Article: Navigating the HR perfect storm in the new normal


Navigating the HR perfect storm in the new normal

In a recent virtual People Matters Cohort session hosted in partnership with SumTotal, industry leaders came together to discuss how they are coping with the digital acceleration, the HR tech and talent conundrum, and highlighted what skills are needed to survive the HR perfect storm.
Navigating the HR perfect storm in the new normal

2019 was a year that saw innumerable conversations surrounding digital transformation and Industrial Revolution 4.0, leading to debates around how much tech is too much tech and how to accelerate tech adoption. 2020 brought a closure to the debate with the world changing overnight, and creating a scenario that not only fast tracked tech adoption but made it the medium to, at the same time, protect employees and keep the business running, risking neither.

In a recent virtual People Matters Cohorts session hosted in partnership with SumTotal on the theme - Reactive To Proactive: Managing and preparing talent for the “New Normal” - 24 industry leaders came together to discuss how are they coping with the digital acceleration, the HR tech and talent conundrum and highlighted what skills are needed to survive the HR perfect storm. 

People Matters Cohorts is a 3-day invite-only immersive program for leaders which provides a unique virtual platform for leaders to learn, collaborate, co-create & network, limited to a small number of leaders to maximize peer-to-peer interaction and learning. Segmented into reflection, assimilation and application, the 3-day program enables leaders to reflect on their challenges related to the business context, participate in a live session structured to bring all participants together for learning, interaction and networking in a virtual environment and post the LIVE session are invited to apply their reflections and learnings on a “Learning-In-Action” project.

The live session of the recent People Matters Cohorts kick-started with an address by Brent Colescott, Senior Director, Global Business Strategy & Transformation, SumTotal, followed by the keynote session by Anurag Seth, VP & Head - Talent Transformation, Crowdsourcing & Business Continuity, Wipro on “Making the Workforce Future Ready in Post Pandemic Era”, and the much-awaited breakout room discussions, where leaders looked for answers in areas like:

  • What are some ways in which many organizations have accelerated their digital transformation journeys?
  • How can HR and talent leaders ensure a smooth comeback for the business while keeping people at the core of it?
  • How do leaders accelerate the careers of people and develop them with the right skills so that their potential is maximized?

Read on for highlights from the session.

The HR perfect storm

While regional impact might vary, the global community has been suffering, surviving, coping and preparing to pull through the perfect storm created by the rapid spread of coronavirus.

What began as a threat to human life, became an endemic and today a pandemic that has shaken up the very core of human life, disorienting the usual ways of living, working, interacting, as well as the economies of demand, supply, production and consumption.

Scientists and medical labs across the world are striving hard to find a vaccine, and corporate leaders are striving hard to find ways to balance talent sustenance and business needs.

It has been nearly four months since the world, professional and personal, has been grappling with the ongoing after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, gradually moving from reacting to responding to resolving, and some now slowly moving into recovery. Similar to this gradual shift, from work from home being a flexi working policy to operating model, the role of HR too has evolved magnificently in the last few months from being a strategic partner to drive business performance and culture to today being a critical strategic partner to ensure business continuity. In effect, it is not just the role of HR that has evolved, but there has been an accelerated mindset shift and acceptance to newer working norms to keep the businesses in business. 

From identifying critical roles to retain, understanding which roles to let go off, collapsing talent pipelines, translating organizational culture into a digital culture, assessing and implementing the right digital learning tools, keeping up with the financials to pay out salaries, deciding on cutting salaries, deferring salaries, implementing safety measures at the workplace for roles that need to continue to be in office, investment in HR Tech and ergonomics, and much more, this is, as Brent Colescott calls it, the HR perfect storm.

Unemployment rates are multiplying, the labor force is losing out on work and money, and the new entrants to the workforce have barely been able to get a taste of the corporate world, and in addition to all of the above, we are yet to know for certain what lies ahead and what to prepare for. So how is HR going to survive this storm? What does HR need as a function to not only survive the storm but to become an anchor for other functions, leadership and the workforce at large? The answer - evolution.

Moving from digital adoption to digital acceleration

In the face of uncertainty, it is human nature to cling on to familiarity. Familiar people, familiar places, familiar ways of doing things, familiar ways of running business. With the perfect storm doing its rounds however, our only shot at beating the challenges that are being thrown at us is by stepping away from familiarity and evolving to face adversity.

