People are business's most important asset. Most leaders in business agree on this fundamental truth. Microsoft recently conducted a survey of UK companies through PriceWaterhouseCoopers and, unprompted, 78% of leaders reaffirmed the proposition. It is people who innovate, it is employees who develop relationships, it is staff that sell, service and find new ways to improve efficiency and productivity.
In a world where intangibles constitute more than three-quarters of the total market value of companies, where the talent pool is shrinking and attitudes to work and the work/life balance are changing, any company with an inferior workforce is in for a hard time.
Given this background and context, it is imperative that a company's HR function and its infrastructure be geared up to attract, develop and retain the very best people. Two essential ingredients for this to happen are: the provision of tools and policies to ensure that a business gets the most out of talented people while making their working lives more rewarding; and to ensure that HR transforms itself from an internal police force into a dynamic, value-adding department primed to support the organisation's business objectives.
Increasingly, technology is playing a critical role in the working lives of every individual. Ensuring that your best people have the tools to do their job effectively and well brings better productivity and efficiency, of course, but it also creates a workforce able to innovate and engage with stakeholders at a higher level. With the right information at their fingertips, they can think about doing things better. This brings better service and product innovation into your business and a more rewarding experience for individuals. By making a firm a 'people-ready business' through the implementation of easy-to-use, integrated applications, organisations build a solid platform for staff loyalty and achievement.
Of course, technology alone will not create a people-ready business or ensure employee loyalty and reten- tion. To build on this foundation, an HR department must practise active talent management and not be viewed as either a cost centre or a complaints bureau.
As a UK organisation, Microsoft has been consistently rated one of the best places to work. We have created a working environment that attracts, develops and retains the best: our 'bad attrition rate' (ie, losing people whom we would rather have kept) runs at just 2.6% a year. But this is not about lauding Microsoft; it's about giving a context for some of the strategies that any UK company might consider as a means of retaining its talent in a highly competitive economy.
First, it's essential to create a 'destination workplace' - somewhere people want to come to, every day. The employee experience must satisfy the three key aspects of any person's individual working life: the physical, the emotional and the intellectual.
The physical can manifest itself in a variety of ways: creche facilities, a well-being centre, concierge services, flexible working policies and giving people great technology to work with. At Microsoft, we also have 'anarchy areas' where employees can play Xbox games or Fusbol. The emotional connection is achieved through regular stress-management surveys and implementations, again through a well-being centre and the introduction of flexible benefits packages that give employees a real choice. And, finally, the intellectual element: making sure that people have a challenging work environment, that their opinions are heard and acted on, that they have clear career paths and that their managers are tested regularly for their abilities.
If you agree that people are a business's most important asset but ignore what is needed in terms of tools, policies and action, you're unlikely to be running your business to its full potential. If that is the case, you and your shareholders should be very concerned.