What a few weeks it’s been for leaders everywhere and HR practitioners in particular as organisations have fought to survive the Covid19 crisis.
The big question for HR leaders as we start to emerge from this health crisis is what will we take from this period of disruption, what have we learnt to do differently that we need to retain and what will remain as before. The debate about the future of work had been raging for years but now it feels like it’s upon us. Do we rise up and grasp this once in a career opportunity or do we just revert to normality!
As the Chair of Circal’s Advisory Board I am working with the organisation to deliver a whole host of content for HR leaders over the next few months on this very question.
The first lesson seems to be that the world is much more interdependent than we imagined, the whole system within which businesses now operate is much more fragile than we thought. The second is that human ingenuity and imagination can achieve remarkable things when our backs are against the wall, necessity really is the mother of invention. I’ve seen business after business turn their whole operating model on its head in the matter of a few days, what in normal circumstances would have taken weeks, months and sometimes even years to deliver was executed in just a few days.
The first casualty of this disruption will be our normal business strategy and planning processes. The idea that a business can look 5 years ahead with any level of certainty has been destroyed. Traditional linear thinking where we assume markets and competitors will behave in a predictable fashion needs to be replaced with just in time thinking. We need to be more agile and responsive to the environment within which our business operates and HR has a role to play in making strategy development a learning process.
Secondly the often-quoted softer side of leadership i.e. the leading of people has at last been recognised as a core requirement of leaders and managers. The HR profession must capitalise on this opportunity to once and for all ensure that we hire and develop leaders who can inspire, engage, and coach their teams. This needs to be seen as a core element of leadership. Not the bit you squeeze in between the real work, the soft stuff is the now the hard stuff. Getting your people to give of their best everyday and create teams which truly collaborate and support one another is the only driver of superior performance. It’s also the source of creating a culture where people feel valued and want to work.
Thirdly we know that businesses will be viewed either positively or negatively by how they behaved during the crisis. Customers, suppliers and staff will hold organisations to account and judge them on the difference between what they espouse and how they behaved, authenticity really does count. The cultural work that HR leads will become more important and move from being a abstract and conceptual debate to the basis of how leaders make business decisions. The values and behaviours that firms use to describe themselves will now move centre stage this will be how organisations really attract talent not some nice branded job page but what it’s like to work in your organisation. This will also extend to our people’s wellbeing as companies seek to differentiate around how they treat their employees.
The other area of change will a shift away from change and transformation as being centrally driven projects which are managed in a linear programmatic manner. What we learnt during the crisis was that a dynamic of empowering people to try things, retain what works and jettison what doesn’t at pace is a better approach to continuous improvement. This agile approach to HR where we are facilitators of change rather than drivers of it will unleash our people’s creativity and imagination.
My final thought is that HR needs to develop its own capability like never before to be able to harness the opportunities that lay ahead. We need to hire true leadership talent and compete with other functions for the brightest and the best and we must invest in the development of our own people’s ability in a sustainable and meaningful way.
I hope you take the opportunity to fully utilise the Circal offering over the next few months so you can enhance your HR functions ability to shift the world of work.
Chair of Circal’s Advisory Board
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*Circal will remain free whilst government advice is to work from home. After that period, free access will be revoked but there is no obligation to purchase membership.