What shapes the HR agenda in the Covid era and beyond?

Luisa Ddakis | 3 August 2021 | 3 years ago

What shapes the HR agenda?

The answer to this question, as with many business questions, would have been radically different in January 2020. Human resource officers have been through one of the most testing periods of their career during the COVID-19 era. Their strength and vision are vitally needed, more than ever, to ensure a company’s ability to build resilience within the organisation and to emerge as an agile market player.

What should an HR agenda of 2021 look like?

HR functions are generally focused on keeping people safe, driving employee engagement, and providing support when needed. This is now extended to remote, ‘uncontrollable’ work situations with a sharp increase in the need to keep morale uplifted and productivity stable. HR departments are also deeply involved in building assessments of financial and productivity outcomes. What should be prioritised?

Priorities for today’s HR agenda

HR agendas grow as fast or as slow as company leaders ‘allow’ them to. The leading trends were greatly accelerated by the pandemic. These are as follows:

  • Sourcing the right talent,
  • Being an agile organisation that learns and grows,
  • Correctly identifying top performers and appropriate rewarding,
  • Deepening employee engagement via customised experiences,
  • Performance tracking to optimally align skills to business needs.
What actions do these translate into?

Sourcing the right talent

Nearly 70% of surveyed business leaders stated that permanent hiring figures would continue to drop and remote work would increase. The circular economy and digital nomads are driving the preference for contract work. HR officers and leaders need to change their traditional employment relationship views quickly.

While trying to achieve this and sourcing the best talent, companies are finding their efforts challenged at entry-level positions. This is due to Gen Xers avoiding companies with flaccid, legacy processes.

One of the legacy issues is that a third, or less, of companies, monitor whether their current hiring practices deliver good employees. Even fewer fill positions from internal candidates. This is arguably an indication of inferior internal development policies, murky career ladders, and poor hiring processes.

In business, you can manage what you measure, yet few companies track hires, and few business leaders can state they know the effectiveness of their hiring processes.

HR departments are often overburdened with ever-increasing demands, which crush the possibility to innovate. They should be freed up to innovate their department’s mindset and to engineer agile approaches to HR management. This will enable them to boost and reselect resources available to their department and relaunch their image and effectiveness.

Being an agile, learning and growing organisation

Being an agile learning organisation requires a company to resolve the conflict between cost pressures in a bleak market and essential team training to enable easier adaptation to a changing marketplace. Reskilling closes the talent gaps between your internal resource pool and their current and future jobs. And it can still be done in an affordable way, via:

  • Online digital training is available for persuasive leadership, managing remote teams, and developing personal resilience. Resilience boosts motivation, accelerates change management, keeps your human resources healthier, improves wellbeing and staff engagement, and renders your staff less prone to burnouts.
  • Change-specific upskilling, which is tied to different ways of working, accelerates the embedding of new practices, such as a successful blend of remote and in-office work modalities.
  • Making leadership development stick. Correctly chosen leadership-development programs (online, classroom or via coaching) will increase the ability of a company to be faster and more agile than its competitors. HR needs to drive leadership to develop clear goals and focused teams whilst achieving fast decision-making habits and, hence, an agile business. In addition to this, HR has the tough task of making these leadership developments stick.

Correctly identifying top performers and appropriate rewarding

Market reports have indicated that the majority of directors and business owners believe their reward system fails to identify the true top performers. On the other side of the coin, employees feel that ‘favourites’ or extroverts are rewarded, and the rest are ignored.

With significant portions of the workforce working remotely, the need for accurate performance management is amplified. It is proposed that HR departments should prioritise these agenda points:

  • Set up clear employee goals aligned with business objectives but ensure that flexibility and/or customisation is maintained. Monitor the booking, by managers, of regular conversations with each team member. In an agile environment, the team member participates in goal selection.
  • Coaching is a learnt skill, and coaching styles are reinvented every few years. As coaching is the driver of staff performance, upskilling managers in this area with updates or inaugural training is vital. Remote working has amplified the need for this.
  • Broader performance solutions result in a resilient company. HR should drive investment into comprehensive, vigorous development conversations with all good performers versus rewards only for the stars at the top.

Deepening employee engagement via customised experiences

It is obvious to HR officers and business leaders globally that employees are far more demanding of a quality work-life than 5 years ago. To address this, and retain the best talent, the work experience of each employee, or a small segment of employees, has to be customised. As with all things ‘2021’, the remote and remote-hybrid work scenarios have accelerated the need for this.

HR officers and leaders must be far more mindful of their employee well-being tracking methodology as well as the actions taken based on the data. If you are only using an annual engagement survey, you might as well have a dial-up connection in your office too. Succeeding at this will drive deep employee engagement, which is a ‘big business goal’ of most 2021 companies.

Comprehend the needs quickly and act quickly – or the talent will leave quickly.

Performance tracking to optimally align skills to business-value agendas

HR’s focus is going to need to become laser-sharp in the areas of workforce strategy, change, and planning. Critical roles form a small portion, generally, of a company’s whole, but they are heavily weighted factors contributing towards a successful business-value agenda. To fully establish a solid foundation for the success of a business value agenda, the following focus areas are proposed:

What is your business value sweet spot?

A company’s social investments have long been in the domain of corporate social responsibility departments, or officers and profit drove decisions. This doesn’t fly anymore.

Social investment and accountability are key factors, in assessing brands, in the eyes of consumers, employees and/or investors. They are voting with their feet, and agile, smart businesses are re-engineering models to arrive at the conjunction of the company’s purpose, its trackable value, and its culture.

Sweeping changes versus project teams

Dogmas from above that rolled through department after department are being replaced with empowered teams that solve problems together for the duration of a project timeline. The empowered, autonomous teams can focus their unhindered capabilities in targeted ways with faster turnaround times. Leaders are freed up to lead, and the company becomes more agile.

Slash the number of initiatives, create clearly defined, value-delivering projects, and fully empower capable teams. You will deliver more projects faster.

Linking talent to value

Talent models with rigid reporting ladders, annual reviews, and longevity-based promotions are dinosaurs. Talent pools need to have skills matched to high-value business objectives quickly, with quarterly reviews, and better, faster feedback to employees. This is called resetting your talent-to-value quotient. Manage your human assets the way you would manage your investment capital—redesign teams with the most talented staff in critical roles dedicated to delivering value. Empower them with greater decision proxies.

HR teams have run the gauntlet over the past 18 months, weathering the storm of radical changes in the workforce and marketplace. Giving them the capabilities to effectively address the above agenda points will help companies navigate a post-COVID world more successfully.



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