Digital acceleration, inclusion, the demand to enable employees, the need for accelerated agility and the skills gap were already challenging business imperatives going into 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and associated challenges have amplified that agenda, putting HR leaders in the hot seat and increasing their responsibility for both safeguarding the workforce and ensuring business success, industry insiders say.
“Research suggests that lagging organizations still struggling to respond to the crisis need to make some really bold moves, while leading organizations have the unique opportunity to accelerate their advantage and widen the competitive gap even further,” Greg Pryor, senior vice president of people and performance evangelist at Workday, said Wednesday during the HR Technology Conference and Exposition, held virtually.
“Research suggests that lagging organizations still struggling to respond to the crisis need to make some really bold moves.” Greg Pryor
“I know we’ve seen things accelerate in a way we never expected,” added John Boudreau, professor emeritus of management and organization and a senior research scientist with the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. “There are lots of ideas–it’s moved exponentially faster than anyone thought.”
In a discussion, the speakers talked about how successful organizations can adapt to the changing world. Here are some ideas they raised:
Don’t use tech as a substitute for employees. “To be successful, it’s almost never automation replacing people,” Boudreau said. “If that’s what you’re doing, you’re probably making a mistake. Instead, it’s people plus automation.”
Open up the talent marketplace. Pryor said, to some degree, the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to the gig economy and how the workforce has changed since COVID-19. Boudreau agreed. Historically, organizations limited the talent marketplace to “those who have the same employment contract,” he said. Now, more employers are realizing when they open up their talent marketplace that there are other kinds of workers they can begin to tap, whether freelancers, contractors, volunteers or borrowing people from other organizations. “One of the things that’s happening with COVID is all of those things became much more common when organizations tried to pivot from things like making auto parts to making masks.”
Listen to your workforce when it comes to skills. Karen Caveney, chief HR technologist at Dell Technologies, said “skills are the new currency in this digital economy.” Upskilling and reskilling workers as technology changes work is extremely important. Just as important is listening to workers about what they want. “Start by listening to our workforce. Our employees are asking, ‘Which next role is right for me? Who can mentor me to be part of my career development?’ ”
Prioritize inclusion and belonging. A McKinsey report found that half of employees don’t feel included in their organization, Pryor said. “In my experience, we are seeing the opportunity to use digital technology to increasingly personalize and curate talent practices and programs that meet all people where they are.” Additionally, he said, employers need to “step up and address both the physical and mental wellbeing of their workforce in an extraordinary way.”
Don’t think that just one group is in charge of tech. While many say HR is really at the forefront of workplace tech, and others say IT is, it’s best to see workplace technology as a partnership among several departments and people in an organization. “I think the real work is to create an even greater, tighter partnership across all those functions that have to do with automation where it almost disappears. No one’s asking who is in the lead or who has the authority,” Boudreau said.
Think of COVID-19 as an opportunity to learn and grow. “It’s an opportunity for HR to look around and make sure they capture the lessons that their organizations are learning right now so they don’t snap back to something that’s the same or maybe even worse as the pressure of the crisis subsides,” Boudreau said.
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