HR should play a more strategic role in business resilience

HR and resilienceAlmost every organisation now knows it must become more resilient as the economy emerges from the pandemic. As well as coping with crises and global events, organisations must excel in the face of the many less high-profile disruptions that hit an organisation – from supply chain bottlenecks to shifts in demand and sudden skills shortages. HR departments have a major role to play in this but to do so successfully requires a change of mindset, taking a step back from traditional administrative functions and reviewing the entire business as if they were an outsider.

Even before the pandemic, many organisations recognised HR had to change. In a 2019 survey of 1,362 HR executives in 55 countries, for example, consultants KPMG found 57 per cent agreed HR would rapidly become irrelevant if it failed to modernise.

Just as logistics professionals are remodelling supply chains for greater resilience, HR professionals need to rethink what they’re able to contribute so that their organisation becomes more agile.

Agility, although a buzzword, is essential for resilience, requiring faster and better-informed decision-making at all levels of an organisation, the reduction of rigid internal hierarchies, and the development of a highly collaborative internal culture that is united in its goals. This is where HR should take the lead. The aim is to ensure employees are more adaptable and quicker on their feet, ready, able and motivated to seize new opportunities and to adopt technologies that drive efficiency and reduce cost.

HR needs to promote greater collaboration and more devolved decision-making to foster innovation, experimentation and knowledge-acquisition. The HR professionals in an organisation should ensure managers engage meaningfully with employees and foster a team culture using technology to share ideas that improve performance or productivity and bring together dispersed workforces. Two-way communication should be genuine, ensuring employees and managers understand one another and employees know where their work fits into a business’s longer-term goals.

In addition, teams should have the power to make relatively small changes that improve their operations without obtaining multiple approvals. HR should facilitate this by ensuring managers have full day-to-day visibility of how teams are adapting their work through regular communication. Through constant sharing of ideas, and through trusting your people to make the right decisions, the opportunities to improve resilience through a number of small decisions is significant.


Learning cultures

Organisations also need HR to instil a learning culture that identifies and responds to individual requirements and encourages knowledge-acquisition and skills development. Employees should have access to everything from bite-sized information that fulfils an immediate need, to more detailed video content and other tools which are all accessible at the point of need.

To become truly strategic, HR needs to engage with all stakeholders in an organisation, applying a lens as if looking from the outside. This is where organisations that use workforce analytics are at a huge advantage. Advanced workforce analytics platforms deliver fast insights and offer the power to create different positive or negative scenarios about recruitment, retention, restructuring and redeployment, providing the necessary agility when conditions suddenly change.

Companies using analytics can develop their workforce scenarios according to various parameters. Each scenario demonstrates the impact on cashflow and productivity allowing the business to continue with minimal disruption. With the ability to plan for what could occur on a range of probabilities, HR automatically elevates its role within an organisation, feeding insights into boardroom decision-making.

There are, of course, many facets to HR, none of which professionals can afford to neglect. Embracing automation and technology that enables employees to service their own requirements remotely will relieve HR of much of the routine admin burden. HR can hardly become a source of strategic insight if it still has to input data into multiple systems and correlate them manually. Finally, even though organisations are investing in Employee Assistance Programmes, employee wellbeing should be a higher priority for organisations when considering resilience and agility. A mentally resilient workforce makes for a more resilient organisation. Deloitte, the global consultancy, last year published an authoritative study which estimated that even before lockdown, poor mental health was costing UK employers £45 billion each year and that for every £1 spent on mental health interventions, employers gain £5 in reduced absence, presenteeism and employee turnover.

HR must ensure mental wellbeing is taken up as a priority by their organisation’s senior leadership team and seen as a strategic pillar of greater resilience across the entire organisation. Senior HR leaders should push for explicit engagement with the topic starting from the boardroom, and trigger cross-organisational wellbeing initiatives, enabling trained employees to look out for one another and refer those struggling to more specialist help.

In summary, HR has a major strategic role to play in increasing overall business resilience and agility by providing workforce insight and detailed scenario planning, along with a more active culture of collaboration that empowers employees and taps into their enthusiasm and talent. HR departments must be prepared to elevate themselves above the daily grind of transactional tasks and responsibilities. Then they will become strategic partners boosting resilience and enabling the organisation to seize new opportunities.

Image by FelixMittermeier