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HR Priorities & Active Business Partnering in the times of COVID-19

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If I could go back to the start of the year 2020 and rewrite the New Year Up skilling Challenge, 2 words which would stand out would be – “Organizational Productivity” & “HR Technology”.

The last 3 months have created ripples around the world and hardly any industry or business has been spared from being pulled into the whirlpool.

When was the last time you looked at the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) for your Organization?

Three months back, had we said that majority of Organizations across the globe would need to invoke their BCP in the coming months and that too all at the same time, it would have sounded quite unbelievable.

With Organizations bravely facing the challenges thrown their way, the HR community has been actively partnering with Business to solve some of the trickiest questions the business world faces today.

For anyone who has been involved, two of the most pronounced buzzwords have been ‘Organizational Productivity’ (or in some case Employee Productivity, though both differ in their definition & usage) and ‘Employee Engagement’; both in the context of working remotely. And hence HR Professionals across the globe are juggling between putting on the two hats of an ‘Employee Champion’ & an ‘Organizational builder’.

Highlighted below are what in my mind key areas which the HR community is partnering with Business to solve for and why they are so important.

Changing Business Models & Talent Delivery

The impending economic downturn is coming our way, and businesses are gearing up to tackle it. COVID-19 also promises to change consumer behaviors and hence a lot of industries; Aviation, lifestyle & hospitality to name a few, would need to adopt new business models to curb falling revenues (at least in short to mid-term). If experts are to be believed, the economic restart is going to be slow and cautious, but what would become critical for the success of a sharp V-shaped economic recovery would be a period of evolving business models. This would, in turn, mean evolving needs of Organizational design & Talent delivery evolving needs of Organizational design & Talent delivery.

As HR professionals, it is extremely critical to have our eyes & ears on the strategy table to partner on the changes being adopted, learn quickly to understand the new talent market, and solve for the talent gap within our respective Organizations. What is also going to be critical is to evolve an Organizational design to cater to these changes, which leads me to the second critical pillar of Organizational Effectiveness

Related: 13 Employee Engagement Trends for 2020 and Beyond

Organizational Effectiveness

For most Organizations, a change in its Org design is an exercise that is undertaken with apprehension and is a once in a while activity driven by market conditions or P&L pressures in most cases. This scenario is no different on the face of it, with many businesses facing stiff P&L pressures and hence exploring ways to a leaner cost spend model, including Human Capital costs. However, the key to success in this scenario is not to look at this purely as a cost exercise, but to evaluate the most efficient & future-fit Organizational design by asking tough questions on the width and depth of roles across Business units. The trickiest part is to ensure the design is agile enough to cater to rapid changes (either for growth or rightsizing).

Related: How can HR leaders manage challenges in the new realities of working at home?

Employee Productivity

Organizational Design cannot work in isolation from Employee Productivity. As a strong believer of an output driven productivity measure, in my mind, the best way is to club this exercise with the Organizational design and define clear metrics and measures for roles across bands and to look at mechanisms like OKR (Objectives & Key Results) or CPM (Continuous Performance Management) to make both goals and its measurement more frequent.

This also helps eliminate one of the biggest fears of an output is driven productivity measure, that if the cycle of measurement is too long, you will miss the opportunity to course-correct before the fatal damage is done. This is also one of the reasons why many Organizations look for input-driven measures as they are in front of you - now and here. Though the hygiene levels of input productivity measures are critical, an overly focused input-driven Productivity measure at these times can lead to a sense of disenchantment & feeling of mistrust (especially in your top talent) amongst employees aggravating a sense of emotional isolation with the Organization.

Employee Engagement

This is a time when the much-touted ‘Work-life integration’ has been achieved through forced by the hand of nature. The question is, are we prepared for it to happen so abruptly? The need for HR professionals and Business Leaders alike is to work together, ensuring Employee Engagement is maintained.

It is about taking small but critical steps like having a defined working hour outer limit (Burn outs, and porous work-life boundaries are the hidden demons in current scenario), quickly upgrading the HR Technology tools (running Performance Appraisals virtually can be a reality – are we prepared with the right tools to support?), relooking at your employee benefits plan, ensuring first-time managers are coached enough by leaders in the Organization to tackle remote supervision and upgrading the Learning & Development platforms and capabilities for the changing business needs.

Empathy, Health, and Safety

But at the core of each of the above pillars is genuine care for the team members. Working remotely comes with its own set of challenges, including a feeling of isolation or self-created pressure in the lack of more constant validation of work in an office setting.

It is critical to create measures at the Organizational level and implement them at team levels driven by Business Heads. Have a well defined COVID -19 Action plan for the organization, including your response in the unfortunate event of a team member testing positive or coming in contact with someone who has tested positive. It is critical not just to be a support to the team member in question, but also to ensure the safety of the others in the team through active contact tracing if required. Also, have a clearly defined COVID-19 exit strategy highlighting clear action items and accountabilities. This would put the employees at much more ease when they come back to office while ensuring safety for all. If you have an ‘Employee Assistance Program’, this is the time to make sure everyone is aware of it and feels free to reach out in case of need without fear or doubts on the anonymity of the program.

Organizations can either look at this passage of time as a challenge, or they can look at it as an opportunity to genuinely live up to the brand identity in the mind of the employees.

Stay safe and as Spock would say – ‘Live long & Prosper’!

This article is written by special guest author Anurag Shrivastava. Anurag Shrivastava is an HR Professional having expertise in the field of Total Rewards, Organisational Effectiveness & Performance Management. He has been working in multiple industries including the dynamic Telecom industry and the fast paced startup industry in both COE (Center of Excellence) & HR Business Partner roles. He is passionate about the domains of Total Rewards & Differentiated Benefits. He is also deeply spirited about integrating technological tools & evolving HR Technology landscape to match needs of the changing workforce demographics, segmented Talent Management approach and Organizational culture building. People Matters identified him as one of the 11 'Emerging HR Leaders' in the country in 2017. He can be reached at LinkedIn