Global HR Outlook Q2 2020
In this edition of our quarterly Global HR Outlook, ChapmanCG’s Matt Chapman and Stefanie Cross-Wilson reflect on some important constants to keep sight of in these times of change. They highlight some megatrends which were a growing part of the HR landscape pre-COVID-19 and which will continue to shape our futures for the weeks, months and years to come. They also reflect on the characteristics and qualities that will enable the best HR leaders to keep themselves, their teams and their companies healthy and vital through these times of change and beyond.
A New World of Work with HR at the Center
Out of the blue, the COVID-19 coronavirus became the catalyst for a massive workplace transformation. At the time of writing this piece, it certainly seems that where and how we work, how we communicate, care for our families and balance our work and personal lives may be changed forever. This pandemic has shown us how ill-prepared we’ve been as a society for such an occurrence. In the workplace, we’ve also discovered that our carefully laid contingency plans have been found wanting. Hopefully the things we have learned through this crisis will better equip us for the future.
From a business perspective, now that we have moved past the initial phase of panic and damage control, the professional world is considering ways to return to a ‘normal’ level of workplace productivity to restore company health and growth. HR leaders have found themselves on the front line of the crisis, placed under immense pressure, and pulled in all directions as they juggle both the immediate and the longer-term needs of the organization and the employees they support.
Many of us are left to wonder, ‘will things ever return to the way they were?’ There are certainly many ‘new’ things in our daily lives that weren’t there a few short weeks ago. For example, we have learned phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘flatten the curve.’ The face mask has become a new clothing accessory for the majority of us, at least temporarily. We have watched this disease strike down the elderly in huge numbers while sparing the very young.
In the world of work, as companies begin to cautiously return to the office and restore contact with external visitors (for example, in-person interviewing when acquiring talent), people will be seated a safe distance apart. Food can be carefully served with precautions in the case of full day panel interviews. However, buffet-style eating, once a staple of conference room meetings, is not likely to return anytime soon. With schools closed for the rest of the academic year and through summer, HR will continue to support employees who are grappling with childcare issues. HR also carries the responsibility of interfacing with those who will lose their jobs or remain furloughed.
HR Megatrends: Our Path Hasn’t Changed
Looking beyond the human toll and the shock factor of the changes being thrust upon us, it is clear that in reality, a good deal of the sudden ‘change’ that we are experiencing was destined to happen anyway. It just happed much more quickly than we thought, and under unfortunate circumstances. For example:
- Remote/virtual working was already on the radar. Many organizations had long ago embraced it, including ChapmanCG 12 years ago at our inception.
- Agile operating models were being studied and implemented as companies looked to replace top-down and siloed structures with a more nimble, lean and responsive ways to operate.
- Digital transformations were already either completed or well underway within progressive companies. Pre-COVID-19, we were seeing heavy demand for HR leaders with digital transformation credentials who could teach a new company the lessons they had learned through implementing digital HR elsewhere.
- The democratization of data and information was being embraced as a game changer long before this year’s step change when a wave of medical information was shared among pharmaceutical companies and the scientific community as a result of COVID-19.
- Transformative HR leadership with deep Change experience was heavily in demand over the past couple of years before we even realized how much change was about to be inflicted on us.
- We were talking about ‘Wellness 2.0’ in early 2019, recognizing that ‘health and wellness’ had moved well beyond the company paid gym membership and annual fun run into much broader areas including mental health.
- The most progressive companies had already realized that employee engagement, creative and family-friendly benefits, and empathetic ‘connected’ modern leadership would be the way of the future. Led by the technology sector, other industries were redefining their cultures and embracing these practices and ways of working before COVID-19 struck.
One can read a good deal of content every day about each of these points above and how they are part of our ‘new reality.’ However, these trends were already well and truly here with us, just in a less pronounced and slower moving way. It’s both unfortunate and fortunate that sudden change was ‘forced’ on organizations which were not ready to fully embrace and incorporate these major HR trends into their planning.
