August 24, 2020 – The coronavirus pandemic has transformed C-suites all over the world. But for the role of chief human resources officer, the changes have been revolutionary. A new report from IMSA Search examines how the COVID-19 crisis has demanded new capabilities and duties for chief HR officers.
It’s conclusion: the role of CHROs shouldn’t be overestimated. “At a time when new risks and second thoughts have emerged practically overnight, these leaders have had to create a new work culture, maintain morale and empower their employees,” the IMSA report said. “And this is and will continue to be a massive task. The CHROs who are effectively dealing with it while avoiding harming staff performance have gained not only a new set of skills but also new responsibilities and duties.”
“Studies by Alexander Alonso showed that CHROs who focus on the results, reconnaissance, resourcefulness and reimagination succeed and manage to prepare the company for inevitable changes,” said the report. “As a result, the role of HR teams has increased and transformed, reaching a new status quo.”
But to keep their performance at the highest level, said the IMSA Search report, CHROs must stay focused and be especially aware of changes in these key areas:
The Organizational Model
Remote work was a growing trend well before the pandemic. According to Gallup’s “State of American Workforce 2017” report, the number of people working remotely rose between 2012 and 2016 in all studied groups. A similar study from 2019 showed that 43 percent of all U.S. employees work off-site at least part of the time.
Nevertheless, COVID-19 forced leaders to create organization models based on working from home. “Social isolation has proven that many duties may be carried out from home without harming quality or efficiency,” said the IMSA Search report. “And not all employees are missing the office. As a result, for some organizations, remote work might remain as a permanent feature. For this reason, CHROs need to develop and implement new rules.”
As Tim McElgunn noted in “HRMorning,” there are many burning questions to answer right now, said the report. “For example, how will managers translate existing work rules, meeting schedules, and communications strategies to the new reality? Who will pay for remote workers’ connectivity and any required equipment? And even more important: How should an organization build and implement a long-term employee recognition strategy for remote workers?”
Of course, not all workers will want to stay at home. “Some of them will be happy to be back in the office,” said IMSA Search. “Nevertheless, that makes the situation even more complicated. When we all shake off the pandemic shock rules, HR teams will need to create new procedures, to find a balance in new normal.”
Hiring and Talent Management
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have halted their recruitment processes, which IMSA Search board member Lizette Ibarra said was not the best choice. Now they must unfreeze their search, which poses some difficulties, especially if the company went through some fundamental changes and staff cuts.
The world is both united and divided during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s united in the sense of we are all adjusting to a “new normal” and the challenges—and some opportunities—that arise with a different way of living and working against the backdrop of genuine solidarity.
The division comes in where nations fall in the crisis bell curve—and how we have responded to the situation. In more than 30 virtual gatherings between February and March of this year, Egon Zehnder reached out to hundreds of human resources leaders to learn how they were readying their function and their organizations for the coronavirus crisis and for what is to come.
“Headhunting was never a piece of cake,” the IMSA Search report said. “The task of a recruiter is to find a perfect talent who possesses knowledge and experience but also shares company values. The process is always complicated and time-consuming. And now it becomes even more challenging. Candidates are cautious about their choices, and post-pandemic company structures are just developing. This means that, in some cases, it may be difficult to predict who might be the best fit for the organization.”
HR executives also need to remember about top talents already working at their company. “Not only talent acquisition but also retention remains a critical task,” said IMSA Search. “Employees need to be recognized and engaged, no matter if they are working remotely or dreaming of going back to the office.”
How can we achieve this? Sarah Kirby, group head at Zurich Insurance Group shared some advice for the World Economic Forum. She encouraged leaders to:
• Build a culture of trust, transparency and openness. “This period has required us all to be supportive of one another, as we all face uncertainty. Control has to some extent given way to trust. People are learning how to do work disparately and with far less oversight: they are learning ‘on the job’ what works and what doesn’t work at home.” HR teams should support this process and assure good practices inside the company.
• Maintain individual and social well-being. “The pandemic and lockdown are putting pressure on employees in ways that not only test their wellbeing and private lives, but also that of our society. The World Health Organization recently found that 45 percent of health workers in China are suffering from anxiety,” said Ms. Kirby. Caring for the workers’ well-being is one of the most important challenges for HR teams right now. After the pandemic, they need to stay focused and pay attention to the employees’ emotional health.
“Meeting all these needs and challenges is an exhausting job,” said IMSA Search. “To avoid chaos, CHROs need to be creative, decisive, empathic. And they probably should find their own work-life balance, too.”
Rebuilding a Corporate Culture ASAP
The IMSA Search report also said that if “CHROs have so far failed in preserving their business culture, they should act right now. The corporate culture needs to be rebuilt as soon as possible.”
“A well-defined organizational culture is critical for long-term success,” IMSA Search said. “This is easy to say, but how you turn it into practice in (post)pandemic, volatile times is another matter. And as the last months have shown, culture is vulnerable in times of crisis. With financial problems on the one hand and structural changes on the other, it is easy to put organizational values, mission and identity aside.”
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 crisis seems to have had some positive outcomes. It has forced leaders to operate in a more agile way, which will probably benefit them in the future. As Ms. Kirby said: “Business leaders now have, in some sense, been gifted with a better idea of what can and cannot be done outside their companies’ traditional processes, and COVID-19 is forcing both the pace and scale of workplace innovation. Many are finding simpler, faster and less expensive ways to operate.”
“Agile management may be the new norm, which will promote and value human communication and feedback, adapting to change, and producing working results,” the IMSA Search report said. “The ability to identify a problem and act proactively will be the hallmark of the top talents in this industry.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media