At a time filled with uncertainty, one thing we can be sure of is that when the current coronavirus crisis passes, no organization, whether it is in the private or public sector, will be immune to the global economic challenges that will ensue.
If we look back at the last major economic recession in 2008 and try to identify the learnings for the HR community, it is clear that the following challenges are likely to re-emerge:
- Pressure on internal budgets to minimize costs and maximise investment returns.
- Focus on productivity and efficiency to deal with the new economic challenges.
- Pressure on securing long-term job security.
- Focus on preserving credit lines, improving cash flow, cutting fixed costs and improving the overall balance sheet.
These are likely to be the commercial headlines, underpinned of course by the workforce health and well-being issues that will remain with us for some time. However, the problems are always going to be more complicated because the underlying demand will be for more continuous change, whether it be new pay structures, new organizational structures (hopefully with some quality organizational design principles) or new digital demands driven by the “experiment” of remote working that a lot of countries have been undertaking.
This time, HR will have an opportunity to make a real business difference rather than being known for professionally administering the release of talent at all levels of the organization.
Leading Through HR
This commitment to change by HR will need to be driven by the 6 C’s as researched in my new book “Introduction to People Analytics: A Practical Guide to Data-Driven HR” with my fellow author Nadeem Khan. These include:
- Curiosity: HR needs to fully understand the changing business environment that emerges and be able to focus upon those aspects that drive competitive advantage. This will enable appropriate prioritisation when it comes to determining where best to invest in the HR function, driven by data not just intuition.
- Credibility: Every HR practitioner needs to be financially literate as this builds true business credibility in the eyes of senior executives and leaders. That means being able to interpret financial statements, financial terminology and the financial indicators that drive the business and organizational outcomes based upon evidence not opinion.
- Confidence: The shift to a more evidence-based outcome approach requires confidence across the HR function as not every number or analysis project will reveal an insight. However, HR does need to demonstrate that it is “on top of the numbers” and is able to challenge and question the business about their assertions.
- Courage: This new period of change will be driven by generating, evaluating and then implementing new and better ways of working, especially with the increasing demand for automation. This means having the courage and bravery to proactively identify performance improvement opportunities and different ways of doing things for the organization, not just within HR itself.
- Connected: Being collaborative is important in bringing together different functions, ideas and leaders. This is where interpersonal skills – influencing, presenting, negotiating, leading, facilitating – are as important as the ‘hard’ skills around finance and numeracy. These will be the “HR skills agenda” post the crisis.
- Capability: Continuous development of the HR practitioner is business critical. Apart from improving financial understanding and making sense of data and numbers, other areas such as business strategy and how it is formed, being knowledgeable with operational effectiveness techniques, knowing what process improvement is all about and keeping up to date with the continual technological advancements that change almost on a daily basis will be the agenda for HR to change.
Assessing the Workforce
The pressure on the workforce will be intense following the crisis as organizations strive to re-establish their levels of performance and competitiveness in a difficult economic climate. HR will need to be the “voice of the employee” to ensure that leaders and managers strike the right balance between reducing cost and maintaining productivity in the long run.
This is where data and analytical insights regarding productivity, compensation, learning, and other business results can help ensure that the full impact of workforce reductions are more clearly understood before they actually happen; the predictive aspect based on data that HR need to be embrace.
HR will have the opportunity to make a real difference when this is over. They need to start preparing themselves now in terms of new capabilities, new ways of working and new behaviours that will positively challenge the business rather than condone commercial decisions that are made without thoroughly exploring and investigating all the possible people and business-based implications. Exciting times and opportunities are coming our way. Get ready now.