What Should HR Leaders' Priorities Be Right Now?
November 9 2020 - The Josh Bersin Academy launched his 'Big Reset' initiative to help HR leaders address the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. The organisation's Mark Spratt explains what has been discovered.
In a series of in-depth online meetings with HR executives to understand their problems and new strategies for supporting workforces, The Josh Bersin Academy's Big Reset initiative has so far opened a dialogue with representatives from more than 160 companies.
We've learned a lot, and we continue to learn more every day. Let's look at the top priorities for HR executives and their teams that have surfaced.
First, the value of continuous and real-time communication with employees has been identified as key. A new focus is also on empathy, support, and connectedness as critical to success; every single HR leader in our groups cited the enormous need to create a new support structure for employees at all levels. This includes frequent (daily or weekly) communications, all-hands meetings, but always lots of listening, surveys, and feedback.
The second overarching priority that's coming through as we emerge from the first wave of COVID is a new, top-to-bottom focus on all aspects of employee wellbeing. Not only are companies conducting yoga classes and positive thinking programmes, they're offering virtual cooking classes, and adopting many different types of coaching on physical, mental, and financial fitness.
Supporting and developing leaders is another theme we are seeing. In particular, every leader needs to become comfortable supporting new styles of work.
We're also told HR teams must broaden their areas of expertise and work directly with other functional areas of the business such as safety, facilities, IT, legal, and finance. They have to deal with issues like employee commutes, restroom and cafeteria policies, and a myriad of legal issues created by the pandemic.
Talent practices have also adapted dramatically since the crisis started. So far, most organisations have continued to hire, onboard, train, manage, and promote their people, but every one of these talent practices has changed. Recruiting and onboarding is now being done digitally, often with great success.
And the most successful responses to the pandemic seem to always involve centralised information and policymaking, coupled with devolved authority, skills, and information. Pizza Hut, for example, created local 'health-at-work-officers' who take responsibility for back-to-work policies and implementation.
Agile thinking and practices
Executives have discussed how rapidly their employees adopted digital tools for remote work, recruiting, onboarding, collaboration, and communications, as well as for surveys and check-ins. The pandemic has also put agile thinking and problem solving into daily work, without previous formal processes. The traditional lengthy steps for agreeing targets, gain stakeholder buy-in, create solutions, and gradually drive adoption are being dramatically condensed.
Family takes centre stage
Most of us have been conditioned to leave behind our family problems at the start of each workday. Perhaps that has changed. Leaders are developing many programmes to directly support workers and their families. And while adapting to our new home-work scenarios, the digital always-on workplace is proving so distracting that many HR leaders have been looking at ways to make work easier while maintaining productivity.
This is now especially important with so many workforces dispersed. Prior to the pandemic, about half of the companies we surveyed did not support remote working as a norm. Today, almost every company now has work-at-home policies, tools, platforms, and systems. However, it's important to remember that many companies have large numbers of employees who cannot work from home. The good news is that for these employee populations, we're seeing more flexibility, and even financial help.
Employers need to step up
In times of uncertainty and ambiguity, people are desperate for a sense of purpose. Leaders who understand the importance of a uniting sense of purpose are finding competitive advantage. Citizens around the world do not trust their governments as much as they used to, and many don't trust the media - but most people do trust their employers. Therefore, it is critically important that company leaders live up to this new responsibility.
One of the other interesting findings that comes from our working groups is the need for clear policies to address pandemic-related health and safety issues. Do I have to wear a mask? Am I allowed to stay home until I feel safe? What if I don't feel comfortable taking public transportation? Policies around these issues and related ones must be clear and well communicated.
Remarkably, many employers we talk with are raising pay, increasing benefits, improving sick pay, expanding leave policies, and generally helping employees with many aspects of their financial lives.
Learning all the time
One of the most interesting findings from all our conversations is the massive consumption of learning. Sanofi, for example, launched a new corporate university at the start of the pandemic and found that company employees consumed almost a million hours of training in just two months.
Most of us are now realising that uncertainty will be with us for many months to come. Enlightened company leaders are realising they must organise and manage for continuous uncertainty. HR leaders must communicate readiness to help, regardless of conditions, and they must convey a sense of optimism and competence even when conditions change. Many companies are using coaches, psychologists, and many new tools to help employees take a positive view of the future.
A whole series of new workplace protocols are also being developed in areas such as workplace operations, workplace technology, safety and wellbeing, service delivery and execution, logistics, and culture.
Every single leader told us that the pandemic has created a sense of unity. People are inspired and energised by the sense of purpose, togetherness, and urgency in this time of change. Let's hope we can continue to build on this amazing good-will and desire for cooperation.
Mark Spratt is vice president of client support at The Josh Bersin Academy. Learn more about the findings discussed in this document by downloading your own free copy of The Big Reset Playbook: What's Working Now