Avonne Stalling

How to Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis: One Path Toward Change 

The COVID-19 crisis continues to have a significant impact on business, communities, families and also, most importantly, people. Sadly, as of September 29th, the world has lost over one million of its citizens to this pandemic.

The 1 million number is hard to imagine; it breaks one’s heart to comprehend. 

As the Chief People Officer of Unit4, a global enterprise software company based in Europe, people who have been impacted by this disease touch me, and my entire team. Be it by contracting the virus, losing someone to it, or suffering the repercussions of a protracted lockdown with no end in sight.

As HR leaders go, my story isn’t unique. Like me, you live it every day. Perhaps it’s playing out in different ways based on your location, industry or company size. But no one is immune; this pandemic has touched everyone. You have many of the same conversations I do with company leaders, team managers, new hires and also customers. You most likely talk often about what you’re doing to help the company and our employees navigate this unpredictable situation. In our case, we’re a 40-year-old company going through our own “people experience” transformation while the COVID-19 crisis is happening.

Business Must Go On

Yep, it’s a lot. Again, I’m sure those of you reading this piece are facing similar challenges. And yet, business must go on. Change is rampant. And every step of the way, down what seems to be an unknown path, HR is playing a central role.

I’ve taken pen to paper many times over the past 8 month on the topic of finding opportunities through crisis and how organizations, like yours, can plan for “return to work.” One thing has become evident — while transformation was central to our 2020 plan, COVID has served as an accelerant. This virus pressure tested our resolve. It has forced us to rethink how our original plans would come together. All in an environment where “return to work” remains unpredictable, often on a daily basis.

While this byline could easily become a book (and may be one day), here are the five initiatives having the greatest impact in driving our “people experience” transformation while helping us navigate our COVID journey.

1. The Workspace Experience Evolution

As a company with a long history of global expansion, much of it through acquisition, our real estate footprint is vast. It often lacks consistency or purpose. Still, those offices were the place to meet, work and to leave at the end of the day — a very utilitarian approach. Each office served its purpose, but not elegantly. 

Realizing “the office concept” would undergo massive transformation, we began having conversations with employees and colleagues at other companies. We started seeing the art of what was possible. In the end, we found our philosophy around the workspace — its’ design, mission and intent — could help to further define and then evolve the Unit4 culture. 

People First Culture

Our company embraces a “people first” culture with values strongly tied making an impact, being genuine and open, and choosing curiosity. In the new workspace, we saw an opportunity to bring those values to life through design. Collaboration areas, whiteboard walls on which to ideate, calm spaces to do “deep thinking,” and seating areas that are familiar, warm and inviting. While we’re in the early design phase, our employees are already starting to rethink what a “day in the life at Unit4” might be. They are considering how their work, relationships, and team contributions may change for the better.

2. The Decisive Leader During the COVID-19 Crisis

For any major change management initiative to stay on track and take effect, the need for leaders to act decisively and swiftly is critical. Leaders must commit to the plan. But when it comes to making organization-related decisions, we often see those same leaders hitting the brakes. Equivocation is the enemy of progress. And it can lead to doubt, within the organization, as to the validity of the plan and its intended results. With the pandemic, this has become even more important. 

HR Plays a Central Role

As HR leaders, we’re responsible for people’s well-being. As business partners, we help leaders make key decisions that drive action. Those decisions impact how people get their work done, receive timely guidance around expectations, and where they can get assistance on health and safety-related issues. This is a core element in helping steer the organization through our current sea of uncertainty. My team and I have prioritized helping our leaders manage through change, advancing decisions in a timely fashion, and driving to quick resolution through tools like status-based dashboards and leadership updates.

Given our unique role, HR will play a central role in moving the organization forward while navigating the COVID-19 crisis.

3. I’ve Got the Power! 

Once a dance club hit by the artist Snap! back in the 1990’s, this phrase is also something we tell our people time and again:

“You’re in control of your work-life balance, career, and wellbeing. Whether you feel safe in returning to the workplace, regardless of local rules, is your decision.”

