Five Lessons From The Pandemic
Head of People for Turnaround and Restructuring practice at AlixPartners, overseeing talent strategy and driving behavioral change. Since the pandemic hit, HR has been in the spotlight. There are some characteristics of human resources departments that have created extraordinary value – namely, HR’s ability to lead and act with agility. The learnings shared below are based on observations from my network, my work in a very people-centric organization and observations of responses from HR functions in various companies.
The ‘human’ in human resources steps up. The concept of being human is not black and white, but rather very gray, and it requires the corroboration of wisdom, experience and judgment that we make in our daily lives. The relationship between the well-being of an employee and the well-being of the organization is more circular than linear. It is intertwined, codependent and quintessential to deal, with both to identify what “being human” means in a crisis and to identify a balance across all pillars (i.e., staff, customers, clients, vendors, etc.).
HR’s biggest value is in helping leadership make the most balanced, empathetic and kind decisions that provide the well-being of both staff and firm. Can we afford to be 100% remote and still be effective? If we can’t, what will it do to our people and our organization? How quickly can we transform how we provide services, goods and value? What is the societal impact of these decisions? The answers to those questions that identify the path remain close to the mission of the organization — for some it is clear; for some not. The right level of partnership from HR helps drive the needed balance.
Agility and change management skills are must-haves. Twenty-plus years into my career in HR, change management has been a core skill that I have observed to be a must-have for the value of HR. Agility is becoming more and more associated with HR — among other things, it is concerned with how soon you can bring behavioral change in people and keep the habit of adapting to change sustained. Organizations with rigid views on how work is done have had to rethink how to do it differently, virtually and with multiple distractions.
HR’s value is in constantly ensuring organizations have the right policies, procedures, communications, processes, etc. to make this shift. HR functions that have a defined change management strategy are five steps ahead and already thinking about communications, training, risks, impacts and more because it is in their nature to link behavioral change management to every initiative. The agility of a business to transform may be dependent on so many factors, including investment in technology and internal protocols on decision-making, but in all these decisions, an agile HR function is the catalyst to close these gaps.
Flexible people data is your best friend. There is no doubt that HR is impactful if there are good people metrics. In unprecedented situations like the pandemic, access to various flexible types of employee data becomes critical. Most organizations have basic data such as headcount, compensation, job history, etc. readily available. However, when business needs change rapidly, so does the ferociousness of the need for relevant people data.
Some unique people metrics that were not needed before became imperative and continue to be the magic card that can open doors. How soon HR can make relevant people data available in a way that drives critical — and, in some cases, life-altering — business decisions is what will really matter. Most importantly, are there processes, systems and people in place to be perceptive of what data will be needed and how to get it at lightning speed?
Strong HR functions have progressive data warehouses and systems in place that provide not only matter-of-fact HR metrics, but also predictive analytics that can be altered and manipulated to changing business needs.
Identify what’s important but not urgent, and ensure it gets done. We spend the majority of our time dealing with the urgent-important issues, and the pandemic forced out this categorization almost automatically. However, it is important that we don’t lose sight of things that don’t seem urgent but nevertheless are very important. Performance management, leadership development, and diversity and inclusion are a few things that fall into that category for me. It may be other things for other HR teams.
Think about the most important thing you set out to do this year before all our worlds changed. If not done, what impact could it have long term? For HR, it is important to effectively communicate the value of these tasks and not get myopic in how we tackle people issues. At the end of the day, we will emerge from this crisis, and we will need to distinguish the employment brand. Companies that don’t have to start all over again will have the competitive advantage.
This is an opportunity to reinforce core values into action. Core values may differ, and firms may prioritize or define values differently. It is very important that HR ensures the business response is reflective of these values. If we value communications, are employees getting the right detail and level of communications? If we value team building, are groups feeling like a strong team while not being face to face? If we value integrity, how are we empowering employees when working virtually? If our core values mention that we care about our people, are managers and leaders truly exhibiting care for their people?
All of these are important questions HR should be asking and encouraging the business to think through daily. To me, it is an opportunity for HR to put desired culture into action. How HR helps the organization in this situation will become the culture and fodder for our core values.
While this crisis shook the ground beneath us, I truly believe it does not hinder us from doing what we strive for as HR leaders: attracting the best, developing potential and retaining value. I aim to seek out opportunities and, most importantly, believe this pandemic has made a kinder and more empathetic HR leader out of me.