Brave New World: Building HR Capability for the Post-Covid Reality

In Part 1 of this series, we saw how the Covid-19 episode will induce tectonic shifts in the business landscape, and trigger or accelerate critical responses / success imperatives for organizations to survive and thrive in the new normal. In Part 2, we explored the role that HR will need to play in supporting the organizational transformation. We now explore the key HR capabilities for this new era of business and people management.

HR Steps Up

This new ‘ask’ of HR will require it to rethink its own ability to deliver and rise up to diverse challenges.

  1. Employee Cost Management: Irrespective of the extent of the immediate impact of the crisis on any particular organization, a few tough people decisions will be necessarily required. Whatever may be their nature, it is imperative for HR to ensure that they are arrived at after a fair and objective decision-making process, and are actioned with 100% compliance and in due process as per applicable employment laws. Here, HR professionals with prior experience of people cost management, especially in the context of Industrial Relations, will be prove invaluable. Additionally, every single HR person in the organization will need to bear in mind that they are the ‘face’ of their organization for these decisions, and therefore need to treat the impacted employees with empathy, sensitivity and respect.
  2. Employee Communication: HR will benefit immensely from taking a leaf out of the Marketing playbook and ensuring that every employee communication is seen as an opportunity to build and reinforce the emotional connect necessary to maintain positivity amidst uncertainty, as well as enhance stickiness of key talent. For this to work, it will be imperative to ensure consistency between what is said, and the actions of all stakeholders – leadership, people managers, and HR.
  3. Employee Policies (HR Cares): HR needs to extend its role of being an Employee Champion, to become a nurturer and carer of employees. For starters, some HR policies may need to be recast in more humane and trusting terms, focusing on the 98% majority that is compliant instead of the 2% minority that may turn out to be delinquent. Employees will be exhorted to become a part of a tough and challenging journey; to absorb and deal with the stresses and pressures related to additional work; and to navigate the changes around them. Hence, it will be critical for HR to manage their holistic well-being (not just physical, but mental and social as well). This may involve getting access to the right workplace / occupational health advice, setting up and managing employee support help lines, and building internal / external counselling capability and bandwidth in the HR team.
  4. Employee Life Cycle Management: With remote working and reduced physical presence, there will be a drastic reduction in face-to-face employee touch points available to HR Representatives/ Business Partners. While increased use of digital HR processes, virtual helpdesks, chatbots, etc. will help in day-to-day employee lifecycle management tasks, their ability to assess employee sentiment first-hand, and influence their perspectives will be severely affected. This will have a profound impact on the ability to drive change management initiatives, thus necessitating greater innovation and experimentation on this front.
  5. HR Operations & Service Delivery: The recent crisis has thrown into focus issues around business continuity of outsourced operations (payroll, background checks, document management, HR technology support etc.), with a few reported instances of outsourcing partners unable to demonstrate the expected level of capability to respond, bounce back and control their processes during the crisis. Questions related to near-shoring, blended outsourcing, implant contractors, temp staffing etc. may gain currency again.
  6. Other HR Processes / Roles: Over the last few years, recruitment roles have already been transformed digitally with nearly all steps of the process – from online job postings to virtual on-boarding – lending themselves to online working. Other specialist roles (Rewards, Learning, etc.) need to follow suit, and would be expected to go even deeper to provide answers to the challenging questions that emerge. Leadership & Managerial capability development focused on the managing change within and outside the organization, will emerge as an important focus area. As always, good HR consultants/ SMEs will be sought out to supplement all these efforts.

For all of these initiatives and changes to reach fruition, it will be of paramount importance for the HR function to come across as strategic, credible and truly business-aligned, actively contributing to the overall organization rebuilding & business renewal effort. Only then, will the CHROs be able to get the necessary commitment and resources to invest in these measures (people, technology) in the new cost management environment.

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