Steve Boese: Make decisions for the long-term

Speaking exclusively at HR Tech Fest Connect 2020, Steve Boese cautioned organisations on how their actions during the COVID-19 pandemic will shape their future.
By: | May 21, 2020

COVID-19 is presenting organisations around the world with unprecedented challenges, and because it is a once-in-a-lifetime event, many organisations are still finding the answers to address the current uncertainty.

Speaking at HR Tech Fest Connect 2020, which took place from May 12-13, Steve Boese, president and co-founder, H3 HR Advisors, said, “Business agility, employee well-being and the evolution of leadership will be most critical for HR leaders to think about, to create strategies around, and to develop action plans from.”

Agility will be a fundamental aspect to an organisation’s ability to answer to the uncertainty presented by COVID-19. How can an organisation’s culture and mindset allow it to quickly transition its direction, and how can employees’ attention be focused on overcoming rapidly changing conditions?

For a start, treat employee well-being as a top priority today, Boese recommended. While organisations have been investing in well-being areas or programmes for at least 20 years, it is arguable that well-being was never at the top of the priority list.

COVID-19 however, has changed this completely. “Well-being, or even just the basic safety of workers at the workplace, has become one of the most urgent HR leadership demands.”

Boese suggested organisations to start from the default position of it not being safe to be at the workplace now. Have you done enough to make your employees feel safe enough to return to the workplace? Will your measures ensure that employees can reach the same level of efficiency and productivity before COVID-19 struck?

Beyond basic safety, organisations need to recognise that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on most people’s mental health. Social isolation resulting from lockdowns around the world, fear of contracting the disease, and fear of income loss or retrenchment have also created stress to employees that organisations need to address.

“Start from scratch and rebuild your well-being strategies,” Boese advised, before adding that effective leadership is going to be key for any organisation looking to emerge from COVID-19, regardless of where they are in the world.

Citing Steven Callender, professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Boese pointed out that 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.

He provided the example of Bird, a micromobility company that operates shared electric scooters in Europe, North America and the Middle East. When COVID-19 broke, Bird was laying off employees en masse using recorded messages from Zoom. Such an approach, with no individual outreach or communications, is hugely damaging for Bird’s reputation, Boese argued.

On the contrary, Farmer’s Fridge is an operator of vending machines that provide healthy snacks and drinks. Despite COVID-19 creating a 75% reduction in demand for its products, Farmer Fridges’ CEO remained adamant that laying off employees is the absolute last resort.

The company then moved machines from locations where demand dropped to places such as hospitals, where demand was high. At the same time, the company’s reputation emerged smelling like a bed of roses.

As Bird demonstrated, short-term solutions may be those that reduce direct cost but, ultimately shortchange your stakeholders, your community, your employees and your customers, warned Boese.

He added, “The pressure to respond to this crisis is absolutely real, and right now for many organisations, actions may be seemingly limited but the choices we make now and the way we handle ourselves now and the way we lead will be remembered forever.

“Make decisions with an eye towards the long-term – it’s a challenge but also an incredible opportunity.”