That’s been a difficult concept for many to take to heart. And in some cases, what we’ve said hasn’t translated into action. Especially when local managers have said, “No, you don’t have the power.” This became a real challenge. After all, we must first ensure employees understand and are able to leverage the programs and policies put in place. Most importantly, we must ensure support of compassionate policy when no one is coming to a central office and oversight is virtual.

Training is Key

Training was key, of course. So was creating an environment with open lines of communication. A high priority: We had to help to reestablish trust where it was weak. Today, it’s something we continue to work on. For example: For people confined to a home office, programs like Fit4U, mental health workshops, and meditation sessions have become much-appreciated, and much-needed, outlets.

We also offered ways for our employees to escalate issues when they came up. Given the nature of the pandemic, people felt personally and professionally vulnerable. So our role in creating lifelines and wellness outlets helped our people find pockets of normalcy in a world that was anything but normal.

4. Employee Experience and Customer Experience: The Ties that Bind

In Blake Morgan’s Forbes article, “The Un-Ignorable Link Between Employee Experience and Customer Experience,” she emphasizes those companies with 60% more engaged employees lead in customer service. And as J.W. Marriott rightly states, “Take care of the associates and they’ll take care of your customers.” 

At Unit4, my team and I have focused on creating a commercial mindset within our own organization. That way, we can be better partners — especially to the go-to-market teams we support. As stewards of Unit4’s employee engagement program, we’ve worked closely with our Customer Experience teams to help them navigate the challenges our customers are facing during the COVID-19 crisis.

Managers Must Be Trained

Implementing training programs focused on soft skills have already had an impact. To identify issues that could have downstream impact with customers, we must ensure managers are also trained. Finally, leveraging our own in-house platform to conduct weekly pulse surveys has provided us valuable insight. We know how employees are feeling and understand their frustrations. This helps us identify ‘hot spots’ that require immediate action by the teams and their leadership.

Most importantly, these frequent touchpoints help us maintain a good experience for our employees, which benefits customer engagement and satisfaction.

5. Swatting Away the “It’s Always Been Done this Way” Gnat

You’ve seen it play out in your organizations. You onboard a group of new hires. They’re eager to make a big impact. They are ready to innovative new ways of solving problems and supporting new initiatives. A few months later, you run into one of them at a Town Hall. She looks tired and beaten down. You take her aside to ask how it’s going. Sadly, you hear a similar refrain: “Well, the project is going okay, but I’m told by many people across the company that it can’t be done because we tried it two years ago. It requires so much change to what we do today that it’s simply not worth it. And, well, from their perspective of too many, the current approach works well enough.” 

You comfort her. You tell her to keep pushing. But you know this is a problem across the organization. 

Old Way Not Always the Best Way

The “it’s always been done this way” attitude causes stagnation and also disengagement. Ultimately, your top players leave. They take their energy and passion elsewhere. To keep your transformation initiatives going and ensure key projects don’t run out of gas during the COVID-19 crisis, that gnat needs to be swatted down for good. HR can play a key role in coaching managers and checking in with individual contributors. We can sit in on project team meetings to understand the mood. In real-time, we can flag old habits. And we can help where remediation is required. Projects are successful because of the team. But when the team is thrown into the “old ways” vortex, there is little chance of success.

There Was No Playbook

Of course, no one had the COVID-19 Crisis Playbook to quickly flip open to help solve many of the challenges faced. We’re all writing that book, in real-time, one word and one challenge at a time. So, there’s so much more I could share. 

For now, let me say: We have an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again. Reshape how workspace experience can help build and nurture your culture. Drive change by helping leaders make those important decisions and drive them to conclusion. Give people the power to decide and the opportunity to thrive. And to coach managers while supporting them through this process. 

Ultimately, the people own a company’s customer experience. And valued customers are on the receiving end of disengaged employees. So, once and for all, let’s swat away the “it’s always been done this way” gnat. After all, our customers, investors, and our people deserve it. And they want to see our businesses evolve, grow and flourish. 

As HR leaders, we are in a unique position to help see our organizations through the COVID-19 crisis. My team and I are ready. Are you?


Editor’s Note: Lisa Dodman shared additional thoughts on how to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and more at Unit4’s recent virtual event, Experience4U. The event sessions are available free on-demand here.

