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A renaissance for HR?

Written by: Fiyin Fayeye is a senior consultant in Penna’s HR team
Published on: 10 Sep 2020

Whether we’re at work at home or in the office, or a blend of the two, it’s clear we will not be returning to business as usual.

To this end, The HR team at Penna chaired a series of webinars with leading HR development professionals including Jacquie McGeachie of Homes England, Linda Kennedy of The AA, Deb Clarke of Manchester City Council and Mark Grimley of the Government of Jersey to discuss whether the pandemic has led to a renaissance for the HR and OD profession and the rising trends. HR leaders are rethinking workforce and employee planning, management, performance and employee experience strategies.

Here’s what came out of our discussions.

HR renaissance

The HR function played a pivotal role within authorities, helping organisations make strategic decisions for their greatest asset – people. Our network of HR directors unanimously commented that HR must maintain this strategic momentum post-COVID. However, due to reduced budgets, there were concerns raised that the function will be unable to capitalise on its newfound influence.

The use of data will underpin HR’s ability to make its case for top table influence; with metrics centred on performance and/or productivity.

Designing for efficiency to designing for resilience

Organisations are investing significant time in ‘re-imaging and re-thinking’ many aspects of the future of work. The last few months have created a new definition of productivity – authorities and managers have watched their employees produce high-quality work in an at-home culture. Organisations are seeing first-hand that if you create a trusting and safe culture and encourage personal growth, your employees will shine, regardless of physical location.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) was also at the forefront of our HR network’s minds, particularly regarding new ways of working. D&I leaders will need to be involved in role design and the creation of flexible work systems to ensure employees of all backgrounds and needs are considered.

Digitalisation and increased remote working

Organisations were shifted (if not catapulted, in some cases) virtually overnight to more remote working operations. Now is the time to explore the critical competencies employees need to collaborate digitally, such as how to shift performance goal-setting, management and employee evaluations. While initial considerations may relate to productivity, innovative organisations are monitoring employee engagement and wellbeing to better understand the employee experience. There were some great case studies of innovation shared by our HR development community on the webinars.

When it comes to recruitment and onboarding; video and phone interviews are the new norm, and onboarding and induction processes are completely remote. Organisations have become reliant on ‘Teams’ and ‘Zoom’ to stay connected. At Penna we have successfully digitized our executive interim and search recruitment and assessment processes, completing 80+ appointments entirely online in lockdown.

Mental health and wellbeing

Creating an inclusive culture was a key goal for HR directors. Employers are playing an expanded role in their employees’ financial, physical and mental wellbeing. The emphasis on work-life integration and support includes enhanced sick leave, furlough and adjusted hours of operation. Employees and prospective candidates will judge organisations by the way in which they treat their workforce. It is crucial to balance the decisions made today to resolve immediate concerns with the long-term impact on your employer brand. It was heartening to hear that HR directors in our network are mindful of taking the longer-term reputational view.

A holistic view rather than a standalone approach to policies and strategies on communications, wellbeing, culture and environment is being adopted. Progressive organisations speak openly and frequently to show how they are supporting employees despite cost-saving measures.

We have not yet begun to truly understand the mental health consequences of the pandemic but suffice to say they are, and will be, tremendous. Between isolation, illness, and economic impact, most workers are affected. Leaders must bring a hyper-awareness of this fact back to work with them and offer as many resources as they can. Mindfulness trainings and other mental health resources should be top of mind, and indeed, they seem to be for our HR directors.

Employee engagement – creating a trusting culture

Now is the time for senior leadership teams, aided by their HR directors, to lead with purpose and presence. The more positive your employees feel about being back in or at work, the more likely it is that you will cultivate organisational resilience, which is more necessary than ever. Look for simple ways to boost morale: virtual or distanced meetups, sending thank you cards with words of kindness, quizzes, and other ways to create a sentiment of ‘we’re all in this together’.

The influence of HR during this time cannot be underestimated. The opportunity for a renaissance for the profession should be grabbed with both hands.

It’s not surprising therefore that demand has grown for specialist interim resource for HR, organisational development, change and transformation to support new operating models, service redesign, culture and behavioural changes and to lead and drive these initiatives forward from a people/employee centric perspective.

If you’d like to hear more about our HR offer or our virtual events, do get in touch. 

Fiyin Fayeye is a senior consultant in Penna’s HR team

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