Strategy & LeadershipCOVID-19: how HR can go ‘back to better’ post-pandemic

COVID-19: how HR can go 'back to better' post-pandemic

For many, recovery and a return to business as usual is the post-pandemic goal. But what if there was a way to improve during the crisis and return even stronger than before? For HRD Thought Leader Jill Christensen, this has to be the aim for HR professionals.

A recent Bloomberg article chronicled that lay-offs are starting to turn from temporary to permanent across the globe. In the United States, the head of Local 9305 of the United Steelworkers Union was one of 210 people laid-off at a plant near Pittsburgh, PA, which manufactures tubes and pipes for the oil industry. The company idled the facility in March, citing a sharp decline in oil prices.

So, as a leader, how is he responding? “I’m not doing anything,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do but wait.” Excuse me? Did I really hear that? The truth is, there are many other things you can do besides wait. If you are an HR professional, this is the perfect time to plan how you can bounce back stronger than ever once the COVID-19 pandemonium settles down.

Can you control what is going on in the world right now? No, but you can control how you respond. What you need to do more than anything is take a step back, breathe, figure out how to reinvent yourself and your function, and then execute.

And, I have an idea about where you should focus your efforts. One of the most common complaints I hear from HR professionals is that they do not have a seat at the table. Many HR professionals think they are marginalised, do not have a voice and are viewed as tactical rather than strategic employees.

From my experience in business, I think this happens because people choose to play it safe and act according to their job descriptions rather than taking a risk and reinventing their roles. You may have never thought about it this way, but leaders really do not want to people to just do their jobs. They would much rather have people on the team who innovate, create, pioneer and blaze new trails. Often, these are the people who get a seat at the table and get ahead.

During a crisis situation like the one we are currently experiencing, the vast majority of people choose to duck their head and hide in a foxhole in an effort to not get hit. They play it safe in the hopes that if they hide, they will be forgotten about and impacted less. And therein lies your opportunity. As your peers hide, you can focus and strategise on how you can claim a seat at the table.

But how can I action this?

Look outside of your job description and identify a major problem that your company is facing which needs to be solved. Then, formulate a plan to fix it. Designate yourself as the project lead. Define the problem, measure where you are today, analyse the cause of the problem, implement a solution and put controls in place to ensure that you maintain your progress and do not revert back. All the while, communicate your progress and ongoing results with leaders so they can see the tremendous value that you add.

And once the pandemic has run its course, do not stop operating this way. Do not go back to just acting according to your job description. Yes, there are certain things that HR professionals are responsible for that must get done, but in order for HR to go ‘back to better’ post-pandemic, it needs to reinvent itself. It needs to do things differently.

Everyone in your HR group should be tasked with operating this way in an effort to shine a light on the function, fix widespread issues that have probably plagued your company for years, and earn that seat at the table.

You and your colleagues have a choice – stay frozen in fear like the masses or rise up and take advantage of unexpected opportunities.  Instead of viewing the pandemic just as a crisis, view it as an opportunity to learn, grow, thrive and soar.

We are being shaken right now. Allow it to shift you and your function to a better place and as a bigger contributor. Some people will and others will not. I am confident that the people who are going to come out of this on top are the people who do not go back to life as they knew it pre-COVID. They are choosing to view this event as an opportunity to shift, and they are capitalising on it. It’s a choice: the status quo or a seat at the table? Which is it going to be?

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