Three ways HR can reshape post-pandemic leadership
The hybrid working model is redefining the way we work – but also the way managers manage and leaders lead. The sudden switch to remote work forced many of us to become more independent and autonomous.
But as many management roles are redefined and as CEOs and companies are required to lead in areas traditionally beyond the scope of their business (e.g. social, cultural, or environmental issues), how can leaders adapt to this new reality and what role does HR play in facilitating this change?
Three ways HR can drive major leadership changes
One of the less talked about consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is that leadership as we knew it has fundamentally changed. This is obviously having a profound impact on businesses and how they operate.
But an even less discussed issue is the capacity of HR to steer this change towards leadership that is fit for purpose and one that can deliver better business outcomes.
Here are three ways in which HR can (and should) drive major leadership changes:
#1. Democratization of leadership
What is at stake
In the past two years, we have seen a massive democratization of leadership responsibilities. The focus is shifting away from middle managers towards workers who increasingly need to autonomously manage their own work. This is caused by the rapid rise of remote and hybrid work.
This means that many middle managers have been made redundant. Companies such as HSBC or Wells Fargo are “actively seeking to take out layers of expensive middle management”. These cuts are part of their restructuring to become more competitive in the new post-COVID economy. Likewise, these changes contribute to companies’ transition towards a more efficient management system.
The role of HR
Organizations looking to make such sweeping changes need to rely on data and hard evidence.
These consequential decisions require CEOs and C-suite leaders to work closely with HR departments which have a unique overview of the company’s workforce. Through data analytics, HR can draw insights that will match the needs of the business against the potential of the workforce. Thanks to people analytics, businesses can thus make smarter decisions and redesign their structure without unnecessary costs.
Furthermore, as more and more employees will take on leadership responsibilities in their respective roles, HR professionals will be able to help identify the best performers and via custom leadership development plans prepare them to assume more senior roles within the organization.
#2. Repurposing of managers
What is at stake
Of those middle managers who have not lost their jobs, the chances are many of them will need to redeploy to new and different roles.
For instance, in 2020, the Japanese tech giant Fujitsu pioneered in Europe a new concept of working. The company decided to emphasize local decisions and empower those who weren’t previously involved in management. And while this transition meant the end of middle manager roles as such, the company made the effort to ensure that the people who filled these roles would still remain part of the journey (albeit in a different capacity).
This required more investment in training and coaching to guarantee everyone could adjust and safely transition. It is needless to say that this transition would not have happened without the involvement of HR.
The role of HR
HR departments are key in helping organizations assess which leaders need redeploying and which managers need upskilling. HR is also essential in helping these managers upgrade their skills, once they have been identified, through skills development programs and coaching.
Managers who will redeploy will need to get trained, among other things, to become more transparent in setting expectations and OKRs, as well as learn how to better measure performance.
This is particularly relevant because as more and more of us become informal leaders thanks to the new work dynamics, we will need to shift away from measuring output and input towards measuring outcomes (86 percent of employees now say they want to work for a company that prioritizes outcomes over output).
Furthermore, the democratization of leadership and redeployment of existing leaders require a fundamental change to business culture which, again, will depend on HR’s contribution and leadership.
Without a culture upgrade, it will be difficult to ensure the shift of the manager’s role will succeed. Without a new purpose and necessary guidance, integration into their new role will be a struggle.
#3. More emphasis on the top tier management
What is at stake
And last but not least, we have witnessed the growing importance of leadership in the top echelons of organizations. A trend that is not new but has been massively accelerated in the past couple of years.
This means that CEOs, CHROs, and other C-suite leaders have been under more pressure to take a stance on and lead in an increasing number of issues that transcend the walls of their organizations (e.g. addressing inequalities, the global pandemic, or fighting climate change).
The pressure is both internal (as 68 percent of employees would consider leaving their employer for an organization that takes a stronger stance on cultural and social issues), and external (as 47 percent of consumers now associate personal views of C-suite leaders with those of the whole company, affecting their purchasing behavior).
The role of HR
And it is HR professionals and CHROs in particular that can help CEOs keep their thumbs on the pulse of their workforce and the society at large. They can help them become more socially, culturally, and environmentally conscious. C-suite leaders can then be more active in supporting causes that better align with their personal and business values.
Thanks to a more strategic role and HR professionals’ increasing business savviness, HR has been able to forge a stronger link between the business and the outside world and help companies serve their consumers and clients better.
Moreover, due to COVID-19, many leaders are having to suddenly flex muscles that they didn’t have to flex as much before. These include empathy and active listening.
One of the reasons behind the current high attrition rates (often referred to as the Great Resignation or Reshuffle) is the fact that many employees don’t feel appreciated or valued by their company or managers. HR’s role will thus also entail helping CEOs and C-suite leaders develop new soft or power skills and other leadership competencies.
Leadership has never been more consequential
So whether it is regular workers who have had to acquire leadership skills to become more autonomous, lower and middle managers whose purpose has been redefined or C-suite leaders who are having to reinvent themselves and expand the scope of their role, leadership has never been more consequential for companies’ success. And HR’s role in facilitating this shift has never been more important.
Shifting towards more democratized, repurposed and values-driven leadership means organizations need to adapt. And because these changes require upskilling, upgrading one’s business culture, coaching, and a better connection between the business, its employees, and the outside world, it is up to HR to strap in, roll up its sleeves, and drive the change.