been doing.

Great, great. Well again, you really appreciate you hosting me and you know thanks for having me on your show. Yeah, I'm a human resources guy. That's what I've done my entire career 25 plus years right out of grad school. Have worked at companies from Fortune 50 to less than 50 employees. The little ones most people probably haven't heard of the big ones everybody has. They have Pepsi, General Electric Wells Fargo places like that. And over those 25 years I've been in a lot of different industries and a lot of different roles. Set up total rewards comp and benefits. Lead recruiting was the chief HR officer of a public company a couple different times. Real estate tech. You you, you name it, I've kind of been there, done that. And a few years ago I pulled my golden parachute during one of the many mergers that I've been a part of and all my equity vested, and I wrote my bucket list book.

You mentioned it already. Scaling for success. Columbia University actually published that for me, which was really an honor. And then for the past three or four years I've been consulting and advising other HR leaders, and so I. Position myself as HR for HR today. Helping other people that have done this work that maybe a little earlier in their career. You know, navigate some of the bumps in the road, hopefully more, more elegantly than I did along the way.

Wow amazing amazing experience. And yeah, just excited to have this conversation today before we go into the main topic of today people strategy, which is something that we've been talking about a lot. How did you become interested in HR? Was a passion right from high school or something?

You know, I feel like I've actually been on the other side of it like there's been a little bit of a counterculture draw to HR for me where you know, I always thought of myself as the business person and I always wanted to be in the mix be in a role where it really mattered and it was influential. In my high school years, at the time I lived in Illinois, Middle America, the largest company in town, Caterpillar, the big heavy equipment manufacturer. Yeah, they were headquartered in my hometown. They had a three year labor strike with the United Auto workers. And so pretty much everybody that lived in town either worked there or had a family member that worked there and was on the front page of the local newspaper every single day of the strike. And so you know, I grew up with.

That experience that formative experience where the labor negotiations Union management, the Community, the workforce, the families were all affected by what happened, driven in part by the labor negotiations led by the human resources leader. So I said, I want that job. I want to be the labor negotiator. And. Went to what turned out to be the top program in the world for that work. I've actually been the lead spokesperson on. You know, call it a dozen, maybe not quite a dozen Union agreements on behalf of Pepsi and General Electric. But found that I was able to be more influential as I got a little deeper into my career, was able to be more impactful and more influential following the human resources track versus pure Labor Relations, but that's how I got in. That was the spark.

Yeah very interesting. All right. So if we go to yeah to what brings us here today. People strategy. Sometimes it seems like it's a hard concept to grasp. You know, everybody seems to understand that. It's probably important that we have it, but I don't know if a lot of people. A lot of companies know exactly how to do it and how to. Hardness the power of a very good and efficient people strategy. So let's start with from the beginning. What do you understand? Why people strategy you having a people strategy? And why do you think it's so important? Yeah, for first I just really love that we're talking about this topic. The strategy gets lip service but very little effective effort in the area.

You know what? What is strategy there? It's such a common refrain from HR leaders. I'm putting up air quotes if you're listening, not watching. I want a seat at the table. I want to be strategic. What does that mean? What does it mean to have a seat at the table? What does it mean to be strategic? I think. I know many, even most. HR leaders don't really know where to start. We focus more so we get sucked into working on HR things. Yeah, rather than things that directly without big logic leaps directly affect the most important priorities of the organization. And so for for HR strategy for people strategy.

I think of it as a very simple waterfall. What are the most important goals and priorities of your organization? That should tie directly. To the most important goals and priorities of your HR function. And if you've got a stretch to make the connection like. Oh well, if we treat our people well, then everything is better for the organization. Well, yeah, with to an extent, but with some limitations you have. If you pay people triple the market rate, they might be happy, but you'll go out of business really quickly. If you spend 80% of your time throwing company events and and parties and lavish perks, who's going to get any work done so you know you you've got to be able to connect your work with furthering? Out going fully into the employee advocate stance that I think many, many HR leaders with more of a humanistic perspective on the role often get drawn to. So that's maybe why it's so hard to do. It's a fine balance, right?

