Beyond the pandemic awaits a big opportunity for HR

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​Amid the current crisis there is emerging a once-in-a-generation opportunity for HR professionals to take centre stage.

In the 2008 financial crisis, it was the chief financial officer who stepped up to save the day by financially engineering the organisation through the credit crunch.

In the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, it’s a health crisis that puts the chief human resources officer and their teams front and centre to secure the health and safety of the workforce, as well as bolstering productivity of remote teams.

By all accounts, HR teams are stepping up and doing so in a big way. It is clear that HR is seizing its moment with senior management and employees taking notice of HR’s support through severe disruption. However, the work cannot stop here.


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To really make a lasting difference, HR professionals need to start looking post-pandemic and putting in place permanent change to how they work – to work smarter.

I see three key opportunities for HR to shine in helping organisations move beyond the pandemic.

The first area of focus is on the health and wellbeing of the workforce. This was already a rapidly growing area of investment of time and money, before coronavirus.

A February 2020 report by CR Worldwide found investment in employee wellness had doubled in the previous 12 months. Many people may find it hard to admit to their employer that the pandemic and the stress of months of lockdown and isolation had an impact on their mental and physical wellbeing. Add to this financial and job uncertainty and you have a perfect storm.

Organisations that recognise this and create an empathetic workplace, in which people are encouraged to talk about issues, will be rewarded with greater engagement.

People won’t forget how the organisation helped them in tough times. Use this to build a permanent culture of empathy. Provide the workforce with the tools and resources to look after themselves mentally, physically and financially.

Another area of opportunity is strategic workforce planning (SWP). Some organisations are in an existential crisis and are having to make drastic decisions about the size and make up of their workforce.

The airline industry, for example, has seen passenger numbers plummet for months and many predict numbers may not reach pre- pandemic levels again until 2024. Though most organisations are not faced with this level of crisis still we see in the news too many organisations making sweeping cuts.

In previous crises, like 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash, organisations made deep cuts without understanding the make-up of their workforces, i.e. current and future skills requirements, matching supply to future demand and succession plans for leadership.

Top performing organisations are exceptionally good at avoiding the ‘hire and fire binge’ by constantly looking out into the future to understand what talent they need.

Lastly, you should be looking to build a capability that I call PEIP: People Engagement, Innovation and Performance. An overarching mindset, processes and technologies that allow you to create an integrated human capital experience for working smarter. It can be defined as the sum of its parts: the right people + right skills + right place + right time + right motivation = PEIP.

In my experience, organisations that put this framework in place – underpinned with intelligent HR cloud technologies – create a more engaged and therefore innovative workplace, driving new levels of performance.

Each of these areas will be key to getting organisations back up to full performance and helping our economy get back on track. If we turn the current crisis into opportunity, we can see the HR profession stay centre stage for decades to come. Will we take up the challenge?

Tim Ringo is chartered fellow of the CIPD and executive board advisor.

The full piece of the above appears in the September/October 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.

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