Do You Have a People Strategy?

Warren Buffett quoteLately, there’s been a steady flow of online talk and articles about what skills GIS professionals need to navigate today’s business climate, and how tech workers in general can ride the employment roller coaster.

Those articles are directed to individuals, the ones who feel like knowing CPR isn’t enough to guarantee a good outcome in a scary situation. But the last five years have seen major technology-enabled shifts in expectations, and these have had a huge impact on organizations and their leadership. Lots of organizations are looking for ways not only to meet the new expectations, but also create new products and services and reach new customers.

Grow Your People, Grow Your Business

In their 2012 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement study, the Society for Human Resource Management says developing employees is an important way to increase job satisfaction and reduce staff turnover. Higher job satisfaction is associated with increased productivity, lower turnover, and higher customer satisfaction.

Despite the amazing technology that permeates modern life, humans remain indispensable. As far as I know, no gadget has yet invented a new gadget. No computer has ever created a web map all by itself, contributed to a white paper, or put together slides for an executive presentation (although Watson may be honing his animation skills as you read this).

Organizations who pay attention to motivating and retaining employees have leaders who understand people are their most important asset—the employees who execute day-to-day operations, engage with customers, and come up with new ideas that move the business forward.

In Esri Training Services, we’ve been preaching the value of staff development for a while. Note that staff development includes but is not training. It’s not about soft skills, learning how to chain together clicks to complete a task, or even adopting a programming toolkit to be more efficient. Fundamentally, staff development is a people-centric approach to achieving strategic business goals.

Like anything, to be done well staff development requires planning. The planning should encompass support for known projects and initiatives but, more importantly, help prepare staff to execute the unknown ones. Because Ben had it right: in the world nothing is certain except death and taxes. Or, as we say in the modern era, change is coming whether you like it or not.

Staff Development Planning Process

Here’s a high-level overview of the planning process we use when engaging with our customers. For the detailed process, check out this recording of our popular EsriUC presentation or contact us at

Components of the align phase of GIS staff development planningThe planning process starts with strategic alignment. By directly connecting staff development with achievement of strategic goals, you earn executive buy-in (and budget approval).

During this phase, we identify strategic business goals, which are often articulated in the organization’s mission statement. Next, we learn how the organization’s GIS program supports the strategic goals and which staff roles are involved with creating, managing, and using the GIS infrastructure and applications.

  • What are the organization’s strategic business goals?
  • How do GIS applications support the strategic goals?
  • What GIS roles are in place to support the applications that support the strategic goals?

Components of the analyze phase of GIS staff development planning

Next, we analyze which educational resources and delivery methods are most appropriate for the GIS roles. Timelines, priorities, and budget are discussed and documented in a staff development plan.

  • What knowledge and skills are required for each role?
  • Based on current and future plans, what are the staff development priorities?
  • What resources are available to develop the required knowledge and skills?
  • What’s the budget?

Components of the act phase of GIS staff development planning process

Once the plan is documented, managers execute it. It’s important to periodically review progress and the plan itself. If a key staff member retires or switches roles, a new role is created, or a new technology component is introduced, the plan can be modified. It’s critical to ensure that over time the plan stays aligned with the strategic goals and adjustments are made as needed. If that doesn’t happen, the plan becomes irrelevant.

  • How are things going?
  • Does the plan need to be modified?
  • Is the plan still relevant?

So what are the outcomes of this planning process? Explicit outcomes are people developing the right skills at the right time, with an approved budget in place. With the needed knowledge and skills in place, day-to-day operations are performed more efficiently and projects are completed successfully. Just as important, managers are able to document how their team functions as a strategic asset, organizational leaders understand the strategic value of the GIS program, and employees feel valued and excited about contributing to new projects. Complaints about the breakroom coffee finally become a thing of the past (well, ideally).


About SuzanneB

Suzanne is a Maryland native with a degree in English Literature who enjoys writing about Esri technology and other topics. She works with Esri Training Services in Redlands, California.
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