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Webinar wisdom: Three takeaways from Bersin

"This crisis response will be led by HR," analyst Josh Bersin says in discussing the impact of coronavirus on HR and HR technology.
By: | April 14, 2020 • 2 min read

Earlier this year, industry analyst Josh Bersin and Human Resource Executive® agreed on a date and a topic for his April webinar: The Role of HR in the Next Year. At the time, Bersin expected to discuss talent shortages, skills and jobs of the future, internal mobility and income inequality in the face of ever-rising stock prices.

Of course, between the planning and the execution of the webinar, nearly everything about work and HR changed.

Read all of HRE‘s coronavirus coverage here.

“I’m going to give you the future of HR, pre-crisis and post-crisis,” Bersin, a longtime partner with HRE, said in opening the April 9 webinar, sponsored by ServiceNow.

“In one hour,” he added, with a laugh. “This is some pretty new information.

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“In the last five five or six weeks, we have been overwhelmed with a set of issues that we did not predict, and they have changed a lot of things but not everything so over the next hour, I’m going to give you a sense of where this is going to take us.”

Bersin, also dean of the Josh Bersin Academy, then set off through a deck of new and updated slides, sharing insights into human resources and its future.

“The HR role has radically changed,” he said. “We are in a heroic role in the business. This crisis response will be led by HR … and the way we organize ourselves and operate is really important.”

Here are three takeaways from the webinar:

  1. Employees’ and HR’s concerns are closely aligned, especially around remote work.

Right now, according to Bersin’s research, employees are most concerned about—in this order—their job security, their health and wellbeing, their families, and their productivity and work. HR leaders are most concerned about health and wellbeing, managing remote workers, jobs and business continuity, followed by mental health, wellbeing and connection.

“There’s no point worrying about productivity and performance until we take care of health and individual safety, and I think most of you know that very well,” he said. But once those concerns are taken care of, remote work comes next and that initially was a big problem. “More than 50 percent of the companies we surveyed did not have a remote work policy,” he said.

That included most banks, trading firms and investment companies that his team surveyed. Many cited security and regulatory challenges that they’re working through. Still, remote work policies are vital and more complex than some suspect.

“There’s really more to it than just giving people a laptop and a little bit of money for their internet,” he says. HR needs to build programs around remote work that provide psychological safety, helping with personal resilience and providing boundaries for those whose work and home lives will intertwine moment to moment.

  1. HR needs an operating model of distributed control and centralized coordination.

By necessity, the crisis has changed and will continue to change HR’s role from an expense and service-delivery function to one where success is based on speed and quality of response rather than efficiency and employee satisfaction.

“We spent 11 years thinking about growth and scale and efficiency and productivity and employee experience, and we didn’t think about resiliency and how adaptive the HR function is,” Bersin said. “And we are learning that now in a very quick and interesting way.”

Teams will need to prepare for these seemingly rare “Black Swan” events, he said. Coronavirus obviously is one, but companies also experience them individually, he said, giving such examples as Boeing’s recent crisis, Brexit, the 9-11 terrorist attacks and others.

“How do we design HR for a model where we have to grow, but we also have to deal with these issues?”

  1. Learning and development will not disappear.

Despite the economic downturn, employers still will need to hire and train. Time will be the biggest challenge to learning, but already the corporate learning market “has exploded,” Bersin says, with tools to help HR ensure that it continues.

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Learning will appear everywhere, he says, embedded into workflows and delivered into existing tools, including newly popular communication tools such as Microsoft Teams. HR leaders should look for tools that are flexible and can be used in a variety of situations, he said.

For more insights, to hear the whole webinar and to see the slides, visit here.

Elizabeth Clarke is executive editor of Human Resource Executive. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida and then spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor in South Florida before joining HRE. Elizabeth lives with her family in Palm Beach County. She can be reached at eclarke@lrp.com.

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