8 Success Factors: Delivering a global People Strategy amidst a pandemic

UNDP People for 2030
6 min readApr 27, 2022

In 2019, UNDP introduced its people strategy — People for 2030. As an organization, we needed a people strategy that matches the commitment of every person who works for UNDP and attracts the very best talent for the future.

People for 2030 sets out to achieve a transformational change in our people culture and overhaul UNDP’s people management capabilities and systems, thereby helping the organization succeed in transforming itself into the leading development organization for the 21st century. Through consultations we identified nine strategic focus areas for a 3-year period (2019–2021). These focus areas included performance management, new contract modalities, rejuvenation of recruitment services and improvements in the diversity of our workforce.

UNDP is a global organization, with a personnel base of over 20,000 people, operating in over 150 countries with varying working cultures and challenges. Implementing a people strategy in a decentralized organization with a dynamic work environment, and at this scale, is a complex process. However, the magnitude of the complexity at hand was further compounded by the global pandemic. Despite the numerous challenges emerging from this situation, over 95% of the strategy recommendations have been achieved! Despite a complex and dynamic environment that became even more complex as the COVID 19 pandemic impacted the world, this successful implementation was only possible through People for 2030’s effective change management and leadership initiatives. The recently published Achievement Report outlines these successes and learnings from the implementations during Phase 1

In this blog we reflect on the 8 factors which have been central to achieving this system-wide change in the last three years.

Figure: 8 Success factors which have been central to achieving a system change in people management at UNDP
  1. Establish strong legitimacy from the beginning

While it is important that everyone in an organization understands why change is necessary, it is also crucial for everyone to be convinced that the change is something they want to support. To this end, strong endorsement from leaders representing different parts of UNDP from the outset not only helped communicate the Strategy’s larger vision and purpose, but also helped ensure that people across the organization believed in it.

“It all began with the first office retreat, where we hosted a team building exercise around People for 2030. Everyone was encouraged to brainstorm ideas for their designated focus area with ‘the sky is the limit’. As a result, people came up with some really extraordinary suggestions, many of which could lead to tangible results. I noticed the exercise had energized many of my colleagues who were now keen to help me implement these ideas.”

— Elvira Sheikhova, People Champion, UNDP Kazakhstan

2. Maintain sharp focus on implementation

A common weakness in executing organizational strategies is not taking daily actions to reach the desired goal, in particular seeking and acting on regular feedback. Therefore, it is imperative to lay out a path and outline the practical step-by-step actions that will advance the strategic priorities, in which everyone’s daily and weekly focus should be on the specific tasks they need to achieve to move the Strategy’s goals forward. The People for 2030 Sounding Board, along with a network of People Champions, and regular, direct communication with staff in Country Offices played a central role in providing meaningful feedback and advice on specific initiatives, enabling a vital link between the strategy and what was happening on the ground.

“I was really inspired when we received the email from the OHR Director in 2019 detailing the people strategy. His message that People for 2030 is not just an ‘HR strategy’, but an ‘organization strategy’, really resonated with me, as I believe that as we build towards the future, we need people who share the values and visions of the organization and come together to realise the same.”

— Sukhrob Khojimatov, People Champion, UNDP Turkey

3. Advance a holistic approach

There are many parts to the Strategy that need to be understood as a whole. Focusing on just one or two activities may show that a particular initiative works well, but the rest struggles. As a result, it was important to understand and implement all of the focus areas in a coordinated manner. By doing so, it was possible to deal with the root causes of more complex issues and construct an integrated system of talent management that is capable of delivering real change.

“The breadth of ideas in People for 2030 was both large and daunting but it had to capture everything otherwise we would not meet the vision of the programme. Talent reviews, recruitment, capability mapping and much more all rely upon a competency framework which truly represents the organization competencies both now and in the future, we could not transform the one without the other”

— Owen Edwards, Implementation Coordinator, People for 2030

4. Be flexible in dealing with unforeseen challenges

Implementation of change is an iterative process. Processes can change mid-course, and unforeseen issues or challenges — such as the COVID-19 pandemic — can arise. In such scenarios, original goals may need to shift. It has been important to be attentive, flexible, and willing to change or adapt plans, rather than blindly adhering to what was originally laid out.

“The pandemic made being agile a necessity, and thanks to the dedication of UNDP Personnel and their ability to be flexible, we were still able to deliver ”

— Owen Edwards, Implementation Coordinator, People for 2030

5. Ensure continuous engagement

In addition to communicating the People Strategy’s focus areas and building awareness of the implementation to keep everyone informed and motivated, there was a need to invest in driving engagement to ensure that personnel across Country Offices understand what initiatives mean for them in practice. This is especially important to maintain momentum while significant changes are being developed, and the benefits may not yet become apparent.

“One of my main efforts has been to ensure that my colleagues are aware of the People for 2030 initiatives so that they can make the most of them. I would like to highlight here that colleagues in both, the Dakar office as well as the sub-regional Hub, invested in understanding the initiatives under the strategy, considered them to be people-centered in their approach and therefore welcomed them.”

— Hawa Aw, People Champion, UNDP Senegal

6. Create plans grounded in available resources

While developing the implementation plan for strategic priorities, it has been important to ensure that priority activities are adequately resourced and have every opportunity to succeed. For this reason, legal and financial assurance was secured through the support of key Bureau leaders and stakeholders.

7. Build awareness of regional nuances to set the stage for effective implementation

UNDP’s Country Offices have a wealth of knowledge of how to administer changes. Therefore, engaging with Country Office leadership, personnel and the 150-strong People Champion network through various fora led to more broadly informed initiatives. Partnering closely with regional colleagues also presented an exceptional opportunity to build deeper understanding of recommendations and drive greater buy-in for changes.

8. Concentrate on employee and organizational outcomes

For each focus area, it has proved important to set clear and measurable outcome statements, to ensure that the people strategy is delivering for employee and organizational outcomes and not to simply focus on HR actions and capabilities.

At the end of the first phase, it is clear that huge strides have been made towards the implementation of this ambitious vision, resulting in tangible progress and visible changes. UNDP levels of staff engagement have reached the highest ever — 83%, with 90% of respondents to the 2020 Global Staff Survey (GSS) stating that they are proud to work for UNDP. This demonstrates that our personnel are highly motivated and share a common purpose, which is a key driver of high performance. Building on the successes achieved, the People Strategy will continue for the next four years, as UNDP’s personnel work to achieve the desired results of our new Strategic Plan (2022- 2025).