Well, it's a bit of a tightrope between supporting worker interests and supporting business interests and how are you credible on both sides of that line? That is a challenge? Yeah, no I can see that. You know, how to start developing that strategy. But first of all, like I guess it will depend on the size of the company on the culture. I guess the type of business the company is in, or it doesn't depend on that at all. Yeah it I think there's a pretty simple way to develop a people strategy. And boy don't overcomplicate it, you just don't have to. You know I hear from a number of people that I mentor and and coach boy I'm not good with numbers. Sorry I don't know how to read a income statement. And well first stop saying you're not good with numbers, like fix that. You don't need to be a CFO level doing, you know, pivot tables on Excel.

But you do need to be able to identify. What are the most important goals and priority and priorities of the company? That should be in your latest all hands deck. That should be in your latest investor pitch that should be in the latest board deck. If it doesn't exist in any of those, go talk with the senior leadership of your organization. What are the most important things to us right now? Start there. And the people strategy should be directly connected to it. But let's use an example. Let's say one of your most important goals is expansion into Europe.

OK, alright NHR, what are you doing to support that? Might be two or three things might be alright. We're we're setting up a global PEO to handle recruitment and payroll and benefits of to enable the setup of European operation. It could be we've engaged with Korn Ferry or Russell Reynolds to find a president of EMEA. It could be could be any number of things, could be where we're going to develop a workforce, plan for what are? What are the roles, how many of them, and where do we need them, and what countries to move into Europe.

So those are directly and clearly tied to the most important business goal. But if you start. Upside down, which I think is a, is a risk that many of us you know fall into that trap. A lot of HR practitioners will come with solutions that are looking for problems. Here's my example. Let's say there's some hot new piece of software around workforce planning or employee engagement, and you know the HR person will hear about it, and they'll say, oh, I've got this employee survey tool that's only $30,000. And if we implement that, that will help us increase employee engagement. How does that affect moving into Europe?

It might be useful. Might be interesting, but if that's not directly supporting one of the most important goals of the organization, you'll put it on the back burner for now. Yeah, I see so it always trickles down from the from the business goals, right? The organizational goals. Do you think that there needs to be a strong alignment with management as well? Or management needs to be invested as well in supporting HR to achieve an efficient people strategy? Oh, absolutely, absolutely. If your people strategy is aligned with your business strategy, then you're going to have a much, much easier time influencing senior leadership. They're going to be interested in what you do. You're going to get funding, resources, time, and attention for the things that you're working on.

But if it's just keep us out of jail just ensure people are happy then you you don't get a lot of time attention or funding from business leadership. It just helps you right aligning with the organizational goals just helps you and makes your job easier. If you want to develop a people's strategy right. Bottom line, work great things. Work on the right things.

Yeah, that seems sensible!

Well, that's the difference between strategy and tactics. Yeah, strategy is what are you trying to accomplish? And tactics are how do you accomplish that? So let's say that one more time strategy is what are you trying to accomplish? Tactics or how do you do it? So your strategy should be linked with the business strategy and then the things that you actually choose to do should again waterfall down business strategy, people strategy. You know people's priorities and initiatives.

Yeah, that's pretty clear to me, but something also that I've seen and now I work in marketing as you know. A lot of times. Landing is a lot more simple to do than execution. You know, sometimes you just you just don't know exactly how you're going to do it. You have a general idea. This is what we're going to do, and it looks nice on paper. But then when you go after the execution, you realize that. That you don't. You either don't have the resources or you don't know how to do it. How do you fix that? You know it's just becoming self aware of before building a strategy to also know how you're going to deliver that strategy. How would you go about that?

