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The COVID year(s) are teaching our organization how significant HR is to its operations. When the pandemic hit and we all needed to change fast, there was no question that HR would be at the table, relied on for strategic advice. (Notice how different this was from the recent past, when C-suite support could be fickle.)
As McKinsey & Company points out in their recent paper, "Organizations have by and large met the challenges of this crisis moment. But as we move toward imagining a postpandemic era, a management system based on old rules — a hierarchy that solves for uniformity, bureaucracy, and control — will no longer be effective." HR, and Compensation in particular, needs to be alert to the leadership opportunities coming out of our strict lockdown. We have learned a lot about cutting through hierarchy and it's just about time to start speaking to senior staff about the evolution that has been unfolding before our eyes.
Here are just a few of the changes that HR can foresee from here if we give ourselves time to think strategically. We can use this foresight to brief executives and enlarge the inroads we made in these relationships earlier in the pandemic.
Capture speed in decision making from the crisis operations we have become used to. We shouldn't be thinking about how to get back to the way it used to be, before the crisis. We have been able to make decisions quicker in a flatter organization than ever before. How has that been organized, and how can we turn the best of what we've learned into "the way we do things around here?”
The COVID year(s) have taught us what it really means to be a “learning organization.” We changed quickly and adapted to new ways of doing things, sometimes under duress. Were training and communications used to facilitate needed shifts? Or were needs so apparent that the changes happened on their own? If so, what kind of environment was created to inspire that level of engagement and how did you support it? Are there takeaways that should be discussed and applied?
We were able to scale quickly, but do we understand where this agility came from? Certain functions responded to the COVID crisis better than others, embodying the strategic concept of "agility." Analyze their capabilities from the standpoint of people, processes and structure. Identify which of your findings can be applied on a larger scale.
Notice how much you needed an easy-to-use digital platform. Was your intranet a tool or an obstacle? How about your administrative systems? Was Tech able to be responsive? Now that you know how much pressure these processes can tolerate, are there updates that you can introduce to make you better equipped for the future?
Think deeply about talent — being able to assign who you need when you need them, and developing them to ensure high career returns. For years we have been focusing our attention on top talent, but recent experience should have showed that even more insight into talent management was needed. It is certainly important that we identify how top talent's behaviors distinguish them from other employees. But these insights need to be turned into development opportunities for others, now that we have been reminded how much we need to be able to rely on everyone to succeed.
In addition, we need to admit that job architecture is crucial if we are looking to improve our flexibility and responsiveness. It prepares HR, managers and employees to be flexible about work assignments, to make shifts quickly and to understand how to move to (and talk about) the next level of leadership in a career path.
These are some of the shifts to consider. I am sure you can name others, especially related to the importance of the employee experience. The next few years should be exciting ones for HR. Take the reins by understanding how HR has evolved, and can evolve, in leadership.
About the Author
Margaret O'Hanlon, CCP, is founder and principal at re:Think Consulting and a founding contributor of Compensation Café.
This article was first published at Compensation Café on March 18, 2021.