Kevin Green, former CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, what will the world of work look like after Covid-19?
The big question for HR leaders as we start to emerge from this health crisis is what will we take from this period of disruption? What have we learnt to do differently that we need to retain and what will remain as before? The debate about the future of work has been raging for years but now it feels like it’s upon us. Do we rise up and grasp this once in a career opportunity or do we just revert to normality?
The first lesson seems to be that the world is much more interdependent than we imagined, the whole system within which businesses now operate is much more fragile than we thought. The second is that human ingenuity and imagination can achieve remarkable things when our backs are against the wall, necessity really is the mother of invention. I’ve witnessed business after business turn their whole operating model on its head in the matter of a few days. What, in normal circumstances, would have taken weeks, months and sometimes even years to deliver was executed in just a few days.
The first casualty of this disruption will be our normal business strategy and planning processes. The idea that a business can look five years ahead with any level of certainty has been destroyed. Traditional linear thinking where we assume markets and competitors will behave in a predictable fashion needs to be replaced with just-in-time thinking. We need to be more agile and responsive to the environment within which our business operates and HR has a role to play in making strategy development a learning process.
Secondly, the often-quoted softer side of leadership i.e. the leading of people has at last been recognised as a core requirement of leaders and managers. The HR profession must capitalise on this opportunity to once and for all ensure that we hire and develop leaders who can inspire, engage and coach their teams. This must be viewed as a core element of leadership. Not the bit you squeeze in between the real work, the soft stuff is the now the hard stuff. Getting your people to give their best every day and create teams which truly collaborate and support one another is the only driver of superior performance. It is also how you create a culture where people feel valued and want to be a part of.
Thirdly, we know that businesses will be viewed either positively or negatively by how they behaved during the crisis. Customers, suppliers and staff will hold organisations to account and judge them on the difference between what they espouse and how they behaved. Authenticity really does count. The cultural work that HR leads will become more important and move from being an abstract and conceptual debate to the basis of how leaders make business decisions. The values and behaviours that firms use to describe themselves will now move centre stage. This will also extend to our people’s wellbeing as companies seek to differentiate around how they treat their employees.
The other area of change will be a shift away from change and transformation as being centrally driven projects which are managed in a linear programmatic manner. What we have learnt during the crisis is that a dynamic of empowering people to try things, retain what works and jettison what doesn’t at pace is a better approach to continuous improvement. This agile approach to HR where we are facilitators of change rather than drivers of it will unleash our people’s creativity and imagination.
My final thought is that HR needs to develop its own capability like never before to be able to harness the opportunities that lie ahead. We need to hire true leadership talent and compete with other functions for the brightest and the best and we must invest in the development of our own people’s ability in a sustainable and meaningful way.