The Top 10 Themes for Chief Human Resource Officers in 2021

by Katie Sawyer, 5 minutes read
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From furloughing staff to managing work-from-home logistics, Chief Human Resource Officers were challenged to pivot and adapt last year.

Sage partnered with Kimble and Deputy to talk about how human resources changed in the last 18 months — and what big things you need to know this year.

If you’re a Human Resources Manager, discover 10 themes that should be on your agenda to support your workforce through recovery.

1. The business with a purpose

Since going into lockdowns, employees now hold the purpose of their job to a higher standard and rally around a unified cause. For example, grocery store workers were determined to ensure customers could get groceries, and that motivated employees to work even harder.

When customers see this purpose, it becomes a powerful driver of new business. Consultants Deloitte writes, “Organizations that embrace purpose embed well-being and meaning into every aspect of work every day, optimizing the power of individuals by harnessing workers’ complementary strengths in the service of a common goal.”

Whether or not your business is on the frontlines, your teams have value. How can you leverage your business’ purpose to inspire the best from your employees?

2. The flexible workspace

Offices, as it turns out, are not required for many businesses. Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America, wrote “The coronavirus, and its economic and social fallout, is a time machine to the future. Changes that many of us predicted would happen over decades are instead taking place in the span of weeks.”

So what does this mean for HR leaders?

Fortunately, the core function of your role is still the same. Instead of onboarding new employees at their desk, you’re sending new equipment to their house. Performance reviews and sensitive conversations are coordinated through Zoom. Benefits packages are covered in a virtual meeting.

To make the most of the flexible workspace transition, make sure that you’re paying attention to how employees respond to change. Send surveys and collect feedback to make sure they’re being heard.

3. The new cadence of HR

Human Resources took on a greater sense of urgency. In times of collective hardship, people can operate at greater speed. Executive recruiters Heidrick & Struggles write, “Value speed over perfection. With many unknowns, HR leaders need to try promising solutions, rather than waiting for one that is bulletproof…Reinvent HR practices in real time, shift the frame, and break old assumptions.”

You don’t need to charge ahead without looking back. Instead, try a proactive approach to HR which questions and validates approaches at every opportunity. Turn to HR communities and fellow leaders for advice. Be open to making mistakes and experimentation.

4. The heightened value of internal communications

Keep your teams aware of what’s going on. The road to recovery is long and prone to upheaval. While HR teams have been pushed unwillingly into the limelight, organizations have enjoyed greater transparency.

CHRO’s who maintain an open channel of communication are better equipped to lead employees. Make sure your employees have an avenue to ask anonymous questions and find the information they need.

5. The wellbeing imperative

A global pandemic fundamentally changed the way we work and elevated the importance of wellbeing for productive and happy staff.

Working from home has been a joy for some and a nightmare to others. Cutting out an early commute also means dealing with noisy roommates, crowded quarters, and childcare obligations. Returning to the workplace will create another dramatic reversal, and you will need to be sensitive to how that impacts your employees.

Because you’re seeing less of your colleagues in person, you need to make space for the challenges they face unseen. Your workforce will feel supported and more valued by a business that prioritizes their mental health.

6. The recruitment comeback

Businesses are hiring again. As the economy reopens, how will you accommodate an oncoming wave of determined job seekers?

HR leaders will have to broaden their understanding of different company roles. As companies have had to transform their business models, move online, and reinvent their operations, they’ll be hiring for roles that look a little different than before. You must connect with functional heads and line managers across your business to understand where talent is most needed. Where might it make sense to recruit remotely, or even internationally? Remember to be empathetic to a weary applicant pool with longer employment gaps and disadvantages well beyond their control.

7. The importance of personal development

Related to a business with a purpose is the importance of personal development. Make sure that you’re supporting your employees’ career growth and pathways to promotion.

Review your skills base and Learning & Development activities. And invest in training to uplevel your team.

8. The new paradigm for rewarding performance

Trust your employees to do their job.

In the early months of the pandemic, many managers felt disempowered by remote working. Still, there is little evidence that using technology to monitor performance is useful. If anything, it breeds resentment and misalignment.

Your employees want to perform well, make customers happy, and support a common purpose. Employees should be measured on business outcomes, not hours committed or rate of work.

To encourage effective performance management now and beyond, CHROs should:

  • Transparently link employee goals to business priorities and maintain a strong element of flexibility.

  • Invest in managers’ coaching skills.

  • Keep ratings for the very highest — and lowest — performers but also celebrate the broad range of good performance.

9. The partnership with the Chief Information Officer

The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of industries everywhere. To positive benefit, COVID-19 forced businesses to modernize and reduce their global footprint. You will need to understand the digital technologies which have moved from the horizon to the immediate, and work alongside technical experts (CIO, CTO, CDO) to get the best from technology without sacrificing productivity or employee engagement.

Since the CHRO is responsible for ensuring that the company is built with the right people with the right competencies, they also need to collaborate with other leaders to ensure the right tools are in place as well.

10. The upward fight

A year and a half ago, some HR professionals were happy ticking boxes and not thinking much about long-term strategy and employee health.

But businesses can’t rely on that anymore. The CHRO must now negotiate with their board for adequate resources to ensure real change in their business.

CHROs are in the front line of transformation (operational and digital) and must embed themselves in every major strategic discussion.

Build a people-first business

Chief Human Resource Officers have a big responsibility — to build a business that’s people-first.

Stay informed of industry best practices and keep networking. And sign up for a free trial of Deputy to see how you can simplify shift work and keep your staff happy at the same time.

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