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Using SOAR to develop People Strategy for High Street Retail


Situation: Change on the High Street

Despite being only two years into a three-year cycle, the People and Customer Director was concerned that their existing People Strategy was losing pace with the changes going on in retail.

The company was posting solid long-term performance, but wanted to ensure that they were ready to deal with the a variety of upcoming challenges: Rapid social change; digitialisation, automation and AI; multi-generation workforces; and the changing expectations of consumers and employees that these brought.

Our brief was to help develop a People Strategy, with a leaning towards culture, that would address these challenges. It was important to the client to involve the full people (HR) leadership team. Across two brands, that meant 16 people.

Approach: SOAR – Strategy and Appreciative Inquiry

We developed the strategy in in two main steps.

Step 1: Current Context to Aspirations

After some initial information gathering and preparation, we held an off-site that included the full People Leadership Team. We started by focusing on the  future of retail, customer landscape, and the group business strategy.

Then we facilitated a SOAR analysis (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results), generating 6 areas of focus and an aspirational objective for each. SOAR is based on Appreciative Inquiry and therefore seeks to focus on and maximise the strengths of the organisation.

Because  didn’t want to constrain the thinking of the team at this stage we deliberately avoided structuring these themes around the HR process. The themes generated were:

  • Organisational flexibility / agility
  • Collaboration
  • Innovation
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Wellbeing
  • Digital Skills 

Step 2: Breaking into goals and initiatives

In the second step we helped the client team to weave the themes into their ‘people pillars’, based around the employee lifecycle, that drove the structure of the HR team,. We did this to ensure clear accountability and to aid stakeholder engagement (because a lot of effort had already gone into communicating the HR structure).

We facilitated a process to describe the intersections between the people pillars and strategic themes, challenging the thinking of the owners to think broadly and differently. We were able start the process remotely using collaboration tools, and generated around thirty draft sub-goals.

At a second off-site the team reviewed these sub-goals, whittling them down to twenty across six HR areas, then developed measures and key initiatives.


Result: Alignment, future-fit and confidence

The strategy development process generated one overarching statement of ambition for the People team, six strategic objectives and twenty sub-objectives. These had clear ownership  and, thanks to the high involvement of the team,  a strong collective belief in and commitment to them. We left the people leadership team feeling energised and confident that they had the clarity, alignment to the business priorities, and focus required to address the challenges posed by the future of retail.

“The outcome is a people strategy which is fit for the future, fits the needs of the business and delivers for our people; I’m excited to see the results we deliver” – People Director



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