By Kathleen Quinn Votaw
Flexible. Agile. Inclusive. Inventive. Caring. These qualities define today’s HR heroes who are taking a strategic leadership role to transform work in ways we’ve never seen before. Today, as we recover from the pandemic and move into the future, every business imperative must include workforce perspectives. The workplace has never been so complex; and the strategic value of HR never more clear.
How do these qualities look in action? Airbnb’s recent pivot is a prime example. As travel collapsed under the weight of COVID-19, Airbnb hosts needed new ways to serve travelers. The company quickly pivoted to offer fee-based solutions, including online experiences in cooking, meditation, art therapy, magic, songwriting, virtual tours, and more. These activities represent a new, possible long-term, business strategy for Airbnb. The strategy doesn’t come out of the blue; it expands on their original strategy of serving up beds for travelers to create a lifestyle platform for learning about culture and travel. HR supports business pivots like this with critical strategies to quickly obtain or train people with the required skills.
In addition to its vital role in finding and hiring the right talent, and managing and rewarding performance, strategic HR leaders manage risks to employees, culture, and brand as well as identify the impacts around talent and skill needs throughout their organizations—all within tight budgets. Together, this creates enormous challenge, and an equal amount of opportunity.
Here’s what strategic HR leadership could look like in your business:
Flexibility permeates every aspect of your workplace, from switching between onsite and remote work options, to constant reaction to pandemic safety practices, to incorporating new tools and resources that ensure everyone’s productivity. Hiring and training move to a “build and buy” model to meet critical skills needs rather than working within a static organizational chart. Every employee experience is tailored and made easier with choices in things like when and where to work, free or low-cost onsite meals or snacks, and opportunities to learn new skills. Performance metrics and planned changes to annual incentive programs are raised or lowered depending on pandemic and workplace factors. Changes are considered strategically to ensure a sustainable path to profitability while enhancing your employer brand.
Agility is part of the company’s DNA, a hallmark of your culture, and indication of your future readiness. Agility is seen in all HR processes, which are now digital, allowing you to adapt quickly to changes in dispersed workforces and shifts in policies and procedures. Time is taken to identify the effectiveness of agility at strategic points so that benefits are shared throughout your organization. As inevitable cost-cutting measures are taken in today’s environment, HR carefully manages the risks against employee experience and overall productivity.
Inclusivity is part of your culture employer brand. Good intentions are no longer enough; they are backed up with action to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are priorities throughout your business, not just in HR talent processes and management. HR takes the lead on transparent communications that build true connection with employees and provide security, comfort, care, and a sense of belonging. Every employee is empowered to succeed with the right tools and information. Fairness and trust underpin all decisions.
Invention stems from fluid networks and community among employees, rather than the hierarchical systems and traditions of the past. This allows people to experiment and design, with HR leading the way. HR has developed a tech strategy that accelerates use of AI, digitization, and automation that aligns with changing roles, management philosophies, and business initiatives. HR collaborates with finance, IT, and other functions to develop and implement new work guidelines, shifting the focus to wellbeing, productivity, health, and safety.
Caring, not always appreciated as a leadership trait in the past, is demonstrated in every thought and action so that people feel protected and valued. Leaders consistently listen before acting. Where will you get the most efficiency and scale from a particular job, from home or work? Where would individuals prefer to work? Do your policies on sick pay and absenteeism allow people to stay home when they feel sick or unsafe? Is employee communication frequent, clear, helpful, and fact-based? Are there processes for getting feedback? Does fairness prevail between onsite and remote workers? Between full- and part-time employees and gig workers? Questions like these let employees know you care about them as individuals and, in return, they are fully engaged and more productive.
Strategic HR leaders are redefining the profession and the way business is done. They are still the owners of culture and the employee experience, but they don’t hold them close. Instead, they make sure every leader shares in that ownership and that actions taken are strategic, consistent, and organization wide. A talented CHRO gives everyone a chance to take pride in overcoming today’s and tomorrow’s challenges and benefit from the resulting opportunities.