No Rest For The Wicked (Good)

This pandemic has meant that we all experienced a major upheaval in society, at work and within technology over the last year. As the disruption continues into 2021 and we keep thinking about moving onwards and upwards, the wise thing to do is to project on what the upcoming challenges and opportunities may be.

Undoubtedly, 2020 was when All eyes were on HR, and our function became more indispensable than ever. In 2020, we did our utmost to work proactively to create a sense of stability, safety and community for our people, and HR was instrumental in all of that work. It’s hard to remember and to compare the role of HR as bread and butter tasks like an employment contract, to now, when it’s business-strategic and a key to keeping the engine running as smoothly and smartly as possible. 

Nowadays we’re not only the hub of excellence when it comes to keeping people physically and mentally protected; developing people and making sure all keep being employable and performing in a sustainable way. We’re also tasked with making sure all the teams stay connected, but not exhausted, and supporting them while distributed. That means mapping, designing and challenging new and old truths, roles and job responsibilities and proactively driving and designing business model changes; and future proofing the workforce and workplace. No small feat. The future opportunities and challenges revolve around this.

Advancing the emphasis to enhance work-flexibility-freedom balance and personalise employer-employee-related services, the role of HR will continue to evolve over time. And, the changes are happening faster than ever before. Meaning, being away from HR for a while and not being in the business trenches will be a bit of a gamble in terms of what you can and cannot support when it comes to intuitive, fast-paced, business-relevant and tech-driven HR. What I like to call ‘HRoT’ (HRofThings).

From mere gatekeepers of an organisation, HR has become the conscience-keepers of its strong workforce. Not in a pampering way, but more so in a responsive and executive way. It’s not about giving people what they think they want, but rather to have a hybrid of an existing framework (a mental paddock, if you like) and an intuition of what makes sense for the business, as well as for the individual and team. This includes challenging, pushing back, supporting, mentoring as well as proactively suggesting changes before the majority of the managers and band members are 100% convinced. To be change agents does not only take guts, it also takes a lot of business acumen and experience and most of it will not come from reading books, reports or articles and will not be picked up during guest plays as a short term consultant. 

In coming years, more and more of the great HR teams will play a part in the veto power at the high tables of the organisations. Yes, this may come as a surprise to those organisations and CHROs who have yet to experience being included there. 

In survey after survey, executives from around the world are expressing what they find their main challenges to be – all of them people related. This should not be read as if they don’t have hurdles to overcome with regards to their core skills and/or reaching their targets. However, my point is, with senior management acknowledging that you can’t do very much when it comes to product or profitability if you don’t have the right people – those of us in the HR profession are set up for a major change. 

This shift in the recognition of HR from senior management means there’s an even stronger need for HR to find its willingness to do some solid shoulder-to-shoulder work with the marketing and brand teams, to keep it real when it comes to employer branding. Then, also to team up with finance to develop and design a few but golden processes. And finally, as we’ve seen even more over the last two to three years, to be open and willing to use technology to accentuate our work. These are some challenges that can lead to major game-changing opportunities for HR as a profession, and to business as a whole.

2020 was indeed the year of HR’s resurrection, where HR rightly got its due importance. In this unprecedented crisis, it was the HR department that led the recovery from the front, because most of the challenges were people related. From safety, to remote management, making tough decisions, communicating clearly, consistently and compellingly, to keeping the team spirit up, telling the truth about mental health, and finding engagement to keep learning and still tell the truth about performance, HR held the fort to keep work going as usual. 

In the second year of the pandemic, expect more of what we had to deal with the first year. Center yourself around your mission, dare to set some big, hairy, audacious goals, and then remind yourself of the power of ‘we’ and the joy of learning and executing. Turn those challenges into opportunities and be part of the new era of HR. 

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