As enterprises seek greater organisational resilience after the pandemic HR needs to play a new, more strategic role, says Jeanette Wheeler.
HR professionals need to rethink how their organisation can become more agile, have the ability to react swiftly and successfully to the next crisis, skills shortage or sudden shift in demand.
To achieve this, HR needs to become an internal influencer of change in their organisation, moving away from transactional service based activities such as answering holiday entitlement or payroll questions, and instead focus on creating an employee-centred approach to resilience.
More forward-looking organisations recognised the necessity for HR to change before the pandemic. In a 2019 survey of 1,362 HR executives in 55 countries, for example, consultants KPMG found 57% agreed HR would rapidly become irrelevant if it failed to modernise.
Agility, although a buzzword, has become essential, requiring faster and better-informed decision-making at all levels of an organisation, the dilution of rigid internal hierarchies, and the development of a highly collaborative internal culture that is united in its goals.
HR departments must play a more prominent role in ensuring employees are adaptable and quick on their feet, ready and able to seize new opportunities and adopt technologies that drive efficiency, reduce cost, and enhance employee experience.
HR must ensure mental wellbeing is taken up as a priority by their organisation’s senior leadership team and seen as a strategic pillar of greater resilience across the entire organisation.
There needs to be greater collaboration and more devolved decision-making to foster innovation, experimentation and knowledge acquisition. To achieve that, HR needs to ensure managers use technology to engage more meaningfully with employees and foster a team culture where sharing of ideas that improve performance or productivity is easy and brings together dispersed workforces.
Two-way communication should be genuine, ensuring employees and managers fully understand one another and employees see where the work they do fits into a business’s longer-term goals.
In addition, HR departments should help develop a culture that empowers teams and values their ideas. Teams should have the control to make small changes that improve their operations without the need to obtain multiple approvals.
This is made easier when organisations use collaboration platforms as regular communication ensures managers have visibility of their teams and understand the adjustments that may be necessary to support employee productivity and engagement.
The cultural development that HR champions should encompass learning and development so that employees are motivated to grow their skills and know where they can find the resources they need to do this. A wide range of content should be easily available whether it’s documentation that fulfils an immediate requirement or more detailed video content and other tools.
More broadly, HR needs to engage with all stakeholders, applying a lens to the organisation as if looking from the outside. This is where organisations that use agile workforce analytics are at a huge advantage.
Advanced workforce analytics give HR the power to create different positive or negative scenarios relating to recruitment, retention, restructuring and redeployment, providing the necessary agility when conditions suddenly change.
HR professionals using analytics can plan workforce scenarios according to various parameters they can set concerning company goals. Each scenario demonstrates the impact on cashflow and productivity, allowing the business to continue with minimal disruption.
With the ability to plan for what could occur according to a range of possible scenarios, HR automatically elevates its role within an organisation, feeding its unique insights into critical decisions taken at board level.
There are, of course, many facets to HR, none of which professionals can afford to neglect. Embracing automation and technology that enables employees to service their own requirements remotely will relieve HR of much of the routine admin burden.
HR can hardly become a source of strategic advice if it still has to input data into multiple systems and correlate them manually to achieve any vestige of insight, and so it’s equally important to gain support and investment from the organisation into HR digital transformation to support this work.
Finally, even though organisations have invested in Employee Assistance Programmes, employee wellbeing should be a higher priority than it currently is in many businesses. A mentally resilient workforce contributes significantly to a resilient organisation.
Deloitte, the global consultancy, last year published an authoritative study which estimated that even before lockdown, poor mental health was costing UK employers £45bn each year and that for every £1 spent on mental health interventions, employers gain £5 in reduced absence, presenteeism and employee turnover.
HR must ensure mental wellbeing is taken up as a priority by their organisation’s senior leadership team and seen as a strategic pillar of greater resilience across the entire organisation. HR should push for explicit engagement with the topic from the boardroom, and trigger cross-organisational initiatives enabling trained employees to look out for one another and refer those struggling to cope to more specialist help.
In summary, HR has a major strategic role to play in increasing overall business resilience and agility by providing workforce insight and detailed scenario planning, along with a more active culture of collaboration and devolved decision-making.
HR departments must be prepared to elevate themselves above the daily grind of admin, fire-fighting and short-term problem resolution. Then they will become vital partners in the organisational effort to boost resilience and seize new opportunities.
About the author
Jeanette Wheeler is HR Director at MHR International.