Averbook: Are you listening to the signals?

In today’s world and current climate, it's more important than ever for HR to listen to signals from the industry and its people.
By: | June 30, 2020

By Jason Averbook, a leading analyst, thought leader and consultant in the area of HR, the future of work and the impact technology have on that future. He is also the CEO and co-founder of Leapgen.

One of the most common questions organizations and people ask me, no matter where I am around the world—both pre-pandemic and now—is this: How do you keep up? How do you keep up with the ever-changing times? How do you keep up with ever-changing technology, and how do you know what to do?

Of late, with historic and groundbreaking events unfolding rapidly and daily, there are new, more pressing questions: How should HR leaders communicate with their workforces about the current social unrest? And how might these protests—peaceful and non-peaceful—shift HR approaches to diversity and inclusion? How do we keep up with change, let alone drive change?

The answer to all of these questions lies in listening to signals. They’re everywhere, almost deafening now. Find space and stillness to listen. Signals carry information, inform necessary change and provide direction as to where things are going—whether macro issues around the economy or micro issues within an organization. We’re getting lots of macro information about society, justice and how we live and work right now. These are all signals; it’s imperative to take the time and make the space to listen.

This year has shown itself to be a defining moment, a line drawn in the sand of history, when people leaders need to become great—truly great at being able to understand, at listening, at applying the learnings we get from signals to our ongoing people strategies. So much is changing so fast, it’s needless to say static strategy simply no longer exists. I cannot build a strategy for 12 months, let alone for 18 months. I can hardly build a strategy for six months. Shifting from static to agile strategies requires listening harder. We have to listen with an outcome in mind. And we have to get out of our narrowly defined world, get out of the HR function more and truly listen to the signals our people, the business and the world at large are giving us.

Three Tips When Listening to Signals

  1. Assess: Listen, and take into account what we’re hearing.

Make sure what we’re hearing is factual. In validating it with people, we need to understand the prevalence of what we’re hearing and how widespread is the thought. We also need to make sure we understand, specifically, what that signal means to us.

  1. Align: Make sure what we’re hearing from a signal standpoint is aligned with our functional strategies, and that those are aligned to overall business strategy. 

If alignment is there, proceed to the third step. If that alignment is missing, you need to reprioritize and refocus. In today’s world and current climate, reprioritization and refocusing is more important than ever. And you’ll need to do them more frequently than ever. Get used to constant shifting of priorities and focus. Agility is key.

  1. Act: Jump to action on properly focused priorities.

The jumping part is easy. What’s hard about action is the risks and dependencies tied to doing it. If I act this way, what gets taken off the priority list? If I act this way, what breaks from a process standpoint? What happens to technology infrastructure if I act this way? What does this do to my budget? We need to build action plans that are sequenced intentionally, that are coordinated across all parts of the HR function and that are executed from a single group of ownership.

The Now of Work is the Now of Life

Our climate of social unrest and protests against injustice—both peaceful and non-peaceful—are connected to the Now of Work. Social causes like racial injustice impact fair and equitable business practices, organizational DNA and strategy, how the world works and the inclusive environments we create for people or that we need to. These signals have been muted for far too long, and they impact everyone in your workforce, whether they represent the voices trying to be heard or those of us who need to learn to listen.

Leaders in any position—people and business leaders as well as community and political leaders—are facing the most significant challenge they will ever face. Achieving racial justice in the midst of a global pandemic is a challenge of great magnitude. It is understandably overwhelming for both leaders and employees to address, and it should be treated with care. Read through all of the above again; action must accompany words and well-meaning intention. Acting with outcomes in mind is the biggest impact we can have in the world right now.

Use signals to assess what you’re hearing, align what you’re hearing to what you’re doing, tie to a greater vision and create action. Digest quickly, and prepare to adjust. Let signals adjust and shape us.

We live in a fascinating time. A great friend of mine, Heather McGowan, wrote in her book The Adaptation Advantage, “This exact moment in time, right now, is the slowest rate of change you will experience ever again. This speed of change makes it more important to occasionally pause and reflect on being human. Advances in technology allow machines to do many things, but they cannot dream, contemplate or yet imagine our unseen future.”

That’s up to us, HR. It’s up to us to dream, contemplate and imagine a new future. And commit to action. I’m answering the call, and I hope you’ll join me.

This article was first published on Human Resource Executive.