Article: HR leaders will need to imbibe a strong risk management culture: Hersh Shah

Strategic HR

HR leaders will need to imbibe a strong risk management culture: Hersh Shah

In an interview with People Matters, Hersh Shah, CEO, India Affiliate of Institute of Risk Management (UK) discusses some of the key people and business risks that HR leaders need to pay attention to as they prepare for the now and the future of work. He also shares how HR leaders can navigate through these risks.
HR leaders will need to imbibe a strong risk management culture: Hersh Shah

Risk management has been a critical part of HR’s role from the very beginning, the types of risks may have evolved from the industrial to digital era. Especially amid the pandemic with workplace safety and  employees’ health and well-being becoming the top priorities, the role of HR professionals in risk management has become more important than ever. 

“HR leaders will need to imbibe a strong risk management culture to navigate through these challenging times,” said Hersh Shah, CEO, India Affiliate of Institute of Risk Management (UK), in a recent interview with People Matters. 

Shah has over 11 years of experience in audit and assurance, enterprise risk management, consulting, and corporate finance including structuring strategic alliances and partnerships. Previously associated with KPMG Risk Consulting, he worked on many enterprise risk consulting assignments across South Africa, USA, UK, China and the Middle East. Today he leads the India Affiliate of London-based Institute of Risk Management - UK, one of the world’s leading professional bodies for enterprise risk management education, research and thought leadership. 

In the interview, Shah discusses some of the key people and business risks that HR leaders need to pay attention to as they prepare for the now and the future of work. He also shares how HR leaders can navigate through these risks.

How do you see the world of work shaping up? What are some of the people and work trends you think will either stay or emerge even beyond the COVID-19 era?

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upturned our ideas of normality, and altered the notion of a regular work space like never before. In a post-COVID world, it will be nearly impossible to return to business as usual, because not only has the pandemic pushed organizations to adapt to new ways of working in a short span of time, but the virus is here to stay, and trends like social distancing, frequent sanitisation and mask-wearing will continue for a while.

Working from home is another scenario that would have been unimaginable a year ago. However, companies around the world have now adjusted to employees working remotely, and have created effective ecosystems to support WFH. The pandemic has proven that necessity is truly the mother of all invention, and COVID-19 has made adapting to remote working a necessity overnight. And although most companies cannot continue to work from home forever, it is important to think about how this crisis has forced companies to rethink and re-evaluate traditional knowledge and practices.

Remote working comes with its own set of challenges, it has put more hours into the working day and created stressful situations for many workers trying to balance professional commitments and personal demands (such as being a parent or a caregiver). Many workers are facing exhaustion and burnouts because they can no longer separate their work lives from their personal ones, and are torn between managing both aspects simultaneously.

Companies are going to have to gradually come out of survival mode and instead, come up with hybrid work models for the future. New practices such as staggered working hours, rotational work days, and shifts that avoid peak travel hours, will be the new normal. Office spaces will also have to be redesigned to meet new hygiene and safety standards. Design experts are even floating the idea of office spaces resembling hospital setups, wherein physical distancing between desks, well-lit and ventilated corridors, and contactless technology, are dominant features.

The COVID-19 crisis has definitely pushed companies to rethink conventions, and in the future, infrastructure spending won’t always take precedence. Instead, company HRs will focus more on human-centric approaches that prioritise employees’ physical and mental health.

How does risk management fall in the purview of HR leaders? How has it become more critical in the time of pandemic?

People are the most valuable asset in a company, and effective business leaders know the importance of employee care and satisfaction, for running a successful business. It is a moral and ethical imperative for companies to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of their people. 

Managing people and talent is one of the biggest discussion points in a boardroom, because it is an area from where some of the greatest risks emanate. In this regard, the pandemic has brought the role of HR to the fore. 

With hundreds of employees facing unprecedented difficulties while working from home, HR leaders need to devise comprehensive strategies to redress concerns and allay fears.

In a post-pandemic world, people resuming offices will be faced with a lot of different challenges. While some employees may be experiencing post-traumatic stress, others might be tackling any of myriad other mental health issues. Concerns about job insecurity, precarious personal finances, stresses related to the possibility of being infected, etc., have all taken a heavy toll on peoples’ mental states. Hence, in a post-COVID world, organizations will need to shift to a human-centric approach, and support their employees and workers in every possible way, that aids in their productivity and well-being.

