With much of the COVID disruption profoundly ‘human’, HR is in the hotseat, writes Jo-Ann Feely, global managing director, innovation, at Alexander Mann Solutions.
In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, we ushered in the ‘era of the chief financial officer (CFO)’. Now, as organisations work furiously to adapt to the new market and employment dynamic imposed by COVID-19, and to address the needs of their people, we could be seeing the ‘time of the chief HR officer (CHRO)’.
After all, the pandemic has fast-tracked the future. Changes to working conditions that would ordinarily have taken years to put in place have, in fact, taken weeks or months, with the virus forcing us to work and live differently. How and where we work has been brought into sharp focus.
A new employment dynamic
Both the marketplace and customer demands are changing rapidly, and it has never been more critical to align our business and people strategies, while recognising that constant flux will be the ongoing pattern. This reality must be overlaid with the fact that some parts of organisations will be slowing down due to market conditions, while others accelerate. All this means that adaptability and dexterity have never been more critical to success.
CEOs will be hugely reliant on their CHROs to help navigate the current environment and to lead the way in making significant changes in how organisations work
To survive and thrive, businesses have had to re-invent themselves, reprioritising their business goals to meet customer demands, while adapting employment models that support both.
Meanwhile, employees have been juggling their personal and professional lives – mostly from home – amid disruptions in education and childcare. Of those organisations reopening physical workplaces, 77% plan to stagger employee hours onsite in the face of likely ongoing school and nursery closures, according to Gartner’s recent survey of HR leaders.
Changing workforce needs
Many of the issues facing businesses as we emerge from the pandemic are profoundly ‘human’. A recent study by Forbes and SAP SuccessFactors revealed that the top three topics on CHROs’ minds are:
- communication – understanding what employees are experiencing and taking action accordingly
- upskilling/reskilling – to redirect and channel existing capability to where it’s needed while training others in new skills
- business continuity – balancing flexible and remote working while managing employee/customer welfare and
CEOs will be hugely reliant on their CHROs to help navigate the current environment and to lead the way in making significant changes in how organisations work, including the employment models they adopt. The pandemic has already forced organisations to digitise more and to get work done in a completely different way; this is likely to drive a change in culture for many businesses.
Talent strategies that underpin the new organisation must include:
- understanding skills and capability; identifying gaps and addressing them
- strategic internal mobility that includes upskilling/reskilling – a ‘grow your own’ approach that includes external and internal talent to plug skills gaps
- using contingent and gig workers
- a culture of ongoing learning and development
- an inclusive and compelling employer brand
- social capital: remote working has negatively impacted organisations’ abilities to create engagement and community, so this must be
An opportunity for HR
In the previous edition of Catalyst, Josh Bersin described HR and talent leaders as the new “heroes of the C-suite” as they simultaneously navigate public health challenges, psychological safety issues and unprecedented workforce challenges.
There is certainly a seat at the table now for CHROs; an opportunity to lead the reinvention of the organisation, and in doing so, elevate the role of HR significantly.
Originally published in Catalyst Magazine The 'Dexterity' Issue.