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Are you ready for 2021? What to consider when creating a 2021 People Plan

Are You Ready for 2021? Creating a People Plan

It is vital to put 2020 behind us and look positively to the future. Planning how you will rebuild your business and become successful in 2021 relies heavily on having an effective people strategy. In this hot topic, we look at creating a 2021 people plan so you can achieve success through your people.

Responding to new challenges and opportunities

2021 will see us continue to respond to the pandemic, as well as adapt to new ways of operating because of having left the EU.  Whilst there are challenges, there can also be opportunities that positively impact the organisation.  Having a business strategy which addresses both challenges and opportunities will be key, and from this, setting out how you will achieve success through your people will be essential.

Business Plan

2020 has been the most difficult trading year, worldwide.  With national and localised lockdowns, and many businesses operating in a stop, start fashion.   2021 will therefore be about rebuilding and becoming stronger, and to do so, having a clearly articulated business plan will be key.

Developing a business strategy requires careful consideration of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats so that success can be defined.  Carrying out the analysis will best determine the future direction of the business and is the basis for how you achieve success through your people.

People Plan

You cannot have a business plan without a people plan and vice versa; they go hand in hand.   Having a clearly articulated people plan will have a positive and direct impact on how the company delivers and achieves its goals.  A clearly defined people plan will ensure you have the right structure, resource, and skills in place to be able to deliver on the business plan.

When creating a people plan, the priority is to fully understand the needs of the business for the year ahead and the goals that have been set.  Examining the strengths and weaknesses from a human resource perspective is necessary before considering where the opportunities and threats lie.  From there, taking the whole employment lifecycle will be a good approach to methodically identifying how you can achieve success through people.  This hot topic therefore looks at the employment lifecycle and how a people plan can be devised around it.

Organisational Structure

This part of the planning should focus on ensuring you have the right organisational structure in place to deliver on the objectives.  We are seeing changing customer needs because of Covid-19, as well as a need to do business differently, with an even greater focus on technology.  Having a deep understanding of what your organisation needs to do to be successful in 2021 will depend on whether the structure is fit for purpose given the external challenges.  So, having your 2021 business goals in mind; consider the following questions regarding your people:

  • Are there any roles in the current structure carrying out activities that are better suited elsewhere?
  • Are any of the roles over stretched and/or are there roles underutilised?
  • Do you have enough resource to be able to accomplish the work or are you over resourced?
  • Do existing reporting lines ensure efficient ways of working or are there any roles better suited under the responsibility elsewhere in the business?
  • Do you have the right skills in the right job roles?
  • Do you have sufficient flexibility within the workforce to be able to adapt quickly?
  • Are there any skill gaps in the existing structure? If so, to what extent is the gap?
  • Have you considered what roles you will need in the future and what may be needed by way of succession planning?
  • Are there any functions that could be brought in from outside?
  • Do you anticipate recruiting from outside the UK?

Possible actions available:

  1. Restructuring the business to ensure it is aligned to 2021 business needs, challenges, and opportunities ahead. Restructuring may or may not include a need for carrying out redundancies
  2. Outsourcing to make cost efficiencies and to buy in expertise
  3. Upskilling existing workforce
  4. Adopting a temporary 4-day operating week
  5. Review job descriptions and competencies
  6. Conduct performance reviews to identify untapped skills
  7. Identify roles and the extent to which they may be worked flexibly, or remotely on a more permanent basis
  8. Identify clear development paths within the structure that enables growth from within as well as act as a tool for employee engagement.
Recruitment and Attraction

If you have identified the need for additional resource, then you should factor into your planning the opportunities and challenges that may be relevant to your business, especially as recruitment has been impacted significantly with the UK leaving the EU.


  • Utilising social media, such as LinkedIn to attract new recruits; this can be cost effective as well as enabling you to act quickly when you need to respond fast in the pandemic.
  • You are likely to be searching a much wider talent pool due to the high unemployment levels and you may have to compete for the best candidate with your competitor. Given this, consider the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) that your organisation can offer.

An EVP is the unique set of benefits that an employee receives in return for the skills, capabilities and experiences they bring to the organisation.  The ability to accurately define your own organisations’ EVP can enable you to effectively attract the best talent but also help you to retain the best.

  • Now could be the opportunity to seek new recruits on flexible arrangements, enabling you to operate in a more agile way during the pandemic and maybe beyond. For instance, consider not only how the hours for the vacant role are to be worked, but also, what is the best type of contract to use for your business.  Using fixed term contracts help if you are unable to commit to longer term work.  Annualised contracts help if you can predict quiet and busy periods for the business and therefore have resource in place at the right time.  Using term time contracts will give you access to more candidates by widening the recruitment pool encouraging working parents and disabled applicants to apply.  It will also encourage the workplace to become more diverse.
  • Consider if making use of Kickstart placements could be an attractive option for you, as the Government will fund the creation of these roles. Alternatively, consider bringing in apprenticeships, where again, you can receive financial support from the government.
  • It costs to recruit; and recruitment costs will increase even more so if you recruit from outside the UK as all employers must now become a Home Office sponsor to be able to recruit from the EU as well as the rest of the world. Budgeting costs will be important as well as review recruitment processes.

