Which COVID response stage is your organisation in?

Why HR’s next steps need to include adopting technology and moving beyond financial survival and workplace safety.
By: | October 5, 2020

By Kathryn Mayer, benefits editor of Human Resource Executive, where this article was first published.

Without question, the pandemic has thrust a lot of things into the spotlight. And the way HR leaders are handling the crisis is no exception.

“To some degree, we are either part of the solution or part of the problem,” Josh Bersin, industry analyst and opening keynote speaker at the upcoming HR Technology Conference & Exposition, said during an HRE webinar. “It’s hard when the HR function hasn’t been adaptable in the past, but I think a lot of you have been thrown into a lot of uncertainty and scrambled around to try to do things [you] never thought were possible before.”

While some organisations have made significant and lasting changes as a result of COVID-19, others have yet to make transformative change in their organizations.

“Giving people work-from-home tools, giving them PPE, making the workplace safe is good—that’s fine, it’s certainly positive,” Bersin said. “But it doesn’t transform you.”

To truly transform and make a real impact, the panelists said, organisations and HR leaders need to move from the first stages of the crisis—stage 1 being “hope for the best” by furloughing and laying off people and focusing on financial survival, and stage 2 being “care for the people” by aggressively protecting workers and the workplace from infection—to stages that move the organisation ahead.

They defined stage 3 as “drive agility and culture” by educating and supporting employees and families to move fast, develop cross-functional solutions and stay resilient and productive. The final stage, stage 4, they defined as “transform and reinvent,” which involves reinventing hiring, job design and performance management.

“Stage 1 is denying reality,” said Kathi Enderes, vice-president of research at the Josh Bersin Academy.

However, the majority of organisations are still in those beginning stages: A poll of organisations by the academy found that 18% are in stage 1, 46% are in stage 2, 15% are in stage 3 and 21% are in stage 4.

Organisations that are thriving are focusing not only on health and wellbeing—which is imperative to success, Enderes said—but are even hiring more employees during the pandemic.

“Staffing up is critical because the pandemic is an economic transformation, not just a public health crisis,” she said. Other best practices for HR leaders? Reinforcing and invigorating focus on purpose and culture; quickly adopting technology to develop new products and services; leveraging contingent and part-time workers; and simplifying and speeding up performance management.

“Many say HR has stepped up, but [others] say they need to lead and take on this spotlight role,” Enderes said.

Re-invention, Bersin said, will be the theme for 2021. “A lot of what we are going to talk about in the next six months, and next year, is creating a resilient HR.”

But Bersin warned that trials for HR are far from over. In addition to the pandemic, he said, other potential problem areas include climate change, the upcoming election and natural disasters.

“I truly believe this isn’t the last crisis,” he said of the pandemic. “Come together as an HR department to talk about how you’re going to prepare for the coming year because the coming year is going to be a lot like this.”