A New Breed of HR Leader – Built to Last
Over the last two years, we had noticed leading organizations looking for some very specific traits in their HR leaders – namely agility, flexibility, and resilience. These characteristics have been and continue to be ‘must haves’ for critical HR hires. These traits enable an HR professional to remain positive, deal with unexpected change, deal with ambiguity and complexity, and pivot when the external environment changes. ChapmanCG expects that these characteristics will become a greater differentiator for HR professionals as they chart the way forward through these rapidly changing and volatile times.
This brings us to an analogy we’d like to draw in terms of how today’s aspiring HR professional could think about her/his career. We liken an elite HR career to an ultra-marathon. Below is a recent reflection from Matt Chapman:
Some years ago, I began to run ultra-marathons. I was at the start of my second marathon, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when I asked the person next to me, who I didn’t know, “have you run a marathon before”? “I’ve just done an ultra-marathon”, he said. “What’s an ultra-marathon?”, I asked. “Here’s my number and let’s chat on it sometime”.
Three months later I was in the Atacama Desert in Chile, running my first 250km. If you’ve been to the Atacama Desert, you’ll know it’s lunar-like. I completed the race and before I knew it, I had also run 250kms in the Gobi Desert in China, Sahara in Egypt and then Antarctica. I would bite off similar length challenges in Namibia and Madagascar in future years. And this year I am saddling up for the www.snowmanrace.org in Bhutan, although this may now push to 2021.
With ultra-running I learned that the art of reaching the finish line is to keep everything in equilibrium. Balancing water and nutrition in a formulaic way is key. Making sure blisters are attended to immediately, keeping to a pace that feels sustainable, covering all exposed parts of the body, in searing desert sun, with protective clothing and maintaining a positive mindset.
It is also important to do more than you thought possible with less, since you carry your entire life on your back for the duration of the ultramarathon including what you wear, what you eat, what you sleep on and the various medical supplies you might need. And the less weight you carry on your back the better – every ounce counts!
When we set up ChapmanCG, I learned that developing and growing a global business requires the same ultra-approach. Keeping focused on the horizon, working hard enough but knowing where the limits are and embodying a similar sustainable mindset in employees.
And now as we find ourselves in the era of COVID-19, again the ultra-running analogy comes into mind for me. Right now, we don’t know what lies ahead in the great race towards the new normal. We must bring ourselves completely into the present. We find ourselves calibrating our pace each day. Remembering if we push it too fast, we are not in good shape for tomorrow let alone next week.
In a recent conversation with Stephanie Nash, our Chief People Officer, she talked of her coping strategy to be CHRO to herself, then to her team and finally the organisation. I found myself thinking about her words. If you’re not running sustainably yourself, how can you run a team and then a company?
Brave HR – Doing More with Less and Finding a Way to Make it Work
As we look forward to what will be needed from HR leadership in the coming weeks, months and years, we would again highlight agility, flexibility, resilience as key characteristics needed to get through today’s unpredictable conditions and remain strong in the long run. There is little doubt that short-term success will (for most companies and industries) involve an ability to adapt and scale up, scale down, pivot and change investments and priorities to synch with the new external market conditions. Just like running an ultra-marathon, these qualities enable one to deal with immediate stressors while keeping both eyes fixed firmly on the horizon.
We see a wonderful opportunity for the best and bravest of HR leaders to take advantage of the current disruption and make their mark during this time. Of all the business functions, HR currently enjoys the brightest spotlight. This hasn’t happened before. Companies are relying on their HR leadership to help restore the workplace to as ‘normal’ a state as possible. As the ‘crisis management’ phase shifts to ‘what’s next?’, HR leaders need to pace themselves for the long road ahead. They will need to balance an acute awareness of the landscape to enable short-term sustenance and survival with the need to calmly relax and get into a rhythm to reach a point on the distant horizon. In HR terms, reaching that horizon means addressing areas like organizational strategy and structure, employee wellness and engagement, and employer branding, while juggling more immediate critical areas like day-to-day financial health of the company, as well as the physical and mental health and productivity of the workforce. For the majority of HR leaders, they will need to do all of this quickly and with less resources.
For those who are able to see and rise to this challenge, the best and the brightest in HR have an unprecedented opportunity to further the profile, relevance and meaningfulness of the HR profession in ways that we hadn’t thought about a few short weeks ago.
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