Retaining employees in 2021 will be key.  Employee retention leads to greater employee knowledge, skills and experience and provides stability.  All of which will help drive the business forward and rebuild.

If you anticipate a need to recruit in 2021, then consider whether your current induction and onboarding processes are fit for purpose.  Research carried out by CV-Library back in 2017 reported that 22% of new recruits left a job during or at the end of their probation period, with the main reason due to the role not being as expected.

Having clear job descriptions and a clear onboarding plan with a clear overview of what is expected of your new starter in their role is essential for their level of engagement as well as keeping them challenged.  All of which will ultimately lead to job satisfaction.

Employee Development

There is a clear correlation between the performance of your employees and the performance of your business.  In a recent SME survey, which we carried out in partnership with Deloitte, we found that 50% of respondents felt that employee development would present the biggest challenge to their business in the next 12 months.  It has been nearly 12 months that we have been in the pandemic and we have seen a move to home working and the ending of traditional training methods.  Employees have naturally suffered as a result in terms of their development.

Training and investing in your workforce may feel like an unnecessary expense when the UK is in a recession, but it will be essential to boosting productivity and retaining loyal employees and rebuilding your business.

Effective training and continued professional development (CPD) lead to effective performance and a workforce that can take on new challenges and changes.  Training and development can also act as a great motivator, helping reduce staff turnover, which will be key this year, as well as being a good attraction offering when recruiting.

Furthermore, by having clear development paths and succession planning in place, it can help your workforce to grow and develop and drive employee engagement.

For training to be effective and add value, it must align to the overall business plan.  When reviewing your 2021 training needs, consider:

  • Will there be any new products or services launched in 2021?
  • Do you want to enter new markets or seek new clients?
  • Are you introducing new technology, equipment or working practices?
  • Is there any legislation coming in that affects your industry or employment in general?
  • Do you need to recruit more people, or do you anticipate a need to reduce headcount?
  • Is your business regulated and therefore do you need to upskill to maintain compliance to any business standards?

Once you have considered the direction your business is heading in, consider how training will be delivered, especially as social distancing is likely to be with us for some time.

  • How can you make best use of e-learning, will e-learning work on its own or will you need to supplement it with other types of training?
  • Some training may only be suitable to a classroom set up, such as Health and Safety practical courses, but it will mean finding a suitable training course that delivers the training in a Covid-19 secure way.
  • How can you deliver classroom training virtually?

As part of your planning, you will also need to consider how you can bridge the development gap that will have materialised since the start of the pandemic.

Employee Pay and Reward

Pay and reward is an essential part of the employment relationship.  In your people planning, consider whether your pay and reward structure is appropriate and fit for purpose going into 2021.  Having the right reward package helps to attract, retain, and motivate the right calibre of employee.

Retaining your employees is going to be key for rebuilding your business as you need stability as well as benefiting from having a workforce that holds a great amount of business knowledge and experience.

If you are anticipating recruitment in 2021, then it will be important to be aware of what your competitors offer.  Benchmarking is an excellent way of evaluating your reward package to see how you compare with other organisations.  This data can then be helpful in reviewing what you currently offer.

In terms of employee benefits, we expect benefits such as income protection, health insurance, life insurance and increased holiday, to be sought after.  The psychological impact of Covid-19 has been significant and perhaps the last 6 months have reminded people of the importance and need to safeguard their future and finances for themselves and their family.

Building a benefit offering that includes these benefits is therefore likely to lead to a high impact on morale, help retain your staff as well as prove to be a selling point when recruiting.

Employee Relations

Employee relations is about the relationship between employer and employee.  This can be either individual workplace relationships between an employee and the employer or a collective workplace relationship, typically derived from a unionised environment or one which has information and consultation forums.

How you communicate with and involve employees in work matters is key for maintaining good work relationships.  Poor relations lead to conflict, which in turn can lead to grievances and even resignations and employment tribunals, so maintaining a healthy employee relations environment is vital to ensuring business success.

Covid-19 has increased the potential for workplace conflict.  For the organisation, it will likely be under extreme pressure to not only survive but also to meet the stringent health and safety requirements identified to help protect against the risks associated with the virus.  For employees, there are the challenges that come from caring responsibilities, increased work demands as well as the psychological impact the that the pandemic has on families, individuals, and mental health.  It therefore makes it even more so important to consult and communicate with employees regularly, to ensure that people’s views are taken on board.

If you identify that the employee relations environment needs to be part of your 2021 People Plan, then consideration could be given to:

  • Offer multiple, confidential reporting channels to your employees
  • Facilitate a trustworthy open-door approach
  • Give your employees access to anonymous reporting
  • Consider whether introducing, or re-drawing attention to, an Employee Assistance Programme can help drive a better employee relations environment
  • Consider team dynamics and where there are challenges, look at team building measures to improve and develop the team and alleviate any conflict.
Looking after your people

Given the past year and continued anxiety surrounding the pandemic, looking after your people in 2021 should be core to your people plan.   According to Mind, the charity for mental health, they report that some of the feelings people have reported to them during the pandemic include feelings of isolation, unsupported, scared, tired, and low.

