Building a sustainable organization: 7 tips for HR leaders

Mimi Brooks

Companies were overwhelmingly unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, and they were threatened by a number of challenges like keeping employees safe, shoring up cash and liquidity and reorienting operations, says Mimi Brooks, CEO of Logical Design Solutions.

But now, as we have experienced a year of COVID-19 and as companies look to a post-pandemic world, there’s opportunity for organizations to come out of this more sustainable than ever, Brooks said Wednesday at the virtual Spring HR Technology Conference & Exposition. (The free event runs through March 19, and can be viewed on demand; register here.)

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“The pandemic has confronted us with the challenge of redefining the role of business as usual by elaborating on the purpose of the corporation through advocating resilient designs, demonstrating dynamic leadership, managing complexity and acting for the common good,” she said. “As with previous crises, we now see the opportunity for businesses to demonstrate resilience by transforming and even thriving through revitalization and innovation. Those businesses that are adaptable and collaborative will be most capable of dealing with the challenges that face us all in a post-pandemic era.”

“We now see the opportunity for businesses to demonstrate resilience by transforming and even thriving through revitalization and innovation.” — Mimi Brooks

Looking forward, it’s all about the employee experience and human elements of work, she said. “As we examine the post-pandemic next normal, we have a profound opportunity to reimagine ways of working, as well as norms of human interest and interaction that help create a cohesive culture.”

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The pandemic, as well as continued digital evolution, is making companies rethink old ways and look at new paths of leadership. Brooks cited a number of tips for HR leaders on how they can build sustainable, high-performance organizations; here are some.

  1. Remove or simplify low-value processes and services to make room for high-value interactions. As part of a “leading with purpose” mindset, organizations must strive to remove complexity that doesn’t add value. That includes HR services and technologies that companies offer to employees and even organizational design, she said.
  2. Build continual transformation strategies right into the HR operating model. Organizations should embrace continual transformation by managing a continual and fluid portfolio of initiatives. “While leaders don’t need to be futurists, they should be future-sensing and capable of establishing momentum even as the essential steps are being learned along the way,” Brooks said. “We see HR leaders playing a pivotal role in the continual transformation, particularly as it relates to attracting and developing the right talent, fully engaging the organization around the overarching business strategy and helping to build a cohesive culture that supports transformative change.”
  3. Design for resiliency, not managing change, as the common business-human factor. Companies are transitioning from designing with efficiency–through streamlining roles, supply chains and workflows, for instance–”which exposed fragilities, as there was no flexibility for disruptions,” Brooks said, to designing for resiliency by molding roles and structures around outcomes, “thereby increasing agility. Doing so will also provide employees with varied adaptive roles.”
  4. Design the actions, desired behaviors, transparent measures and rewards associated with ESG. Increased economic inequality, racial injustice and climate change have put ESG issues at the forefront. And they have put pressure on organizations to “disclose targets on environmental, social and governmental issues. As such, the organization’s ability to meet these goals becomes a strategic priority.”
  5. Leverage employee experience platforms to inspire and enable people in new work journeys and contexts. HR’s interest in offering compelling digital platforms and experiences that employees crave is significant, as these experiences accelerate transformation by empowering the organization to be digital at its core, Brooks said.
  6. HR can develop new work and social practices where ensuring the human connection is key. The pandemic undoubtedly accelerated the evolution of hybrid-virtual workplaces by combining office work with working from home or some other location, Brooks said. “Hybrid virtual workplaces are here to stay, and leadership must address challenges, such as maintaining the human connection, a diminished office culture, potentially lower levels of focus, a heightened need for time-management skills and leadership challenges of managing these remote workers. HR should help ensure connection by scheduling regular virtual events, regularly communicating with employees and allowing workers to have a voice in hybrid virtual policies. “HR can become an active driver of progressive remote working experiences.”
  7. Enable 21st-century leaders who model the growth mindset needed to realize purpose and new value. Understanding and prioritizing your organization’s values and purpose is paramount, Brooks said. And that needs to be felt within the entire company. “A cohesive culture starts with core values that must be integrated within every aspect of the organization and critically modeled and led by 21st-century leadership practices that are more collaborative and less directive,” she said.

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.