Given that global lockdowns and social distancing are likely to restrict organizations and people from returning to the erstwhile way of working, leaders and employees are headed into an unknown territory.

To be able to keep up with the efforts put in so far and keep up the momentum, agility, evolution, experimentative, and digital acceleration are going to be the four pillars that will be core to thriving in the face of the current crisis and the scenarios it has created. 

Speaking of digital acceleration in particular, adapting to virtual collaboration tools is only the first step to stay connected in the new normal. Talent, experience, and sustainability forming the core of HR functions today, there is a need to accelerate digital across various facets of the HR domain, from talent acquisition, to engagement to wellness to fostering a culture that helps adjust to the new normal and to learning. As said by Anurag Seth in his keynote session,, “In the new normal, it is all about engaging with people, giving them platforms, giving them clear directions, giving them mentor support.”  

Digitization today is not an option, but a survival instinct. Organizations across the globe have started resuming work from office at a slow pace, with reduced capacity in the premises owing to continuing social distancing needs, which essentially means that a significant percentage of employees will continue to work remotely. So digitization is not something to contemplate any longer. For business and talent to be able to sustain themselves as economies start returning to work, infrastructure, in this situation meaning digital infrastructure, needs to be in place to support the functions and not hamper productivity and collaboration.  With that in mind, here are four aspects to plan for as you begin planning your return to office:

  • Workforce Planning: Sourcing, rehiring, onboarding, reallocating roles
  • Skills: Reskilling and upskilling, digital learning, bringing in engaging platforms to improve the learning experience
  • Being human: Greater focus on compliance, wellness and engagement
  • Continuity: Black-swan planning, in other words, contingency planning for uncertain events like the one being experienced at the moment

Brent shared that the overall mandate is clear, “The digital economy requires both increased operational efficiency and an overarching talent strategy.” Integrating HCM systems and leveraging the resulting insights to create a high-impact strategy might be just the boost that HR leaders need today to utilize the expertise of their teams for strategic tasks over administrative tasks, and to be able to plan for the four segments shared above.

With the emphasis on agility and evolution to move forward, learning becomes a critical component here, both to enable a mindset shift and to strengthen technical skills. 

Skilling ecosystem in the new normal

In the new normal, talent leaders need to work towards a new skilling ecosystem altogether that caters to the learning needs of employees in a remote or hybrid work environment.

Accessibility and experience of learning programs would be key here with a 24*7 access, multi-channel availability, and enabling collaborative, socialized as well as personalized learning.

Assessments and live project experience are a great way to keep unutilized talent engaged and on their individual growth journey.

Learning however, comes with its challenges. Remote learning, engaging a multi-generational workforce, gig economy, social and collaborative learning, and personalized learning were some of the challenges that Anurag highlighted. He recommended a three step approach to learning in the new normal:

  • Embracing new technologies faster: Make training accessible and engaging through technology - AR/VR, Social media, gamification, multi-channel on-demand training
  • Engaging in a connected world: Provide opportunities, work and share beyond boundaries
  • Enabling aspirations and personal growth: Multi-dimensional growth opportunities to work on new and emerging job roles

An important point to note here is that it isn’t only employees who need to be upskilled, the need for upskilling to keep up with the changing times has cascaded to the leadership as well. Network 18’s Head HR Richa Sachdeva Chatterjee shared, “Employees follow leaders. Therefore, leadership now is even more at the center of things than it has ever been before.” She further added that there are aspects of that leadership that come out now more than ever before which is a lot more trust-based leadership and a lot more communication. “Leadership needs to upskill themselves, with trust and communication being the two cornerstones of that.”

There isn’t any one-size fits all solution to navigate the crisis we have before us. To be able to survive and thrive in these challenging times though, organizations need to think out of their comfort zone, stepping away from the thought process of going back to the traditional ways of working once the dust settles down, and instead adapting to a more flexible, trusting, collaborative and digital working environment that enables employees to stay connected, be productive and not let learning stop, irrespective of their login location.

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Topics: Skilling, Talent Management, #Work & Skills, #COVID-19

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