Yeah, I think as you work your way through that waterfall. What are the organizational goals and priorities? What are your people goals and priorities? And then how will you go attack them with your initiatives? I think there's a necessary time and resourcing evaluation. If you're a tiny organization. Or you have limited funds. Most most companies have limited funds. Unless you're a super Unicorn, incredibly well backed. You'll need to make some choices about what can you do and what time frame, so there's a little bit of a reality check. And hey, it's used. There's value in evaluating how you're doing. Are we tracking to the goals and timelines that we hoped for? And if not, maybe we edit a little bit.

So there should always be a reality check and a resource allocation. A tied to whatever those goals, priorities and initiatives are. Yeah no, I get that. OK. Are there any common challenges that you've seen around? You know people strategy and trying to set up an effective people strategy. I guess the first main challenge challenge is no alignment between what the HR wants to do and the company wants to do as an organization. I guess that's the first one, but are there others that you see that sometimes become a challenge to develop a successful people strategy? Yeah, quite a few, and even further upstream. You know alignment is key, but I'd put that kind of second on my list first on the list is have a plan. Have a people strategy, write it down.

80-90% of HR leaders don't have a documented. List of what they're working on and why. OK, so start with documenting. You know it could be one page one. It doesn't have to be complicated. What are the most important things that you're working on for whatever period of time, year, quarter or whatever? So right it down, have a plan. Number two is ensure that plan is aligned. With the organization goals and priorities and #3 is communicate the heck out of it. You know, ensure that your team knows what they need to do. You know if you're even if you have a small HR function, ensure that everybody knows what they're doing. You know, ensure that they're good status and progress checks. Ensure that your internal stakeholders, the other business leaders are aware of what you're working on. Yeah, those are. Those are the most common issues and where where you fall into traps are where you try to take on too much. You can move 30 things an inch or you can move three things a mile.

So ruthlessly prioritizing what you'll take on is essential to success in an HR leadership role. There's always going to be something else that you can do, or that somebody's asking for, and so staying true to those goals and priorities will help you ensure that you're working on the most important things that are the most impactful.

All right, yeah, that's very good advice. Do you think there also needs to be there, some kind of very narrow connection between HR and the managers of each department to understand also where they want to move in terms of their business goals or their department goals. That connection needs to be very close.

Yes, because if HR is on their own side of things, trying to build this strategy without including not only the top management would also like the intermediate management levels of the company and all departments to see where they also want to go.

Make things more complicated, right? Yeah, I'd say there's there's something to the concept of what is your HR department here to do? Meaning, if your HR department exists to keep you out of jail and make sure everybody is paid properly, you're administrative and compliance oriented. And so you know, go those HR departments tend to, you know, go sit in the corner and do their own thing, and people tolerate them. And they're nice to them. And they're they're very. Yeah, they they're not really in the mix in the business. But if your HR department operates like a management consultancy, if you're Bain, McKinsey, Booz Allen and you're expert at setting goals and priorities.

And so this is where I've spent a lot of my career is, I find myself helping the CEO set goals for the organization. I find myself working with the department heads and functional heads setting goals for their organization. So you become the. The goal and priority expert that helps the rest of the organization get their act together. And if you're engaging in that way with the organization boy, you are just in the mix with everything and adding tremendous value where you know leading the marketing function.

The marketing leader may be great at marketing. But how great is that person at planning and prioritizing and communicating and aligning their team with all the things that they need to do? That's the role of HR. That is one of the highest and best roles of HR. that's often under attended to.

Do you think that the administrative administrative HR that you spoke about? Don't you think that of an almost extinct, those kind of HR departments? So they're still around? And if you believe there's still a place for them in 2022? I think those are necessary functions, right? You don't within an HR department or as a strategy for an HR department, you know what I'm asking here.

Yeah, I think. Not think, I know I've seen this in a bunch of cases. Yeah, many organizations. Center the planning. Alignment communication in a chief of staff role or in a CEO role or expect the CEO to do it themselves. It's usually under resourced under attended to. When there isn't a functional expert that is. Focused on that, all that sort of stuff all the time. So that those highest and best uses of a strategic HR department. That work still happens somewhere if it's not in HR.

