Unlocking the potential of HR in a post-pandemic world: Going from good to great

Why do deep investments in the HR function require extensive justification?

There were a few jokes floating around about HR driving “meaningless” engagement events during the COVID-19 crises. Just “typical HR”, which some HR professionals found offensive and others with a sense of humour laughed off.

They don’t teach event management in HR degree courses, and it does not define HR. Business growth, talent growth, culture development and balancing business acumen with empathy does.

During COVID-19, HR functions came up with wellness initiatives that were extremely helpful for those who needed them. They helped people cope with crises and uncertainty, and I believe that even if only a few people were prevented from falling into a clinical depression, the ROI of such efforts was positive.

HR teams also helped manage people costs and tough people decisions with empathy. They relooked at the present and future of work for their organizations – be it integrating technology with workforce planning, reviewing organization design, key talent engagement or new policies for work from home.

Unfortunately, there is still rampant ignorance about the role of HR, not just from outside the HR fraternity but sometimes even from within.

The scope of Human Resources

The HR function is like an iceberg – a significant part of it lies under the surface.

Smriti Krishna Singh

The scope of the HR role extends from working with decision-makers in the C suite to interns, enabling large, complex organizations to move forward in harmony. We motivate, influence and sometimes have to give courage to decision-makers and at other times also stand up to them. The role of HR is to facilitate leaders to be the face of people initiatives. When leaders set the right tone and role model culture, when they say and do the right things, the organization and people benefit.

For an HR professional, empathy/ people centricity has to go hand-in-hand with a business acumen which can sometimes be at cross purposes with each other.

I need not mention the immense transactional work that HR teams also do to keep the ship afloat: keeping people paid on time and engaged and keeping the organization compliant only gets noticed when something goes wrong.

Most organizations do not run a high-tech HR operation, and HR teams typically do not get a technology share of mind or money. Yet effort involved in managing HR processes goes unrecognized and underappreciated for the most part.

Strangely, organizations invest heavily in customer data analytics, but investing in people analytics is always a slow process. This is despite the fact that those very people are the ones tasked with customer satisfaction. Unlike for revenues or sales, it is difficult to put a numerical value on people insights, facilitation, coaching & other roles played by HR.

The HR function spends way too much time having to prove that it is adding value.

Smriti Krishna Singh

How should HR evolve post-Covid to drive ‘good-to-great’ initiatives (and get the recognition it deserves?)

Lessons learnt

  • In the future, HR should spend significantly more time equipping themselves with critical skills to deal with the complexities of human behaviour instead of having to prove their worth. Skills such as coaching, facilitation, change management, building manager capability, etc., will be even more critical in future.
  • HR must role model organization culture and hold themselves and leaders accountable to a higher standard of values and performance. They should refrain from being used as a manager’s crutch for all those actions the manager does not want to make time for or does not feel comfortable engaging in. There must be an agreed operating model between the managers and HR, and the organization must be clear on how the two roles interact with each other.
  • Employee engagement is primarily the responsibility of the manager supported by the organization’s HR policies. Regarding employee events, they should be driven by an employee committee or internal communications or volunteer leaders under the guidance of HR. HR teams should not spend disproportionate time executing events on the ground as they have a larger role to play. This is already the case in most good organizations.
  • HR professionals need to be fanatic about talent analytics and must demand their share of cutting-edge technology investment. This has a significant impact on their own productivity and ability to support better decision making. Giving managers live access to intelligent talent analysis is not only empowering and transparent but also makes a powerful case for change. As the old saying goes, “In God we trust, everyone else brings data”. HR teams must demand & provide data and invest in tools that help them do their job better.
  • Finally, the best HR professionals have the courage and conviction to drive culture change and high impact strategic business initiatives. At the same time, they are able to roll up their sleeves and solve basic employee issues with empathy. Organizations and CEOs need to nurture and empower HR departments to bring out the best from them. They are also employees that need to be inspired and engaged.

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the iceberg did not sink, the Titanic sank.

HR professionals need to continue to be resilient & HR leaders and CEOs should reflect on how they have defined the role of HR and if they are making adequate investments into this critical function.

This article is an excerpt from the eBook titled ‘The past, the present and the future of work’ authored by Smriti Krishna Singh (Published by People Matter)