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Every company’s people strategy is suddenly in the spotlight in a way that is unprecedented. If they didn’t know already, this crisis has proven to organisations just how critical the people side of the business is to its success.
Not just their leadership, managers or the most talented developers, but the people that keep the lights on, the cogs turning the deliveries coming and the customers happy.
As companies scramble to juggle reassuring shareholders and employee safety, HR leaders are finally being given the true seat at the table they have long deserved – but the pressure is on.
As the Economist put it recently, ‘in a pandemic, a chief people officer can make or break a company.’ The senior HR role has been likened to that of the CFO during the last financial crisis – in the war room, needing to balance humanity with business savvy.
But it’s not just the leadership team that is looking for rapid solutions from HR, it’s employees themselves and people teams everywhere are having to work round the clock to adapt to an evolving situation. To add to the pressure, their work, which is usually done behind closed doors, is being talked about by employees very visibly and being picked up by publications hungry for stories about employers getting it wrong. Businesses, and their brands, are on the line and a strong people strategy and team will be critical to getting them through.
So what can HR leaders do when faced with this high-stakes new normal?
1. Ask for help.
This is not an ‘HR problem’, it never was and you can’t solve it alone. Mobilise everyone to be part of the solution. Create task forces across the business to help. Marketing team on ice? Ask for them to be redeployed to support Internal Comms. Customer Service under pressure? Fast-track training for others to bolster the team. Instead of freezing external projects, think about re-briefing your partners to help you move faster.
2. Leverage your superpowers.
HR has been dismissed in the past as a ‘soft-skill’ but the reality is being human right now is not a weakness. Your people are likely to be scared, stressed and looking for direction. What is going to keep them engaged and motivated are not targets and deadlines but compassion, teamwork, communication, understanding, flexibility – all the things you have likely been lobbying your leadership to prioritise are now at the forefront. It’s time to assert yourself and drive an agenda that could have a positive impact long beyond the crisis.
3. Lead with empathy.
There will probably be those in your organisation who are thinking about profit over people – that’s the business survival mode default. Your role in this situation is to help steer leaders towards solutions that apply humanity and empathy to the decision-making process. If all else fails, remind them that how they treat their people now will have a longer-term impact on the loyalty of those that remain, who they will need to lean on the other side of this crisis.
4. Pace yourself.
Think beyond lockdown to the long-haul. Once you have the fundamentals in place, keep a crisis team focused on supporting reactively while you start to plan proactively for post-Corona. If this has been an extreme version of experimentation, what has worked well and what learnings can you glean to keep for the future? Employees will be used to different ways of working – gaining more trust and flexibility from their employers for example – and this will impact their expectations for the future. How will you reward and recognise employees that have gone the extra mile during this time of crisis? What new technologies and digital processes do you want to keep investing in?
Among all this, don’t forget to look after your own health and that of your families. World leaders are contracting the virus because they work with people, every day, usually face to face. Your company and the world needs human leadership now more than ever – but no one is infallible.
Need some support articulating, activating or embedding your people strategy? We can help. Contact Chris Giddings via firstname.lastname@example.org.