Leading the charge to a brighter 2021

There’s a growing realisation that command and control is giving way to a newer, more empathetic and open style of leadership. The urgency for a direction in organisations which supports compassion, vision and agency was underlined in our HR survey of 2020. Here are a few insights into what our HRD network said would be important to them in 2021.

Developing organisations

Many organisations have found difficulty living their values in a period of crisis and operational uncertainty. HR and OD have always focused on creating the conditions to allow candidates to work to their best. Now more than ever during this period of enforced transition; every organisations has the chance to take stock and seize change.

Yet there have been opportunities too. As one survey respondent responded when asked what are your biggest learnings from 2021: ‘The opportunity [has been there] for good HR to help lead an organisation through a pandemic. It’s been a fantastic year for HR professionally, and I have had the chance to work closely with colleagues in FM, H&S, Assets, Data and Digital, [and] on our offer to staff and managers.’

For others, it was Black Lives Matter that proved the real catalyst for change. As one HRD said: ‘In the coming 12 months I can see a lot more work needs to be done around “inclusion” and looking again at workplace bullying and “micro aggressions”.’ 

Organisations are now tasked with taking the lessons from 2020 and assessing not only how do they recover but if they want to go further and redesign operating models. For senior management teams this provides a strong opportunity to not let the dust settle and ascertain what can be done differently, how can you review and evaluate keeping the positives and removing the negatives. As one of our survey respondents put it: ‘Most inhibiters to doing things differently are myth not reality.’

The year 2021 is a real chance for HR and OD professionals to be brave, challenge, push and be professionally disruptive. To get under the ‘skin’ of organisations and consider how can you implement real change effectively. HR leaders have seen the importance of, for example, better technology and systems redevelopment as agile/flexible working is practiced with remote workers and virtual meetings taking place.

Becoming critical to conversations

This period of rapid change has undoubtedly thrown up questions across leadership teams focused on the reliance of certain practices as they now note that ‘we did not have to do it that way’.

For HR/OD practitioners, now is the time to continue those critical discussions and lead change. The pace may not be rapid as in 2020, but assuming responsibility around the impact of their role to an organisation is key. As one survey respondent put it, there’s a ‘growing importance [to] focus on key deliverables to make a difference’.

The year 2021 should start with a review of where organisations are now, on how the current workforce and processes managed engagement. What can be built into future communications? Are the levels of these correct? Is there enough focus on employee wellbeing? Refocusing and reprioritising will need to take place and responsibilities be reconsidered. Although budgetary concerns are paramount; HR/OD professionals can take charge, facilitating these discussions and giving a voice to the wider workforce.

Operational Challenges

We have moved on from austerity and Brexit, it’s a new world with issues of business values and culture, digital change, engagement and leadership.

For the HR leaders we surveyed, they saw 2021’s strategic priorities including ‘Growing from a ‘developmental’ base; something that’s already a priority in our People Strategy. Also embracing intersectionality as opposed to nine protected characteristics’. Others felt that ‘Moving away from strategies and…keeping an open and meaningful conversation going on D&I. Calling out any poor practice or behaviours right away!’ would be the priorities for next year.

With these priorities in mind, the need for OD practitioners to continue working closely with HR colleagues will be key to create the conditions for all staff to work to their best. OD professionals can continue to work with HR leaders to highlight through their vast tool kits of skills including coaching, psychometrics, change modelling, personal development, that their role is to enable and facilitate change.

Local government does not traditionally take large leaps forwards but what the HR and OD practitioner brings now is an understanding of the bigger picture and of the smaller details as to how authorities will step into the ‘new normal’ and deliver on leadership, engagement, values, cross-regional thinking and more practically, knowledge on how offices will need to be redesigned.

Now is a good time to consider how HR and OD professionals can help authorities drive their ambitions into the new year. 

Fiyin Fayeye is senior consultant for HR at Penna

Fiyin.fayeye@penna.com

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