Mark Edgar is a former Global CHRO and now runs his consulting practice Goat Rodeo Project focused on helping people and organizations thrive in the new world of work. Mark partners with Paul Pittman of The Human Well on various client initiatives including The Fred. Here are his thoughts on the challenges for the HR community.

From that, that shall not be mentioned

Our lives and work continue to be impacted in ways that none of us have experienced before and with record unemployment, few economists are willing to predict when we will return to the next normal.

For HR departments, big or small, this has been an exceptionally busy time. The great recession was a CFO led crisis. This is one for the CHROs. As a former CHRO, I am very appreciative of the work being done by my colleagues and I have been impressed with how they have responded.

In issue 2 of The Recovery, Paul shared the Business Health Council‘s perspective that there will be three stages for business recovery – Mobilize, Adapt and Evolve. This resonated with me, and I began to consider how this would cascade down to HR teams.

It started with reacting. Regardless of your organization and your readiness, this required speed to action – capability HR teams are often criticized for not having. The timing of the initial lockdown presented some challenges. Some employees were already on March break making co-ordination difficult. The key focus was safety and ensuring your people were set-up to work remotely. Strong communication and decisive action were the orders of the day to help provide clarity and where possible reassurance. There will be many non-essential organizations that are still grappling with this.

As we became more informed we entered a response phase. It was important to ensure those working from home, in many cases for the first time, were set-up appropriately to be productive. Ergonomic assessments are on the rise and your people may be asking for equipment to improve their home office effectiveness. Processes needed to change particularly paper-heavy ones. Resources needed to be shifted to the areas of most need – in many cases it was all hands to the pump. There was also a new way of communicating and learning via Zoom.

Leaders have had to adapt. Isolation and anxiety impact people’s mental well being making the regular connection more important than ever. It will continue to be critical for leaders to build trust by checking-in, not checking-up! Principle-based decisions need to be made about paid leave, childcare and future incentive programs that may have been impacted by this once in a lifetime event. Many organizations have also had to implement cost-saving initiatives including making the difficult decision about lay-offs to maintain liquidity. With the new Federal stimulus programs being launched, many HR professionals have become experts.

We could be in this “response” phase for several more weeks. It will be long days as we adapt to a fluid and evolving environment. The emphasis on communication and engagement continues with many a virtual happy hour and virtual yoga classes being organized in addition to transparent “state of the nation” updates delivered empathetically by senior leaders from the comfort of their own bunker. Checking the sentiment of your team through regular pulse checks is a great way of staying connected to how people are feeling to help you respond appropriately.

It important for all of us to realize that we will move out of this phase – this is only temporary. Our next phase will be to reconnect physically and that presents opportunity alongside challenges. People will be anxious. Working practices will change and many might not want to come back to the physical workplace. There will be feelings of guilt and loss if colleagues have been laid off or been impacted directly by the virus. There will also be new questions to answer. How will a phased return to work be managed? Will the vulnerable be treated differently?

Amongst the angst lays the opportunity. You should think carefully about how you welcome back the team or should we say welcome them forward. The shared experience needs to be acknowledged and questions addressed. What did you learn from the experience? How did your culture hold up? How did your leaders respond? What would you do differently next time… because there will be a next time?

As we face more disruption, we need to reimagine how we work and get things done for sustainable success. Opportunities presented by technology must be effectively leveraged and their associated risk mitigated. People will come to want more purpose in their work and their lives and will be re-evaluating the relationship with their employer and the benefits that it provides. Your profile as an employer has been tested and if there were any failures to your response, now is the time to introduce more human approaches as the economy recovers. Engage your people in the process to amplify the impact and the benefits.

Our resilience has been tested to the limits, but if you take the time to learn the lessons and adapt in the right way, you will recover stronger than ever.

Three Big Ideas – Fit First Technologies Video

Need a Yoda? We can help. We have seen a catastrophe or two and know a thing or two and prior solutions will continue to have a role. In the great recession, we worked without fees supporting clients through difficult times. We plan to do so again through telephone consultations, The Recovery blog, The Business Health Council and our Advisory Board on Demand; a service to CEOs facing challenges that don’t have an advisory board. 

Photo by Mihail Macri on Unsplash

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