Why HR needs ‘dexterity and grit’ in today’s world

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series on coronavirus strategies and priorities for HR leaders–from HR’s top experts. Read the others starting here.


The coronavirus crisis has dramatically altered HR’s priorities, says IBM CHRO Diane Gherson.

Diane Gherson

“There’s much more emphasis on the low end of Maslow’s Hierarchy,” she says. “Cultural transformation and careers are great, but the bottom layer is safety–and, for us, the health and safety folks will be dominant for the foreseeable future.”

On a macro level, IBM’s globally dispersed businesses will be expected to take on more decision-making.

“Even though we’ve moved to global management for a lot of our functions, going forward, there’s going to be more focus on our geographies,” says Gherson. Different countries will have varying return-to-work strategies, while limits on travel will change the nature of some global-management jobs. As a result, more decisions will be made at the country level.

“It’s a trend that’s been happening for a while and it’s only going to accelerate,” she says.

When employees eventually return to the office, they may find themselves working in a changed physical layout, says Kevin Oakes, CEO and founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). “The movement to open-plan offices and WeWork spaces is probably going to go away pretty quickly.”

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Employees at IBM and other companies will most likely return to the office in stages, while others may continue working remotely for the foreseeable future, says Gherson. “We’ll be thinking hard about which groups need to go back first and which need to go back ever,” she says.

For Cara Zibbell, CHRO at mid-sized staffing firm Atrium, the crisis has forced her to consider the critical qualities necessary for being effective as an employee and a leader.

“One of the most critical skill sets you need in a time like this is to have dexterity, grit and aptitude,” she says. “Those can’t be taught–they’re what you come to the table with.”

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Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.