Post-Pandemic Growth – 5 Ways HR Can Get Out of the Crisis Stronger

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post-traumatic growth for HR

The COVID crisis has dramatically changed the way many organizations conduct business and how human resource (HR) professionals manage their workforce. Based on decades of research, we found two typical ways to act or respond in a crisis situation. One approach teaches us what not to do, while the other approach offers valuable insights and lessons on how HR can grow through the current pandemic to cement its strategic position.

Responding to crisis

After the Vietnam war, many of the soldiers coming back home were shells of their former selves. They experienced stressful and traumatic situations which they never recovered from. However, others were more resilient, fully recovering, and sometimes even growing beyond their former selves through their wartime experiences, by taking home a newly found appreciation of life.
These two conflicting phenomena are called “post-traumatic stress disorder” and “post-traumatic growth”.

COVID has presented a crisis for HR departments, which, in many ways, can be regarded as traumatic for the day-to-day functioning of HR. In early 2020, most of us had to drop all long-term projects and strategic activities and switch to delivering computer monitors, drafting work-from-home tips, organizing layoffs, or other activities that dramatically shifted our focus towards keeping the business running.

This period has put HR front and center. But in order to maintain this position throughout the crisis and beyond, HR should now focus on more long-term projects with strategic impact, rather than patching up a temporarily broken situation.
It is time for HR departments to re-evaluate their current focus, learn from the current crisis, and leverage today’s situation to build sustainable value for the future. This is the way to post-traumatic growth for HR.

5 Ways of Post-Traumatic Growth for HR

When it comes to growing through the crisis, I see five key ways HR can come out stronger.

1. Resilience-Building HR Practices

As Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and other companies permanently shift to a remote or hybrid workforce, HR can create work-from-home practices that help a return to normalcy in a world that has changed forever.While it may feel that we’ve already adapted to this new way of working, the management literature was written in an era where most employees were onsite. To be successful, HR needs to reinvent itself.

Examples include the creation of a hybrid working support officer as well as the reinvention of a better digital employee experience. This includes onboarding and performance management, but also training managers on how to effectively lead, appreciate, and engage people remotely. All these practices cumulate into a more resilient culture.

Finally, HR needs to step up in helping build a purpose-driven organization. Employees will feel more connected to the organization as well as driven to accomplish company goals, even when they work at a distance.

2. Enabling Digital Upskilling

Not surprisingly, half of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum. Meanwhile, 52% of employers reported difficulties finding skilled talent, based on a 2020 ManpowerGroup survey. More than half of employees plan to fix this gap through re-training.

Over the past two years, building a workforce with digital capabilities or competencies has been the focus of many global tech companies. A 2019 report on the future of HR by KPMG found that 42% of CEOs at such companies plan to upskill more than half of their workforce in digital capabilities through 2022.

Likewise, business leaders responding to a 2019 Condeco report stated that the highest-rated organizational challenges are digital transformation and technology adoption.

These findings paint a picture of a digital skills gap that impacts employee productivity and prevents companies from filling critical roles. It is up to HR to provide a structural reskilling approach, to ensure long-term business continuity and make full use of the potential of the current workforce.

3. Mastering Automation Skills

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 30% of work could be automated by 2030. This will hit almost all jobs. In fact, in 60% of current occupations, more than 30% of work tasks can be automated by 2030.

This will impact HR tremendously. Automation will significantly affect more repetitive, administration-oriented tasks and workflows. This creates the opportunity to become more tactical, move operators and administrators into advisor roles, and create more value for the workforce at large. At the same time, it requires acquiring (HR) automation skills.

One HR executive – who managed a team of 80 HR professionals – told the story about one staff member who created tremendous impact by automating different workflows. In the future, this exec hopes to upskill 10 staff in automation, which will enable her to downsize her team to about 60 employees.

4. Transforming HR

According to the 2019 KPMG report previously mentioned, “68% of HR executives in tech companies recognize the need for the workforce to transform. [However,] only one and one-third feels ‘very confident’ about HR’s actual ability to transform.”

The pandemic has created an urgency for upskilling and fortunately, a big appetite for employee learning. HR now has the perfect opportunity to capitalize on this urgency by offering future-oriented skills training for its own staff as well as for the broader workforce to help the organization transform.

5. Leading with data

The COVID crisis has again shown the importance of employee and work-related data. A people analytics expert I spoke with explained how, in early 2020, their company was able to track COVID-cases around the world. It helped them prioritize the relocation of expats based on their risk profile.

Last year was also the year of mood measurements. Engagement fluctuated throughout the year, impacted by the pandemic and the riots following the killing of George Floyd. According to Gallup, the group most impacted by COVID were managers. They affect 70% of the total fluctuation in team engagement, posing a risk for organizations. Being able to identify these risks and act on them will increase HR’s impact on the business.

Working in remote or hybrid arrangements also requires the tracking of additional data. With advances in automation, insights into workflows, and actionable analytics, large amounts of additional data points can be produced to help make better, more informed decisions.

Leading with data will help HR identify risks as well as opportunities for growth and improvement, and act on them swiftly. The people-insights that HR can provide are invaluable for business growth, making HR a strong strategic partner in the business.

The Choice is Yours

COVID created a people crisis in many different ways. It put employee wellbeing front-and-center overnight and demanded that HR professionals create initiatives that help build their future workforce, automate HR tasks, expand tactical and strategic activities, and identify which digital business skills will make the biggest company-wide impact.

Ultimately, the way HR professionals act or respond in the upcoming months will help determine if their company is either dragged into the future kicking and screaming or steps forward and evolves. The former will lead to a state of “post-traumatic stress” in which HR may have saved the day when the crisis started, but failed to make a lasting impact, while the latter enables HR to grow beyond its former self to come back stronger. The choice is yours.

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Erik van Vulpen

Erik van Vulpen is an expert in connecting HR processes to business results through qualitative and quantitative methods. He is globally recognized as a thought leader in the People Analytics and Digital HR space. Erik is a regular speaker at conferences and trained dozens of HR leadership teams to embed innovative and data-driven HR practices in their organization. He is also an instructor for the AIHR Academy, as well as one of its founders. Connect with Erik on LinkedIn.

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