What are some of the key people & business risks that HR leaders need to pay attention to as they prepare for the now and the future of work?

Collaboration is a key aspect of business that has suffered greatly due to the lockdown. Employees can no longer walk across to a colleague for a quick discussion and all meetings have completely switched to being virtual discussions conducted through digital platforms. It has become increasingly challenging to coordinate schedules across multiple time zones and departments, and all this has impacted the speed of decision-making in organisations. 

Companies have had to invest in digital collaboration tools that allow work to continue seamlessly. However, even this has been a complicated task made difficult by the burden that has been placed on residential internet infrastructure due to remote working, with people experiencing low connectivity and slow internet speeds that hamper the use of such tools. Such difficulties are adding to employees’ work hours and increasing the amount of stress faced while working from home. Hence, HR leaders must focus on developing strategies that can enable smooth working for employees, and help them manage stress.

As people grapple to manage their professional obligations and personal lives within the constraints created by the lockdown, concerns about employees’ health and wellbeing have come to the forefront. With remote working having become the norm, it has become nearly impossible for people to compartmentalise their personal and professional lives. Companies are now compelled to take cognisance of the need to create family-friendly work environments. Expanding scope for family leave, providing education support for children at home, and allowing flexible work hours are just some of the measures that companies and HR leaders will have to include in their repertoire of employee care policies.

How can HR leaders navigate through these risks? What are some essential skills they need to work on to be able to safeguard both talent and business?

HR leaders will need to imbibe a strong risk management culture to navigate through these challenging times. They will need to become more proactive in identifying issues before they become big enough to jeopardise business operations.

Now that people are no longer gathering in offices, it is also incumbent upon HR leaders to formulate employee engagement strategies that can be implemented digitally. Also, given the vastly altered work scenario, it is also important for HR leaders to upskill themselves with knowledge of digital tools in order to effectively carry out their duties. Good HR leaders are able to prioritise risks as they emerge, and respond in a skilful and agile manner. They also need to possess strong decision-making skills, showcase strong management, lead with purpose, over-communicate and promote a people-centric leadership. 

Among the many risks discussed, the culture risk seems to be the most alarming as organizations now majorly operate remotely. How can talent leaders ensure that they build a strong culture beyond the physical space of the workplace?

Creating a strong organizational culture is challenging to begin with, and the pandemic has exacerbated this challenge because of remote working. Sociable in-person interactions are crucial to a collegial work atmosphere. However, regrettably, remote working is not quite suited to achieving this goal. Imbibing a company’s culture, especially for new recruits, can be extremely challenging in times like these, as most of them will not have had a chance to meet their colleagues or experience the office environment. Hence, now more than ever, it is of utmost importance for talent leaders to implement employee engagement measures that keep the workforce motivated and content.

HR leaders will need to devise creative ways to enhance communication and conduct regular team retrospectives and ideate on improvements. 

Employees should be encouraged to challenge the status quo and suggest ways of doing things differently. 

Talent leaders will also need to work closely with the company’s leadership in order to foster a strong organisational culture that welcomes change.

Lastly, how are you dealing with this crisis? What are some personal challenges you think leaders often face in these tough times? How are you ensuring that you keep calm, sail through and help others also in these tough times? Share your tips.

The key challenge leaders are facing in these present times is keeping their “flock” together, assuaging their fears, and ensuring they continue to be healthy, safe and productive. In the face of the present challenges, communication is key – now more than ever, people need to hear from their leaders.  This is the time for employers and CEOs to step up and make sure that people feel heard and supported. At IRM India, we organize frequent check-in meetings with our employees, to discuss their well-being, and address their concerns to help reduce stress. Most importantly, we build trust through honest and empathetic communication, and reassure them of our unrelenting support. As a leader, helping my employees stay calm and productive facilitates the same for me as well.

Many leaders think that kindness and empathy are traits of the vulnerable and weak, but this is a mistaken notion. Communicating with empathy requires great strength, a skill that a lot of leaders fail to master and use to their advantage. For example, the communication approach of Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, during this pandemic and other crises, like the Christchurch attacks, has been filled with empathy, clear information, and genuine concern, and this has consequently led citizens to perceive her as a strong and decisive leader. 

It is important to remember that being a leader is both a privilege, and a responsibility one has volunteered for. Therefore, it is incumbent upon CEOs and other business leaders to demonstrate the capability to lead in this time of adversity, and shepherd their flock safely to the other side of the current crisis.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #COVID-19

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