Every facet of a business was impacted by the global pandemic—especially the realm of human resources. HR teams were the ones tasked with keeping businesses afloat, staffing properly (but not too much), competing with unemployment benefits and hiring freezes, and navigating the new digital-first, remote workspace that many have proclaimed to be the “New Normal.”
At BTG, we’re exploring how companies can increase resilience across the enterprise in 2022. In part one, we covered how operations leaders can optimize for supply chain resilience. Today we’re taking a look at human resources—one of the most important functions to cover in light of current trends such as The Great Resignation, increasing demand to return to the office, and an ever-widening skills gap in many organizations. No surprise then that BTG’s internal data shows an 80% spike in demand for independent talent in HR in 2021.
For insights on how HR leaders can tackle the problems of today and prepare for the workforce of the future, we turned to a highly skilled independent HR expert from the BTG talent community.
Meet the Expert
A former Chief People Officer, board member, and experienced transformation and change management expert working with CEOs to realize the untapped potential of their greatest asset—their people
How have HR professionals had to adapt to the evolving post-pandemic workforce?
Human resources leaders need to be resilient in the face of enormous disruption to operating environments; the increased urgency of diversity, equity, and inclusion; the changing role of HR; remote work; and the digital transformation.
Recruiting remains the top priority challenge with the complexities of managing remote work and hybrid work, a generation of millennials who look at work differently, and with the priorities of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Great Resignation and the projected 40% of women leaving the workforce adds to the pressure to recruit and retain the best.
Over the last decade, organizational priorities and business models have shifted. People have increasingly been acknowledged as the driving force behind value creation, thrusting HR into the spotlight. This has only been accelerated by changes brought on by the pandemic. Employees are expecting more from their organizations, and HR’s role is consequentially more far-reaching, more meaningful, and more stressful than ever.
After years of plateaued involvement in strategy, the upheaval of 2020 has thrust HR into its most strategic role ever. More organizations are acting on their people-first promise and involving HR in strategy. Where that happens, organizations have higher effectiveness in quickly changing to capitalize on new opportunities and are therefore more likely to be resilient in uncertain times.
Organizations are using business continuity planning (BCP) to enable operations to resume after a disruption. BCP can no longer be solely about operations when HR’s strategic involvement is vital.
The pandemic and resulting emergency work-from-home measures highlighted how many roles can be performed just as well, if not better, remotely. However, the traditional approach to work is so entrenched, many organizations are still resistant to making the shift permanent due to fears of impacts on culture, communication, and innovation. Employees also share mixed feelings. While the increased flexibility has been very beneficial for some, others are struggling with the loss of social connections, suboptimal work environments, and the blurred line between work and personal life. It is not realistic to expect a full return to how and where work was done pre-pandemic.
HR needs to ensure their approach in response to all these changes is supported by keeping an eye on employee engagement and adjusting related programs such as onboarding to suit the new virtual environment. Finally, revisit how the organization positions itself in its employee value proposition and employer brand to ensure it accurately reflects the new way work is being done.
Digital transformation, the investment or adoption of new technology or business models, has been trending for the past few decades. Experts have been predicting widespread digital transformation each year. Digital transformation is here, and if not faced head on, organizations will be left behind.
What do you think business leaders have learned to survive, or even thrive, during the last few years?
Business leaders that have survived and, in some instances, thrived from the pandemic have been the resilient leaders, and they have capitalized on the lessons learned from previous crises, although the pandemic has lasted a much longer time. They have been quick to:
Transform the Organization
Leaders during the pandemic have been forced to work in different ways—remote work, hybrid work, changes in physical layout of offices, shortages in supply chain, changes in delivery of product and in some cases new product development and/or elimination of products. Successful leaders responded quickly with clear goals, focused teams, and fast decision making and have recognized that they need to commit to this way of operating during the coming years. Leadership itself changed and is changing fundamentally in how they responded to their employee needs for safety. Leaders that have adapted well have a strong sense of identity and have a common sense of purpose with their employees, and they lead with empathy. Leaders have realized the value of teamwork and the need for small teams to address issues quickly and are continuing to streamline their organizational structures.
Make decisions faster
Whether it is looking at their revenue streams or improving operations, leaders have learned that they need to maintain their agility and responsiveness to the changes in supply chain and service networks.
During the last year, the way we interact in our personal lives as well as our business lives has transformed, accelerating the migration to digital technologies. Digitization will play a pivotal role in pandemic recovery as customer expectations are changing, and it varies from region to region. For example, while it will be critical for airlines to focus on ensuring the health and safety of their passengers and crews, for retailers it is all about creating a seamless online experience.
What are the latest and greatest HR tools and tips that organizations should consider implementing?
For human resources professionals to lead the people efforts during this stage of the pandemic and beyond, it is more critical to have a user-friendly information system that meets the needs of line management and human resources.
Some key components are:
- Time & Attendance that can manage tracking hours, time off accruals, and schedules for hourly employees
- HR Analytics and Reporting to provide timely reports to all constituents with an ability to make real-time custom reports
- Talent Management, including managing paperless onboarding, performance reviews, goals, and rewards and recognition, etc.
