4 questions for business agility

In the first of a 2-part article, Steve Boese, president and co-founder of H3 HR Advisors, suggests four questions to ask of your HR function in order to seek more agile approaches to your work.
By: | June 9, 2020

Steve Boese is HRE’s Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference. Boese will speak at the 2020 HR Technology Conference scheduled for Oct. 13-16, 2020, in Las Vegas. He also writes a blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio programme and podcast. He can be emailed at sboese@lrp.com.

You are likely reading this from your home, not your old office. You may have had two or three video conferences so far today, and you have still not been bold enough to venture out much past the grocery store and pharmacy. So, while some things have changed and some have improved over the last month, fundamentally, not all that much is different. And how we at H3 HR are thinking about the next six, 12, 18 months has not changed that much either.

We still see the most important areas for HR and business leaders to be business agility, employee well-being and the evolution of leadership. Here, I want to explore business/HR agility by suggesting four questions you can ask of your HR function (and the larger organisation as well) to seek more agile approaches to your work.

How are you and your organisation reacting to and supporting key stakeholders and employees?

A few weeks ago, I came across this quote from Richard Callender that I think succinctly describes the challenge and opportunity for organisations right now: “A single crisis under the glare of the spotlight is more effective at getting your message out about who you are and what your organisation stands for than a hundred meetings or a thousand speeches.”

After the acute pain of the crisis has passed, it is human nature that the public’s attention, and that of your customers and employees, will shift. Despite this, they all will remember how the organisation responded during the crisis, and their perceptions of the response will shape and define the organisation’s reputation well into the future.

For HR leaders, particularly those working with other leaders to consider reactions like layoffs, furloughs, salary reductions or scheduled hour reductions, it is imperative to keep top of mind that short-term solutions –  even those that might immediately reduce direct costs but ultimately short-change important stakeholders – may seem attractive, but in reality may cause more long-term harm than is currently realised.

If a short-term decision harms stakeholders unfairly, the negative impact on an organisation’s reputation will register for a long time, perhaps forever, and it is possible that the damage will far outweigh any short-term cost savings.

Headcount reduction, while often necessary in times such as these, lingers over the organisation for ages and in a way that is often hard to directly measure. Coming back from these kinds of reductions is usually much more difficult than we expect.

How are you using technology to stay connected to your team and customers?

The pandemic has naturally driven a quite frankly staggering response from the HR and enterprise technology market. Numerous tech providers in verticals such as video conferencing and collaboration, payroll and other administrative functions – as well as the nascent, emerging segment I will call “return to work” technologies -are releasing new capabilities, applications and even making their solutions freely available to the community.

While this response from the technology community has been generally well-received and thoughtful, by this point (at least judging by the announcements and press releases I receive), the sheer number might have already become overwhelming. For HR leaders who are juggling a number of urgent priorities right now, evaluating new technology might not rise to the top, or near to the top, of their to-do lists.

Nevertheless, having the right set of technologies to maintain and enhance your group’s connection to your internal and even external customers, while always being important for HR, is truly critical right now.

In the short term, I would make sure you have a strategy, and communicate action plans for usage and consistent access throughout the organisation in the following three areas: One, an easy-to-use, platform-independent and mobile-supported video conferencing and collaboration technology (like Zoom or Microsoft Teams).

Next, ensure that your primary payroll and benefits administration technology and service providers are updating their platforms to reflect the latest and evolving legislative updates, making their internal experts available for consultation and keeping their knowledge based on their website and customer portals current. For a good example, check out Paychex, which has been ahead of the curve with system updates, timely information, and customer and community support resources.

Finally, HR leaders at mid-size to large organisations, especially ones that plan to return employees to multiple locations, should consider and evaluate newly developed “return-to-work” tools and technology. These tools, currently being offered by companies such as Salesforce, PwC, Qualtrics and ServiceNow, provide capability to check on the well-being and health of employees, to better understand an employee’s contacts in the workplace, and to provide HR leaders with an overview of the organisation, their employees and the level of risk to the organisation from any employee’s potential illness.


Part 2 of the article will address organisational goals for the next few months, as well as how organisations reimagine and redesign themselves after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.