Many HR organizations I find are sheep in wolves clothing. So there I just made this up on the spot so it's dangerous. They may find themselves being tactical, administrative, bureaucratic, operational in essence. But call themselves strategic and say that have a seat at the table without really making those connections or doing that work. See, I think many people would say that the administrative HR function is largely extinct and and people and companies have moved past it. But I think in reality. That's still, that's not true.

Alright, but do you think the move is going towards that towards a more strategic kind of HR department?

Well, I think there needs to be more awareness of the need and the opportunity. I think there needs to be more skill building conscious active skill building by HR leaders. A lot of HR leaders still fall into this function. They got here from some other ave and haven't studied it, and they're great project managers and smart people that work hard that are good with people, but like what is the work and and how are you preparing yourself to do that work? That's why I wrote the book. That's why I have an executive education program helping HR leaders elevate and understand what that strategic work is. So I think a lot of us enter this field underprepared. And the business leaders don't know what good looks like coming out of our function. Yeah, so to show them what good looks like we need to know at first. Yeah, and I guess that happens with a lot of other positions in the organization and and leaders don't need. Yeah they need to lead and to have a vision and whatever. They don't need to know the specifics about some of the positions. That's why they hire people for it, right? Yeah, and this type of work, I think a lot of business leaders are uncomfortable delegating planning.

Strategy goal setting. And you should. You should never fully delegate it, but boy, it's powerful. If you have someone on your team who's driving that work, who's focused on it and actually to your earlier question evo like where where does. Where's the shift here? I've seen a lot of non HR. Leaders hired to head the function. McKinsey Consultants hired to be the head of HR. That don't have an HR background because the HR team is not growing their own effectively enough. If we if we become technical experts, knowing all the tax laws and all the payroll laws and all the law laws about you know overtime eligibility and so on, great. That's valuable.

But those are not the most valuable skills in the C-Suite. The csuite skills are strategy and and that's where a lot of organizations are turning outside the HR function to go find a functional head.

Yeah, I see. That all right. Let's talk a bit about workforce and succession planning. I wanted to talk about this with you because it is a part of I guess of people strategy we here at FourVision. We have developed technology for to assist with those processes, but what do you think? Is it important in the overall people strategy, workforce and succession planning? Do you think leaders really understand what these? What these means? What these processes mean? Because I again seem very succession planning. What is this? What are the skills now that I have? What are the skills that I'm going to need in the future? It seems hard to grasp.

Yeah, I think. I think there's. A fear of some of these ambiguous big company terms. Workforce planning. Oh my good succession planning. Do you know we have 100 people? Do we really need that? Yeah, and and these these processes or this type of planning work doesn't need to be complicated. It's as complicated as you make it. And boy I would generally suggest be just enough detailed on this work. Like tend towards not quite detailed enough. Otherwise you find yourself in the throes of the planning work for far too long and you know the opportunities passed you by so. Back to your question of. Workforce planning and succession planning. Especially workforce planning.

Let's define that workforce planning is: identifying how many people are doing what, you need when, and back in the good old days it used to be where as well yeah, so now we're kind of all over the place. But how many people doing what what? It's that simple. So working with your functional heads, your department heads, your business leaders. Maybe you're a small business and the leader does it themselves. Give it your best guess. Give it your best estimate and as the situation changes, change your plan. So try to identify how many people you need. Where doing what and that is critical to just about any business, because just about any business. Their largest cost for one of their top three largest costs is payroll and headcount and the facilities to support them, so you know it gives you a handle on your costs for your budgeting, and if the HR department doesn't do it, your finance department is going to do it for you, and you're going to be left out in the cold.

So yeah, so you really want to be driving that work. Partnering with Finance and FP&A financial planning analysis. If you're at a company with any size or scale, there's somebody that you can work with there and it can be as simple as having building a common template couple of different rows and columns. How many people do we have now? What's their turnover rate? Are we going to grow or not? And you know you spit out a very, very simple.

