As companies adapt to the impact of COVID-19 and move to reinvent the workplace as well as the nature of work itself, HR's role is evolving alongside these changes. At a virtual panel discussion organised in June by People Matters and LinkedIn, HR leaders from three different industries shared perspectives on why HR must bring down the barriers between its internal silos to work as an integrated function for organisation’s success.
The panel, moderated by Frank Koo, Head of Asia - Talent and Learning Solutions, LinkedIn, surfaced a common view of HR's role: the HR function exists to help businesses thrive. And to do so, HR must play the role of an enabler, supporting people in the most effective way; it must evolve its own approach to match the landscape and align its goals with the organisation’s objectives.
Enabling teams to do the work that keeps businesses going
All three speakers on the panel said that the acceleration of digitalisation combined with pandemic restrictions has dramatically changed the way their companies interact with customers. It has speeded up communication and enabled data analytics on a massive scale, and as a result, the kind of support people need has changed.
Ongmu Gombu, VP HR - Greater China & Intercontinental at GSK Pharma, shared that in her industry, the greatest transformation has been in how the pharmaceutical companies interact with patients and doctors, to the extent that there has been a shift in the business model itself.
Hence, she said, HR has to look into how it can enable people to handle the changes. “What becomes really important is simplification, and whether we are really helping and adding value. Are we really simplifying the complex, or are we adding more noise to the clutter that's already there?” She brought up the question of learning and development as an example: there are more learning solutions and content than managers have the headspace to parse, and so it becomes HR's duty to curate the content and identify what is relevant.
HR needs to focus on two particularly important points, added Shalu Manan, VP HR Transformation at Genpact: how quickly the organisation can evolve to make customers successful, and how to ensure that the people in the organisation, who are at the centre of providing those services to customers, are taken care of and kept safe amid the pandemic.
“We have to step up and put support systems in place so that our employees are available to service our customers, who are in turn servicing end users,” she said. “That continues to be the meaning behind everything we do.”
Changing HR's own interactions with employees
All these changes mean that HR has to rethink the way the function interacts with employees. The focus, said panellists, has to be about handling the practicalities of working and collaborating remotely. This includes building capabilities all the way down to line managers, because in a remote model, everyone has to be far more self-sufficient than before. So what are some of the key practicalities?
Vikramjeet Singh, President and CHRO, Bajaj Allianz, named health and wellness as a top priority—not just physical health, but mental well-being, and the skills needed to maintain mental well-being. “One of the big effects of social distancing was some sense of loss of self.,” he observed. “Therefore a lot of emphasis had to be placed around how to build self-awareness—a lot of self-management.”
Another main priority, he said, is reskilling to build digital capabilities. The increased use of technological tools has enabled hyper-personalisation—not just for customers, but for employees—and that includes the hyper-personalisation of learning, of making reskilling available to all employees at any time, anywhere. “We created a whole mobile-based learning ecosystem, based on the idea that each one of us can learn in a very, very different way,” he recounted.
Agreeing, Shalu said that there has been a lot of investment in learning and wellness. “Mental wellness is not just about telling somebody that they should take care of this aspect of their health, but also about creating that safe space for people to step up, discuss, and get help,” she said.
More importantly, she pointed out, the organisation's culture has to evolve to the stage where it enables a different way of supporting people. Introducing the technology alone is not enough: “A lot of digital transformation journeys fail to meet the business objectives because we jump into just throwing technology at a process, and we don't step back to look at the context,” she said. She suggested three checkpoints for the use of technology: firstly, what it will achieve for the people and the organisation; secondly, how the data it gathers will be used; and thirdly, whether it will make work more efficient.
Helping people adapt in an agile manner
The problem with trying to prepare people for the new normal, panellists said, is that what we think of the new normal is constantly changing. Therefore, said Ongmu, the focus should be on preparing for change itself.
“The new normal is about how people adapt to the new situation very quickly, how quickly you bring agility to ways of working without creating strain in the organisation,” she pointed out.
The kind of agility enforced by the pandemic needs resilience, however, which is why mental wellness is such a priority today. Managers and leaders in particular need the resilience to deal with unpredictable results and adapt to the situation on their own—to do their own 'self-service'. Furthermore, they need to be able to think forward.
“The role of HR as a business partner is to link with the strategy,” said Vikramjeet. “How do you help them to not only have the solution for right now, but equally help them see the distant future and take ownership of it? We must look at democratised but hyper-personalised frameworks. And along with that, people must be ready to implement and use the tools.”
It's not just about preparing others for change, though. HR leaders and professionals themselves have to become agile and move outside of their silos.
“We have to create beyond just the core network of our department or company,” Shalu urged. “My industry, my region, the world is now the new boundary in which to look around, think about what others are doing, and learn what is working for them in the shortest possible time.”
One HR: the integrated HR as a support for the business
The first step is for the individual HR functions such as talent acquisition, L&D, or organisational development to move out of their silos and work together to support the organisation. And this, said panellists, really involves recognising the purpose of HR.
“I've always believed that the HR teams’ existence in the business is to serve three purposes,” Shalu commented. “The first one is to staff the right people at the right time, in the fastest possible manner. The second objective is to make sure that we are constantly and intentionally investing in engaging with our diverse workforce in a very inclusive and collaborative manner. And the third one is to constantly optimise the utilisation and leveraging of the skills that you hire in the context of the larger costs of running the operations of the business.”
Achieving this is closely intertwined with ways of working, Ongmu said: leveraging the right expertise in the right place, avoiding an antagonistic us-versus-them mindset, essentially ensuring that everyone is comfortable with what they are doing.
“What we need to do is really make sure that culturally we think of ourselves as One HR,” she observed. “And it's easier said than done because it's very much around not passing the buck, but owning the buck that's at your table.”
You can gain many more insights from what these leaders have shared. Click on this link to listen in to the full panel discussion on ‘The need for One HR to accelerate Digital Transformation across Organizations’.