- Mobile Apps to allow employees to view pay stubs and, submit time off, and enable managers to view employee vacation, salary data, and performance reviews
How can HR professionals retain great talent considering trends like the Great Resignation?
First, HR needs to identify and prioritize the competencies that will best support digital transformation and drive performance, such as change management, emotional intelligence, and inclusion. Identify the competencies that fit best for your organization by analyzing the skills gap. Next, improve continuous learning to enhance the effectiveness of leadership development initiatives and increase workforce proficiencies in the prioritized competencies. Finally, support the technologies that drive digital collaboration and productivity as these are the HR actions that will best enable digital transformation.
To help retain employees as the economy improves, HR professionals can take steps now to reduce the predicted voluntary departures.
HR needs to identify top performers that the company cannot afford to lose and ensure that managers sit down with employees every other week to conduct “stay interviews” designed to make sure workers are satisfied.
Other recommendations for strengthening your employee retention efforts:
- Address employee concerns. Listen to employees’ challenges and look for solutions.
- Present realistic job descriptions. Turnover tends to be highest among new hires—often because the job doesn’t match their initial expectations. Once they experience what they perceive to be the downsides of a job, they quit. The solution is to expose potential candidates to the worst parts of the job so they know what they will be doing before they accept. Hire for culture, and have a successful onboarding process that eases new hires into their new work environment.
- Establish strong onboarding, mentoring, and advancement opportunities. New hires have weak ties to the organization, so it’s easier for them to leave. To retain them, help them make connections as quickly as possible.
- Use stay interviews, not exit interviews. Exit interviews provide insights on why employees are leaving. The idea is that once an employer knows what factors are contributing to employee departures, it can prevent an exodus. However, these insights can only be gleaned after the fact. Wouldn’t it be better to know ahead of time what factors might inspire an employee to leave, as well as those that keep them around? For that reason, stay interviews are equally as important—if not more important—to conduct as exit interviews.
- Offer accommodations. Employees are facing personal issues, so focus on those with young children at home or who have aging parents that need more care.
- Communicate frequently. The best way to reduce turnover is to understand why employees stay and why they leave.
- Be accessible. Make it easy for employees to communicate with HR and have an open door.
- Train and develop managers to communicate clearly, follow through on commitments, and be honest about issues that impact employees.
How should HR leaders think about company culture differently going forward?
Company culture has always been critical, and the right culture that attracts, develops, and retains its employees is a key requirement for success of an organization. However, there have been significant pandemic-related changes that can impact culture, such as an acceleration of digitization and the need to work remotely. HR needs to start with developing the leadership to be more resilient and empathetic and communicate more with employees. With a remote or hybrid workforce, HR needs to develop systemic programs that will allow for timely and improved communication through avenues such as town hall meetings, one-on-one meetings, inter-department webinars, and written messaging to keep employees engaged. HR will need to think of creative ways to provide learning and development; the tendency is to provide bite-size training. They should develop a list of high potentials and ensure that managers communicate with them every quarter, conduct stay interviews, and provide challenging work.
What are the keys to being resilient during difficult times?
Digitization and now the pandemic have tested our resilience, both professionally and personally, as to how we have responded and adjusted to the new way of work. What is resiliency? Amit Sood, Executive Director of the Global Center for Resiliency defines it as “… your ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns.” It is an ongoing process that requires time and effort and engages people in taking several steps.
Based on several studies, there appear to be four areas that are essential to being resilient during difficult times.
- Focus – Resilient individuals focus on the situations and issues at hand that they can manage, and they feel empowered rather than letting the situation control them.
- Challenge – Resilient individuals view a difficulty as a challenge, and they look at various options to resolve the challenge. They look at failures as a learning experience and an opportunity for growth.
- Commitment – Resilient individuals are committed to their work, their relationships, their friends, and their goals. Those who spend time thinking about uncontrollable events can feel lost and powerless.
- Empathy – Resilient individuals are good listeners. They understand the changes that affect employees, but they don’t lose their focus on what needs to be accomplished.
A great example of resiliency
The 1966 World Cup was a low point for the Brazilian Soccer team; they had been eliminated in the first round as they fouled frequently and their star player, Pele, had performed poorly. This was a team that had won the previous two tournaments.
Four years later Brazil won—the 1970 team is regarded widely as the best team ever, and Pele was named player of the tournament. Making this transformation required innovation, a new unique style of attack, teambuilding, and focused leadership. Through focus, commitment, empathy, and a willingness to take on the challenge, Brazil came back strong.
What advice would you share with HR professionals as we’re entering a new year?
This is a great opportunity for the human resources profession to be strategic and impact the business. HR professionals now more than ever need to understand the levers that make their business grow and provide the necessary people management to lead the effort. What are the values of the company? Is the company living up to those values? Does the organizational structure need to be changed? Do you have the right people leading your teams? Do you have the right people for the right jobs of the future? Are you developing your leaders for the future? Do you understand the next generation of workers and their needs? Are you current on the impact of digitization? Are your employees engaged? What is the workforce for the future? Understand all of this and more, and take the lead to drive the business.