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Managing for today—and tomorrow

HR leaders need to be making quick decisions but can't lose sight of long-term strategy.
By: | March 24, 2020 • 2 min read

Our times are unprecedented, but many HR leaders have found themselves in the same boat—trying to figure out new approaches to paid leave and remote work, all while buckling down on the business’ bottom line.

Those emerged as the top priorities of HR leaders in a new survey by Gartner of 800 global HR executives. But, while many are scrambling to meet the pressing and quickly changing needs of their workforces and organizations, they also need to be thinking long-term.

“HR executives must be able to operate along two time dimensions: managing for today and managing for tomorrow,” says Brian Kropp, chief of research in the HR practice at Gartner, which conducted the survey this week.

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In the short term, the research found that a vast majority (88%) of employers are encouraging or requiring employees to work from home—whether they’re sick or not. They have almost universally (97%) suspended work-related travel.

When it comes to leave, policies among the respondents vary: About half mandate that employees first dip into sick leave, followed by vacation leave and then they may be able to take advantage of specific PTO programs created for the current conditions. About 20% are offering additional PTO for those who are sick or caring for a sick family member, while 18% have upped PTO for parents with kids now home from school.

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The organization’s health is also a priority: Many are trying to cut costs, with nearly 70% saying they’re trying to use technology more effectively; nearly half are temporarily suspending new hiring. About 20% are reducing consultant hours, but just 10% are cutting employee hours and only 6% are asking employees to take unpaid leave.

While HR leaders are rightfully focused on decision-making around these immediate priorities, Kropp says, the realities of the COVID-19 crisis are upending the traditional approach to business strategy.

Historically, business leaders haven’t made decisions in the short term that could put the long-term plan at risk.

“While that is still true, there is an important difference now: To accomplish this in the past, organizations wanted to design processes and solutions that would stand the test of time, but that mentality will no longer work,” Kropp says. “Instead, leaders/organizations should allow and encourage short-term variability in how things get done, as long as they are moving in the right direction towards the long-term goal.”

Leaders need to adopt a “default yes” mindset and figure out standardization and consistency later, he adds.

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“In other words, as long as we are not breaking the rules, we should encourage employees to do whatever it takes to accomplish our goals,” he says.

While Kropp advises leaders to take a flexible approach to strategizing, the fluid nature of the still-unfolding pandemic can make that effort even harder.

To navigate a situation that seems to be changing by the hour, he says, organizations should look to their values.

“You never really know your values until they are tested. Now is the time to be guided by your values,” he says. “Many organizations have spent the last several years defining the type of culture they want, the values that are important to them. HR executives should make decisions that align with those values and use them as their guiding light.”

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.

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