Relation of here's how many people we need to hire it can be that simple, and that allows you to do the budgeting. So for just about any company, workforce planning is something that is valuable and necessary, and it happens one way or another. Whether it's in HR or not. Yeah. Succession planning. Yeah, there's I. I think that it's a little bit like insurance so you, you hope you never have to use your insurance. You hope you never get into a car crash and you need to use your car insurance to repair your car. You hope you never need to, you know, use your succession plan.

If somebody wins, the lottery leaves the company retires early. It is caught doing something. You know inappropriate and you don't want them to work there anymore. I'd actually suggest that. Maybe more important than a slight twist on succession planning is talent planning. OK, and so that's evaluating your most critical leaders or most critical roles. Like maybe it's a highly technical person. That isn't a department head. And how are they doing it? You know, give it a stop light assessment. Red light, yellow light, green light. This person's doing great this person's not doing great and constantly looking at your organization to figure out how can we optimize.

Is this role overburdened and can't possibly keep up with everything but the person's? Great. Well, then, maybe we need to split. Is this marketing function growing so fast in new areas where we need to add ahead or we need somebody more senior that's seen different things at a different size and scale? So the talent planning is more of an assessment of what you have and then that helps you move into workforce planning, which is what do we need? So what do you have? What do we need? And those are two of the most I think valuable and most basic functions of the HR department, I think you naturally went to be towards more towards what I was asking with.

Or what does that what was I intending to ask with succession planning which is mostly the ties to performance management. Not exactly like finding the people that will replace the ones that will leave, but finding the career paths for people you know like these people probably is performing really well. She or he will move to another position so we need to finding the team who is performing well to succeed to that to that person.

It was more on that area and I think you agree with me that's maybe the talent management that you were speaking about, right? Yeah, again, we and HR get stuck quibbling about terminology. But yeah to simplify it as much as possible: Workforce planning is how many people you need doing what when. And talent planning is how is my current team doing and what are some upgrade add or replacement opportunities?

Yeah. All right, let's ask you a question about HR technology. I'm just interested to know how do you see the role of HR of HR technology. Companies that have all sorts of tools for anything about anything in internal chatting and and leave an absence and performance management and all that. How do you see the role of HR technology in empowering more efficient people strategies?

Yeah well... Hey, I'm located out here in the San Francisco Bay area. Silicon Valley Tech hub I consult and advise and I'm an Angel investor and a you know, a handful of HR tech organizations. All that said, I'm fairly cynical about the role of HR technologies. I think they'll tell me about, tell me about it. Yeah, there's just this tremendous number of bright shiny objects floating around where HR leaders are trying to be more strategic by paying for the next tool. Or they see some flashing new thing and that's the solution that's looking for a problem. And they're not following that waterfall process of what does our organization really need right now, and what are the things that I'm going to use.

So I think there are a lot of solutions that are searching for a problem. Time. I see this proliferation. Of platforms where companies with. 100 people 150 people will have nine different HR technologies that they're using. Which is unworkable for most workforces. It just doesn't make sense. That said. If you can make the. And didn't work. Easier to do and more accessible. There's real value in it, right.

So you know a core HCM or HRIS is a core place where you know employee data is accurate that's important. There are different performance management solutions or a different workforce planning solutions. Your organization does one. Different survey solutions, I would just really strongly encourage any leaders with any budget to start with. What's most important to us and do we really need something to automate? If you're automating something that doesn't work, then it's worse than useless. It just absorbs time and money that you could be spending doing something else.

Yeah, so your issue or it's not really related to the technology itself, it's the use of it right? It's people understanding or trying to make an effort to understand. Like if this is really valuable or we just doing it just to have the last latest shining object, right? But well, said much more succinctly than I just did. All right, good. All right we are getting towards the end of this conversation, I just wanna take a look with you into into the future into.

