Article (May-2020)


Boardroom heroes: HR after COVID-19

Purvi Sheth

Designation : -   CEO

Organization : -  Shilputsi Consultants, Mumbai


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I am not trying to take dramatic liberties here, but how talent in companies will be managed hereafter, may change FOREVER! The post outbreak HR function will (need to) be different from before the lockdown & social distancing epoch!

Usually, around this time, there is a flurry of activity at our end. Clients buzzing with discussions and debate on performance appraisals, new KPIs, increments & bonuses, L&D initiatives, HR budgets etc. That has been silenced for now. However, once we are back at the workplace (and we all will be soon), it's not just the conversations, but even the mindset that will need a complete transformation.

These are challenging days for most companies, leadership teams and all stakeholders in general. The aftermath of the pandemic will not leave us with easy answers. Naturally, large cost cutting initiatives or bulk layoffs are extreme solutions and HR leaders will deal with a whole new set of issues, delicately balancing between the COVID EFFECT on business bottom line and people.

SO what next? In a business crisis such as this, CHROs will have to become boardroom heroes, reconfiguring HR strategy and how it comes alive! Stakeholders & top management will also have to get used to shifted HR benchmarks - whether it's dealing with employee anxiety while augmenting productivity, managing compensation with corporate commercial interests or arranging for greater workplace safety & health.

Right now, important and difficult decisions have to be made, inventive systems and processes set up and plans drawn up for contingency. Responses may include anything from altered business plans to using analytics to re-skilling for interim roles & short term projects.

I present here five areas for the CHRO to think about:

1. Re - visioning of the business and board support - The first role would be to be a listener & support system to the Board, CEO & rest of the leadership team. Business models will get modified, temporarily or longer term, as a reaction to markets and economic factors. It is important for CHROs to understand new & multiple business settings and help to envision their consequences. Issues could range from sales to service to supply chain to salaries and it is incumbent upon HR to back the new business strategy, recognize implications and provide sustainable people solutions.

After strategizing, the next step would be to build a buy in and champion "collective business responsibility"! The organization as a whole and employees as individuals must be readied for new challenges, adjustments and perhaps even sacrifices.

2. Rebuilding the work culture & morale - Eisenhower said, morale is the greatest single factor in successful wars! And the impact of COVID19 promises to be no less than a war. No one today has seen a pandemic like this before and a series of battles will have to be fought and won by businesses, large & small. Employees at every level will be expected to deal with business problems and tackle issues with renewed vigour.

Since insecurity and anxiety may have already set in, talent managers will be required to ensure morale and faith is restored. Re-modelling attitudes, encouraging optimism and building emotional resilience will be significant factors in determining how the organization is able to brave the times to come.

3. Rethinking policies & programs - In February this year, I was helping a client design their policy document. Exactly four weeks later that file is no longer relevant and we are writing a completely new set! One- where rules and guidelines are shaped by an entirely different world.

We will see HR reset how they conduct internal procedures at the workplace and think of dilemmas acknowledging extreme risk situations and new scenarios. How SLAs will be written and force majeure be enforced with vendors could now be focus areas.

First off, post Covid policies should cover survival and sustenance before they progress to sustainable regulations. Among the foremost are health & safety; challenges pertaining to business continuity, prospects of limited travel, increased virtual meetings, contentions around remote & work from home programs, cyber security etc. This will set the tone for a new normal and may pivot the way businesses are run.

4. Restructure, re-skill & redeploy - As market forces evolve globally and supply chain constraints play out, there will be a revision of organizational roles. Some jobs may get broader & more intense while others transition to scantier profiles. The CHRO will evaluate and rearrange the organization structure to better facilitate movement and shuffling of positions. HR tech & learning management systems will play a big role here.

Systematic planning of reskilling & redeploying employees will be needed as well as the reconstruction and reorientation of leadership/team roles, titles & accountabilities. Reinforcing the benefits of unlearning as well as encouraging metamorphosis of old competencies will be a big part of the CHROs job.

5. Revise performance metrics - As organization structures and business plans get more dynamic, performance metrics will also adapt. Whether it's developing unique KPIs or assessing them, the true test of the modern CHRO begins here.

Post Covid appraisals may, at least for some time, give rise to variable factors in determining accountabilities making them unpredictable. To remain steady and unshaken, while maintaining an outcome based performance management system will be the HR head's mandate.

CEOs & CHROs should   rethink some basics. Issues of short term importance and long term endurance need to be segregated and addressed.