This post is sponsored by Unit4.


Live from #SHRM15: The Brilliant HR Profession of Today and Tomorrow

SHRMWe’re very excited to announced that the TalentCulture #TChat Show will be live from the 2015 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas, NV on Wednesday, July 1, 2015, from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). We’re going to talk about the brilliant HR profession of today and tomorrow.

Get this: The enterprise executive whose traits are most similar to those of the CEO is the CHRO.

Did you get that? The CHRO (42 percent of which are high-performing females), not the CFO, CMO, or CIO. This all according to “counterintuitive” and groundbreaking research based on data from executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry and the work of Dave Ulrich, a University of Michigan professor and a leading consultant on organization and talent issues.

This research also clearly revealed that a CEO’s people skills, strategy, flexibility, energy and empathy (and many other business-centric attributes) closely align to the CHRO.

The HR profession has never looked brighter and HR leaders are now powerful change agents, amplifying talent engagement and driving business outcomes. And according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), HR professionals are feeling more confident about the job security and growth opportunities than ever.

Sneak peaks:

We hope you’ll join the #TChat conversation on July 1, 2015, and share your questions, opinions and ideas with our guests and the TalentCulture Community.

Thank you to all our TalentCulture sponsors and partners: Dice, Jibe, TalentWise, Hootsuite, IBM, CareerBuilder, PeopleFluent, SmartSearch, Predictive Analytics World for Workforce and HRmarketer Insight. Plus, we’re big CandE supporters!

Sneak Peek:

#TChat Events: The Brilliant HR Profession of Today and Tomorrow

TChatRadio_logo_020813#TChat Radio — Wed, July 1 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #TChat Show co-founders and co-hosts Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman as we talk about the brilliant HR profession of today and tomorrow at #SHRM15 with this week’s guests: Chanel Jackson, HR Business Partner, Honda of America Mfg., Inc.; Callie Zipple, PHR, HR Rewards Analyst, Zebra Technologies; and Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, Executive Director of HR, LaRosa’s, Inc.


Tune in LIVE online Wednesday, July 1

#TChat Twitter Chat — Wed, July 1 — 1:30 pm ET /10:30 am PT Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin, Chanel, Callie and Steve will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: How confident are HR pros about their job security and growth? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q2: What top skills do HR pros need to have a successful career? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q3: How can HR help with tech adoption and create a better employee experience? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Until then, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!!!

Subscribe to our podcast on BlogTalkRadio, Stitcher or iTunes:

BTR stitcher_logoItunes_podcast_icon



Join Our Social Community & Stay Up-to-Date!

The TalentCulture conversation continues daily on Twitter, in our LinkedIn group, and on our Google+ community. Engage with us anytime on our social networks or stay current with trending World of Work topics through our weekly email newsletter. Signing up is just a click away!


Image Credit: Big Stock Images

HR Isn’t The Needy, The Nerdy Or The Girlie

Cool spring morning. Grade-school recess. A group of boys and girls gather on a damp field. Captains are called out. The usual suspects. The strongest players. Each picks his own number two. The second-strongest players. The ones they’ve done battle with before. Sometimes a girl but usually a boy.

The number twos call out names and point successively. Advise their captains who else to pick. One by one by one. Strongest to weakest. Until the last few remain. The skinny asthmatics. The uncoordinated. The needy, the nerdy and the girlie. The perennial last picked. Or the never picked.

Sometimes a teacher or a playground monitor would intervene. To encourage the kids to include the never picked. But mostly they didn’t. Mostly they just wanted to play with the best. If new kids came to school, they’d have to prove themselves worthy before becoming sought-after talent.

Those were the rules. And they always played to win. Always. Played. To. Win. You may not be old enough to remember these playgrounds of mythic Gen X and Boomer lore, before the “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Before the not keeping score and non-discriminatory team picks. Before the nearly forced inclusion and everyone getting a trophy.

I remember. I was a captain and a number two. Even early on when I was a skinny asthmatic, I broke the childhood glass ceiling with decent coordination, people skills, strategy, flexibility, energy and empathy.