What do you foresee as the biggest trends in HR? And looking into these trends or whatever you see in the future of HR? Taking into consideration the most recent trend, the great resignation. The fact that there are a lot of people fleeing out of companies and how? How do you keep those people? Or do you attract these people back again if you lost them, you know. Let's explore a bit that the vision for the future that you have with this in mind.

Yeah, I see worker mobility continuing to be very high. As more. Dispersed remote work becomes available. And as access to job postings like once Upon a time job postings used to be in your local newspaper. Yep, that's a long time ago, but I'm old enough in this function to remember that or there's signs outside of an employers window. Now they're online. And if they're remote, you can access those job postings anywhere. And you can work from anywhere, and so the range of. Jobs that any individual worker could go work at has been exponentially increased, which means competition for talent has been exponentially increased. On the other hand, employers can access people all over the place too. Yep, so I think what that means is there's going to be more mobility because there are more more choices, more options. If a company wants to change a worker out, they can go replace that worker. More easily in some cases, and often at a lower cost. If an employee is not happy they have hundreds of opportunities that they could go access online tomorrow in a remote work context, so I think that's just...

Mobility will continue. Yeah, competition will continue. I think remote work. Will continue to advance those employers that have resisted for reasons that. Are are not core to the business operation like if you have a retail store, somebody's going to be there to run the cash register or to stock the shelves. Or if you're in a manufacturing industry, somebody's got to like pull the lever or push the button to you know produce the materials or move it around. But most corporate SG and a jobs can be anywhere and I think more and more organizations are going to be forced to accept that most work can be remote.

Yeah, so I just see those trends continuing and commercial office space will shrink. Because companies don't need to pay for that very expensive outlay of office space, that right now is going mostly empty. Yeah, and we've seen some resistance. I think from from some employers on that and making people go back to the office like full time and and that's OK. I don't have a problem with that. But you said people will be forced to think about this and I agree. Actually with that assessment. I think it's inevitable that you know it's not. It's not coming back, it's not turning back, you you think? I think some. Employers that will continue to hold on to you know, work locally, you know, come to a hub and I think they will have higher costs and a longer time to fill.

It'll just be more difficult for them to operate. And that'll be a competitive disadvantage that they're under for some ambiguous benefits around how much more productive is somebody, really? there has been zero evidence that I've seen, and I've been poking around for it. The workers are actually more productive in the office. So I think I think just the competitive landscape will force more employers to be more flexible on remote work. All right?

OK, one last thing, before I let you go. Just want you to give us kind of. 2-3 tips to start your people strategy. To start having a people strategy today if you can. If you want to know more. If you're listening, maybe you can have the scaling for success book from Andrew, but right now it's gonna give you. It's gonna give us 3 tips if you don't mind and to start your people strategy today. What do you have to say there?

Love it. Well starts with number one. Have a plan, write something down, whatever it is and that at least allows you to start to edit and. And get some feedback

Number 2. Ensure that plan is aligned with the most important goals and priorities of your organization. And #3. I think generally be brilliant at the basics. Don't chase the bright shiny objects of whatever new tech tool or whatever hot new practice you've read about. On Apple News, you know the work doesn't have to be complicated. Stay really focused and ruthlessly prioritized, so have a plan. Make it aligned. Prioritize ruthlessly. That's how you. That's how you have an effective people strategy actually wrote. I wrote a guide on this, there's a. 40 page workbook with samples and templates and further reading if if people would value it that's available out on my people leader Accelerator website. It's intended to help an HR professional, whether you're the head of the function or a couple layers down, figure out what people's strategy really looks like and build one for your org. Go down, download the workbook on

Alright, just share. Share with me the link after this and I'll put it on the on the description of the episode. Andrew, thank you so much for your time today. It was a really insightful conversation. I learned a lot. I really enjoyed it. I hope you did too.

Absolutely yeah, thanks so much for having me no problem. Thank you so much Andrew once again. For people listening. Thank you for being on that side and we'll see you next time.

HR Vision Podcast Episode 40 ft. Andrew Bartlow

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