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Averbook: Coronavirus is ‘biggest opportunity in our careers’

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

Jason Averbook frequently asks HR leaders what year it feels like inside their companies–and most typically give a year sometime in the last two decades.

That divide has become even more apparent with the coronavirus pandemic.

See all of HRE‘s coronavirus coverage here.

“Now, the outside of work and the inside of work have meshed together,” he said about the overnight impact of the health crisis on employers, who have had to quickly start considering issues like virtual onboarding, successful remote-work structures and the employee experience of a distributed workforce. “This is a massive opportunity for us to skip years of stuff we did that didn’t actually feel like how life truly was outside of work.”

Jason Averbook

In a webinar in partnership with HRE on Wednesday, Averbook, co-founder and CEO of Leapgen and columnist for HRE, outlined 10 guideposts HR leaders can look to in order to reprioritize their 2020 goals in light of our current crisis:

Data is now a mandate: Data is the “air we breathe,” Averbook said, but HR hasn’t maximized its potential; however, the disruptions caused by the pandemic can be used as a wake-up call. Now is the time to fully capitalize on data, specifically for enhancing the employee experience. “Those who use it the best will come out ahead,” he said.

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A new operating model: “We need to be incorporating digital delivery into everything we do,” Averbook said. HR and HR technology have historically been considered separate entities–a shift that can’t happen anymore. “The only way to deliver is through digital,” he said. “We were behind 10 or 15 years–if not more–so we need to use this as our opportunity to get beyond that.” In a live poll of webinar listeners, 64% said their organizations are not equipped to ensure digital thinking and execution are at its core.

Integrate employee experience: Employee experience should be HR’s top priority, Averbook said–company portals that are more akin to link farms than personalized experiences are a missed opportunity. In another live poll, nearly 75% of respondents said their organization did not have a workforce experience layer that brings together knowledge, content, analytics and transactions.

Related: 8 benefits employers should zero in on during the COVID-19 pandemic

Good times and bad: “We’re in a moment of time that’s going to continue to be turbulent,” Averbook noted, and the employee experience needs to account for that. “If we don’t have a good way to communicate with people with good, relevant data, then we’re not doing a good job as leaders in the organization.”

Stay human: One of the primary tasks of HR leaders going forward needs to be helping business leaders stay “human,” Averbook said. With a newly remote workforce and a rapidly changing culture, organizations need HR professionals to lead in this area, particularly around urging leaders to listen and respond to employee feedback.

Talent planning reborn: Lengthy requisition processes, background checks and more often drag down the hiring process, while strategies like instructor-led training can be seen as ineffective for learning and development. When it comes to building talent, organizations should be asking themselves, “Does it really matter?” If not, let it go, Averbook said.

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Revise roadmaps: “Every business roadmap organizations had created for 2020 need to be revisited,” Averbook said. Contracts are changing, priorities are shifting and what employees need is evolving. He encouraged 100-day sprints when it comes to planning–not long-term, multi-year plans.

It’s up to us: Now is HR’s opportunity to “get off the habit trail,” Averbook said. “How do we steer this? We steer with us.” Few business leaders are going to identify the people problems of this new way of working, so it’ll be up to HR leaders to take the lead. “This will be the year that changed HR forever. But it’s only going to change because of us–not because someone told us to change it.”