Then, as with every generation since, growing up means more of the “winning” same in academia, sports and the workplace. Regulatory complexity may mandate some leveling of playing fields, especially around equal opportunity and giving everyone a fair shake, but in business we play to win. And make money. And be better. And have a lot fun doing it.

When you know the players and how well you’ve play together, as in the playground example, you can replicate your winning teams with consistency, because the players rarely change. Unless you grow up and live and work in a world where tenure is less than five years and people can be as fluid as the very air they breathe, especially when it’s stale or poison, it makes amplifying talent engagement a business imperative.

Enter the people person, the second-strongest player, the key advisor to the captain. The one who gets the game, the players, the competition and who knows what to invest when and where and how much.

Get this: The enterprise executive whose traits are most similar to those of the CEO is the CHRO.

Did you get that? The CHRO (42 percent of which are high-performing females, by the way, for those keeping score at home). Not the CFO, CMO, or CIO. The only other exception is the COO because these roles and responsibilities often overlap with the CEO’s, this all according to “counterintuitive” and groundbreaking research based on data from executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry and the work of Dave Ulrich, a University of Michigan professor and a leading consultant on organization and talent issues.

You can read all about it in the HBR article “Why Chief Human Resources Officers Make Great CEOs.” This research also clearly revealed that a CEO’s people skills, strategy, flexibility, energy and empathy (and many other business-centric attributes) closely align to the CHRO.

Forward-thinking companies understand that these skills are critical to the top roles to engage and retain top performers – and attract the best candidates to join the team in today’s highly competitive market. This is why amplifying talent engagement can and should be treated as a business investment strategy – which is what the C-suite wants, and their respective boards, investors, high performers and prospective employees and customers.

Now it’s true that the majority of HR professionals tend to be nurturers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but those who come from other parts of the business have learned those other parts. They’ve also had P&L responsibility, and have also done an HR stint (or two). These are ultimately the potential leaders, the CHROs, the bright CEO-shadows aglow with talent engagement outcomes that come from their cultural investment, business investment and revenue growth strategy.

The good news is that according to a recent PeopleFluent survey, HR leaders are focused on the following top three talent engagement strategies in 2015:

  • Leadership Development
  • Talent Acquisition
  • Performance Management

And Brandon Hall Group research showed that today high-performance organizations “optimize and maximize their business performance by investing in their talent management as a true business function that powers the business strategy.”

Sound familiar? It should, because every reputable analyst firm in the HR industry validates this over and over again.

However, it’s also counterintuitive today that one of the hottest topics still being discussed is whether or not HR should be split in two – one branch that handles administration and the other to manage leadership and organization.

Research by Bersin by Deloitte underscores this because HR is swamped with administrative tasks. Nearly 50 percent of business and HR leaders surveyed said their companies are “weak” on preparing HR to deliver programs aligned with business needs.

What to do? Get the proper technology in place. Using the playground-team analogy again, growing companies just can’t scale beyond a few hundred employees without the right technology enabling HR to scale certain tasks in a way that humans never can. This means bringing efficiencies to a complex administrative process that could never be achieved otherwise.

This is exactly what we recently discussed on the TalentCulture #TChat Show, with the consensus being the right technology partner not only takes care of the repetitive administration tasks from recruiting to onboarding to learning and development to performance management and more, they become the business partner that excels in culture empowerment, talent engagement, business strategy and actionable and sustainable growth, ensuring the technology investment is sound with continuous return.

CHROs demand this partnership; and Mark Stelzner, Founder and Managing Principal of IA, a consulting service firm that has supported many of the most complex human resource decisions in the world, has told me this time and again over the years. But like me and thankfully many others, these CHROs leading the charge of change and amplified talent engagement are quite sick and tired of being treated like the needy, the nerdy and the girlie.

Because Brothers and Sisters, this winning HR team is the one you need to be on today and tomorrow.

About the Author: Kevin W. Grossman co-founded and co-hosts the highly popular weekly TalentCulture #TChat Show with Meghan M. Biro. He’s also currently the Product Marketing Director for Total Talent Acquisition products at PeopleFluent.

photo credit: Finish via photopin (license)