For employers, it is important to recognise that these feelings are serious and real to the individual and having a range of support measures will help them to regain an effective work life balance and provide reassurances about returning/remaining in the workplace.  Having an engaged and well supported workforce will help the business to move forward and rebuild.

Build into your people plan how you will focus on the wellbeing of your employees, because even though there is optimism with now having a vaccine, it will continue to be very difficult for people whilst the programme is rolled out.  Some things to consider:

  • Introducing mental health first aiders in the workplace
  • Reviewing your existing Employee Assistance Programme to ensure it remains fit for purpose/or if no provision in place, consider implementing
  • Look at the way in which your organisation communicates with its employees and adapt as necessary, ensuring regular open communication is at the heart of any communication strategy
  • Review your current offering in terms of sick pay and associated benefits, such as income protection schemes.
New ways of working

It is inevitable that the world of work will have to change in response to Covid-19. We are already needing to change the physical set up of our workspace, but what do we need to do more broadly post Covid-19 to retain competitive advantage and come out of this unprecedented period more successful?

Whilst many people are still employed in traditional full-time jobs with one employer, exploring how the business can utilise technology and create a more atypical form of workplace may allow businesses to respond to the Covid-19 in a way that means they can become more competitive and successful.  It is likely that because of the pandemic, we will see new ways of working being adopted.  Consideration could therefore be given to:

  • Carry out a job analysis in which to gather information about the organisations job roles to be able to identify refining roles making them more efficient and how they can utilise technology further. Job analysis collects information about duties, responsibilities, necessary skills, outcomes and looks at the work environment.
  • Undertake a review of how the organisation can become more flexible through its people by reviewing the types of contracts of employment in use and whether you can become a more flexible environment for existing staff by encouraging and welcoming flexible working applications.
  • Types of contracts that could be considered include fixed term, for work where you are unable to commit long term, annualised hours for those roles where the work is sporadic throughout the year and you want a more efficient way of managing your resource, part time working including term time enabling you to have set periods of cover during the year.
  • Consider whether the organisation will benefit from cross training the workforce to make it more adaptable and flexible to respond to challenging and changing customer needs. Not only will it make you quicker to adapt to current external challenges, but it can build better collaboration, improve efficiency and lead to improved employee motivation.
Diversity and Inclusion

Examining your working practices to allow it to become more flexible also presents an opportunity for the organisation to become more diverse and inclusive.  Having a more diverse workforce not only enables you to have more diverse views and ideas amongst the workforce, but it can lead to increased creativity and productivity.

A 2018 report by the Equality Commission (Is Britain Fairer) found that only 1 in 10 FTSE 100 executive directors is a woman and that around 42% of women in employment are part time compared with just 13% of men.  So, apart from the legal case for managing a flexible workforce and recruiting for more flexible roles, the company can not only avoid discrimination claims, but there is also the moral case of ensuring the organisation builds a diverse and inclusive workplace for all, regardless of gender.

Ways in which you could build a more diverse and inclusive workforce:

  • Review recruitment practices to ensure that any bias or discrimination can be eliminated. This could include blind screening of applications, so the application is based purely on skills and experience, standardise recruitment processes and structured skill-based interviewing questions.
  • Review your recruitment sources to ensure you advertise in a wide range of mediums to reach out to a diverse group as possible.
  • Mandatory diversity training for everyone who is involved in your organisation’s recruitment.
Leaving Employment

If retaining employees is a challenge either for your sector, or your business itself, then exit interviews are a valuable tool to help an organisation to understand more about the reasons for why people leave.  The data that comes from the exit interview provides an insight from the employee’s perspective, about what works well in the business, and where there may be challenges.

Formulating a People Plan

A people plan focuses on setting out your vision for the organisation and its people for the year ahead to address the company’s most pressing challenges.  It is important that it integrates with the organisation’s business plan for 2021.

For example, if you have relied heavily on the past on recruiting EU nationals, then with the changes to recruitment practices following Brexit, this will no doubt be high on the agenda for how the company addresses this challenge in 2021.

As we continue in the pandemic and continue to work remotely, it may be the business needs to explore further opportunities to make working processes more efficient through technology.  In this case, not only will the business have to manage the practical implementation, but from a people perspective the HR function will need to consider what training is required; which roles are affected; and whether the introduction of new technology and skill sets leads to a business case for reviewing pay.  Here is an example format in which you can map out key people activities.


Business Objective:

Insert relevant business objective

People Objective

Insert SMART objective that will align to the above business objective


No. Key constraints, risks, and opportunities What we plan to do Owner Timescale (start/finish) Status
1 Responding to Covid-19
2 Skill shortages
3 Address the impact of deteriorating employee wellbeing
4 Review current recruitment practices considering Brexit, including resourcing needs via overseas nationals
5 Succession planning to focus on internal growth and development aligned to company goals and objectives

HR, Health & Safety Support

HR Solutions are here to provide businesses and employers with support and advice on any employment related issues; to find out more contact us online or call us on 0844 324 5840.

You can also view the following the resources for further guidance:

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