How the COVID-19 pandemic provides the opportunity and mandate for HR to change

 In HR, Liezel Pheiffer Blignaut, Our Contributors

The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our health, well-being, ability to earn income and how and where we learn, work and engage with colleagues. The key role that HR plays in organisations has never been clearer.

Within days of a lockdown announcement, business and HR leaders were coordinating teams, departments and entire organisations to plan, act, monitor and adjust. The end is not in sight as we continue to deal with the widespread impact of this pandemic. Amidst the uncertainties, we continuously have to rethink our people strategies and decisions as we are faced with conflicting priorities of protecting the lives and livelihoods of people.

 

Every crisis in history has resulted in change, and this crisis will be no different.

 

Over the past decade, we often read and heard about the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. Very few felt the impact or a pressing need to change, and most were comfortable to maintain the status quo or revert to old ways of thinking when solving new challenges or addressing emerging opportunities. With the global pandemic, we are experiencing what it really means to operate in a VUCA world.

We entered the digital and human economies long before COVID-19. In the human economy the focus is on a “people over profit” culture where HR and leaders understand that profit is the result of focusing on people first. In the digital economy, digitalisation drives a culture of innovation that creates opportunities for renewal and growth.

 

COVID-19 is providing the opportunity, compelling reasons and a mandate for HR to take action in changing what needs to or should have been changed by now.

 

HR is at the frontline and in the centre of not only dealing with what is asked and needed right now, but to ensure that the business focus on a few key areas that is fit for a VUCA environment, enabling it to be agile, flexible and to put people first:

  1. Appoint people who are or could be great leaders to leadership positions and then amplify and accelerate leadership development to equip them to understand and bring the best out of themselves and others, shape a positive and adaptive culture, build purpose alignment and trust, lead teams and enable innovation;
  2. Support leaders (often neglected in the past, and now clearly needed more than ever) with executive coaching where they have easy access to confidential sessions with someone they can use as a soundboard, guide and coach to focus on their most pressing needs, challenges and opportunities;
  3. Rethink what work is really adding value, and restructure how work is done (including virtual, remote and dispersed work and/or or self-directed teams);
  4. Enable purpose-driven teams (some that will continue to work virtually and dispersed) to align and collaborate (not work in silos), get work done with agility and be the micro-system where great workplace experiences happen;
  5. Rethink the jobs, skills and behaviours that will be required in future;
  6. Redefine work-life balance as the lines between our personal and work lives have for many become more blurred;
  7. Accelerate focus on employee well-being, which should include supporting leaders and employees in managing toxic work environments;
  8. Redesign, automate and digitalise all people processes that is fit for its intended purpose and user experiences, and that are quick and easy to implement, manage and adjust;
  9. Utilise digitalised people records and processes to also provide data and analytics for quick insights, predictive analytics and data-driven decisions; and
  10. Use virtual and online platforms and tools for self-directed development, collaborative work, employer branding, communication and to listen to employees and swiftly act on feedback.

 

HR needs to ensure that these changes are embedded in the DNA of the business to avoid going back to the status quo pre-COVID-19.

While the “next normal” that will emerge is fundamentally what HR should have attended to over the past decade, it has never been better positioned to demonstrate that being in a strategic interdependent partnership with leaders is essential.

Businesses who are able to reinvent, grow from and be better as a result of this crisis will be those whose leadership understand that people and culture provide a sustainable competitive advantage, and who value and support the contribution that HR leaders and professionals can add at board and senior executive level and across the organisation.

The alternative is to return to the way things were before and get the same results as before.

 

About the author:

Liezel Pheiffer Blignaut is the founder and CEO of Human Capital Business Solutions (HCBsolutions) and member of the Advisory Board of the University of Pretoria’s Department of Human Resource Management in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences. She is a Master HR Professional (SABPP) and a member of the Institute of Directors of South Africa.

This article is based on an article HR in a post-COVID-19 world: embedding a ‘people over profit’ culture written on request for publication on the University of Pretoria’s website and social media pages. Publication date: 21 May 2020.

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