Transformation time: HR leaders face their toughest task yet.

14 Apr 2021

Transformation time: HR leaders face their toughest task yet.

As HR seeks to re-imagine the people management function, the search is on for the transformative leaders who are truly up to the challenge.

The Covid crisis has left no part of business unshaken. And no function was more impacted than HR, and its leadership. Already on a journey to strategic influence and undergoing digital transformation, the pandemic supercharged this process. It also threw up other issues, least of all the capability of leaders to make the transformational changes required.

Digital tools and processes became the norm almost overnight, issues like short-term work had to be negotiated, recruitment and onboarding had to be done remotely. And, of course, the health of safety of colleague became paramount.

All this had to be done in an atmosphere of almost daily change, with CHROs often close to the centre of C-suite decision-making as organisations flexed and adapted to respond to disruption. Plus a number of issues continued to demand attention, including D&I, reskilling and culture management.

This was very much a people crisis with the need for a new people management solution.

Take a breath before the next steps

Now, a year later, there has been a little time to reflect on what went well, what was lacking, and redefine the future of HR for a world that finally gets beyond COVID-19’s dominance.

The answer for many is that only a true transformation of people management will be enough in a world where COVID is just one of many challenges.

As the recent Mercer Report points out, it is a transformation in multi dimensions. It will require a stronger alignment between structures (methods, processes and systems) and culture (values and behaviors).

“This increasingly requires a holistic understanding of the necessary changes. Only those who can ensure consistency — from an understanding of the business strategy to a clear view of workforces, the future and the required skills — can implement the right HR organization, modern HR instruments and digital tools. The interplay between the “future of work” in the company and the “future of HR” will increasingly become a decisive factor for success.”

The report predicts some of the broader issues to be faced by HR leaders going forward:

  • ‘While progress on stakeholder capitalism paused during 2020, COVID-19 actually thrust stakeholder empathy (particularly of employees) forward.’
  • ‘Reskilling will be both this decade’s biggest opportunity and its greatest challenge. Those that can deliver skills at scale will outpace competitors and start to build the learning organization vital to staying ahead.’
  • ‘Organizations have made progress in harnessing the power of data, and HR’s role in upholding ethical practices on AI and analytics is vital. With greater health and workplace surveillance an accepted reality for many, how data on employees is collected, used and secured will require much more attention in 2021.’
  • ‘There is a clear need to inspire people with an energizing and empathetic employee experience (EX). Staying ahead will require taking an even broader view: redefining the employee value proposition fit for today’s needs and tomorrow’s generations — upending what “being at work” means even as work and work arrangements remain in flux.’

New tools are a start, but not the full story.

Digital transformation remains a key to this transformation. For many, the sudden lockdown revealed there is some way to go to have the right tools, systems and platforms. 

Managers began asking questions.

  • Just how good is our data about the workforce: what precisely were their skills, for example?
  • And once we have good data, how do we really make sense of it?
  • Why are we struggling to communicate with inadequate capabilities (thank goodness for Zoom).
  • Is there a better way to monitor individual and collective sentiment?
  • Are our HR services making life too hard for our colleagues?

Then, there’s the challenge of recruiting and onboarding talent successfully.  Once aboard, how do you keep people energized and true participants in a corporate culture when normal social interaction is just impossible?

Once asked, these questions demand to be answered if there is to be anything like a ‘better normal’, lockdown or no lockdown. Only leadership that is proactive, innovative and resilient will stand a chance of leading the multi-dimensional transformation required.

What defines transformational leadership?

Transformational leaders have some definite characteristics and capabilities.

They are able to provide specific direction, but can also empower their teams to explore and innovate.

“These leaders can apply analytical rigour and due diligence to decision making. But are still able to scan the horizon to help the organisation imagine, envision and ultimately create a sustainable, successful future.”, says Katja Hanns-Terrill, Managing Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

They are able to gather the views and perspectives of others while still listening to their inner conscience and principles to inform sound judgement.

Transformational leadership speaks with a clear and inspiring voice that is heard, but leaves space for others.

Transformational leadership has the drive, vision, humility, judgment, capability, capacity and courage to anticipate and respond to challenges effectively.

To meet these challenges, we know, will take a special breed of leader.

Why some leaders manage disruption successfully.

Our 2020 Global Leadership Confidence Index highlighted a lack of confidence in senior leadership. Just 15% of nearly 2,000 surveyed expressed confidence in the ability of their companies’ top leadership teams to manage disruption successfully.

We observed that successful leaders in a disrupted environment lean towards change, not away from it. They are defined by mindset, not simply skillset, and they have shown that tendency in their experience to date.

Those confident leaders have the mindset and vision to seize opportunities. Many are doing so even in the current difficult circumstances, driving a steady pace of constant evolution even as the ground moves beneath their feet.

“They are often game changers, value creators, entrepreneurs, and risk takers. Even in a crisis, they take decisions quickly, but thoughtfully, and identify and seize on innovative, resourceful solutions to immediate and critical issues. They display character traits such as humility, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, compassion and empathy.” says Dagmar-Elena Markworth.

Those leaders have a magnetic effect, charismatic and motivational for their teams, their colleagues and customers. And that, at the end of the day, this creates visible and sustainable results and is able to drive the transformations required by the new world of people management.

To discuss your career, or talent requirements, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll be keen to hear from you.