Over the past 12 months, we have witnessed COVID-19 disrupting global economies, viewed communities expressing opinions on the socio-political views, and experienced profound and immediate changes to how we live and work. It has underscored the urgency for organizations around the world to radically adapt to new ways of working, redesign new business models, and accelerate digitization and automation to meet changing individual and organizational needs. Organizations had to respond to a sudden, unforeseen crisis, rethink outdated views and establish a new set of possibilities. As the world is radically shifting, so begins the era of reinvention.
Organizations have by and large met the challenges of this crisis moment. But as we move toward imagining a post-pandemic era, a management system based on old rules—a hierarchy that solves for uniformity, bureaucracy, and control—will no longer be effective.
COVID-19 has proved two remarkable truths. Firstly, that organizations can perform major transformations in days, mobilize teams in new ways never imagined, and pivot products and services to changing demands. Secondly, that people are capable of the most extraordinary innovations under the pressure of a crisis; and our well-being is of paramount importance and we have the remarkable ability to adapt, learn and grow. The challenge for many now will be to sustain that momentum to discover a new permanent state of continuous reinvention to thrive in the long term, as advances in technology constantly reset the path forward.
The pandemic has thrust the human resources function into the spotlight. The pivotal role played by the CHRO in this crisis has been likened to no other. HR has thrived during this difficult time in organizations where the function is well-led, has strong senior stakeholder support, has prioritized leadership development, and has already commenced a digital transformation journey. Companies need their HR functions as they’ve never needed them before – not only to be the conductor of digital transformation and new ways of working for people-related issues but to put the ''human'' at the center and ensure that our workplaces become fairer, better, and more humane. All eyes are on HR and undoubtedly HR has a unique role to play.
Where should we begin?
If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that leadership matters more than ever. The pandemic is a challenge for CEOs unlike any they have ever faced, forcing an abrupt shift in how employees work, how customers behave, how supply chains function, and even what ultimately constitutes business performance. Confronting this unique moment, CEOs have shifted how they lead in expedient and ingenious ways. The changes may have been birthed of necessity, but they have great potential beyond this crisis.
Leading effectively under pressure, communication that demonstrates emotional agility and empathy, and putting people at the heart of an organization’s decisions pays off in the ability to adapt, innovate and stay ahead of disruption. However, putting that ability into practice entails thinking about new dynamic business models, new human-centric skills, and the integration of new technologies to build an organization that can continuously reinvent in an unpredictable environment with an unknown future.
During the pandemic, many organizations have accomplished what had previously been thought impossible. The Dubai-based company, Majid Al Futtaim, a leader in shopping malls, hotels, and cinemas found that attendance at movie theatres fell (as a result of government-mandated closures) while demand for its online supermarket soared; in two days, the company retrained 1,000 ushers and ticket sellers to work for the online grocer. Without the crisis, that speed and magnitude of reskilling to leverage talent across MAF’s portfolio of companies would never have been contemplated. In four days, Singapore Airlines assigned 1300 former airline workers to become ''care ambassadors'' to care for patients in hospitals. These “care ambassadors” were assigned to low-risk wards, helping with basic caregiving, nutritional care, and patient service management.
Before COVID-19, only 29 percent of Executives were focused on reimagining work. Today, that number has skyrocketed to 61 percent, showing that many organizations are ready to reinvent themselves, according to the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report 2021. To build an organization that can continuously reinvent now hinges on the ability for leaders to create an organizational culture based on a shared sense of purpose that mobilizes people to pull strongly in the same direction as they face the organization’s current and future challenges.
Leading effectively in this environment requires a very specific combination of leadership capabilities. Some leaders have stepped up and performed exceptionally during this crisis. But others have faltered, illustrating a widening gap. Leaders need to trust people to work in ways that allow them to fulfill their potential, offering workers a degree of choice over the work they do to align their passions with organizational needs. And they should embrace the perspective that reimagining work is key to the ability to achieve new and better outcomes in a world that is itself being constantly reimagined.
The next ten years will bring fundamental changes to our working world, and to adapt, employees in almost every role and industry will need to acquire new skills. The COVID-19 crisis has only accelerated these shifts. In the face of rapid and continuous change, the need to reskill and upskill entire workforces is one of the most significant challenges we face today and for the foreseeable future.
World Economic Forum recently declared a reskilling emergency as the world faces more than one billion jobs transformed by technology. Global labor shortages of 85.2m skilled workers are projected by 2030, 74 percent of organizations say reskilling the workforce is important for their success over the next 12–18 months, but only 10 percent say they are very ready to address this trend. From the boardroom to the classroom, leaders are wrestling with developing talent at a previously unknown pace, building complex initiatives and systems to support workforce transformation. However, we now need to think about this entirely differently.
The most important way that organizations can unleash employees’ potential is to empower them with choice over what they do and foster a culture of lifelong learning in the context of declining demand for certain skills, the emergence of new ones, and the requirement for talent to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn.
We’ve lived in a world where we assumed organizations knew best what skills workers needed to bring to the table. But the pandemic taught us that potential comes to fuller fruition when workers are allowed to take more initiative. Workforce potential is not about what workers were recruited to do, or what they are certified to do, or even what organizations or leaders want them to do next. It’s about giving workers more freedom to choose how they can best help tackle critical business problems.
Weave automation and technology more naturally into the way people work, strengthening human skills and leveraging machines. Thoughtful use of technology can change the nature of work so people can focus their time and energy on what interest them the most. People and technology truly working as an integrated team with complementary capabilities can enable organizations to re-architect work so that it is more efficient and satisfying for people, often with better results for the organization. From collaboration tools for better teaming to AI that helps people make more informed decisions, technologies that are genuinely in sync with how people work and think can help teams pursue new ideas and achieve better outcomes.
COVID-19 has earned many HR organizations the right to be bolder in orchestrating work throughout the organization. To seize this opportunity, HR needs to reorient its mission and mindset towards shaping future success by taking the lead in re-inventing work. These may include shifting the focus of work from outputs to outcomes to doing what is needed to pursue better results, approaching workforce development with a focus on uniquely human capabilities such as complex problem-solving, and social intelligence. Also, integrate well-being into every aspect of the employee experience, and think to personalize the solution and finally, anticipating changing social, economic, and political forces that bring an opportunity for organizations to radically step-up efforts on diversity & inclusion and to promote a sense of purpose and belonging in the workforce.