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.


HR Leadership: Proving the Value of the Talent Function

Success for a business of any size hinges on its people and their ability to make things happen. Top talent is expensive — and wasted if it doesn’t move your business forward.

Human resources leaders need to understand how the talent function can impact an entire organization and why human capital is a company’s most valuable asset. But if they can’t prove that significance to the rest of the leadership team, they’ll struggle to get the support they need.

A well-rounded recruitment program isn’t a bonus; it’s a crucial part of meeting goals. Here’s a look at how HR leadership can prove the value of strategic recruitment and some of the tactics that can give your plan a bigger impact.

Prove the value of HR-driven talent recruitment.

Before HR can start discussing the importance of good recruitment practices, it needs to show the value of having HR strategically involved in talent recruitment — not just getting candidates through the door but guiding teams across the organization to the resources they need. Talent accounts for an average of 70 percent of a business’s total operating costs. More than that, employee turnover can cost a company from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Despite these costs — or maybe because of them — many C-suite executives don’t see the connection between recruiting practices and turning a profit. Illustrating this can help show the value of good recruiting, bridging the gap between what HR does and what executives need to see to make decisions that can improve the HR department’s ability to hire and keep qualified talent.

Here are a few ways to prove your case:

Use data to predict the future.

Businesses today must embrace change or risk falling behind competitors. A proactive recruitment program can improve a company’s ability to recognize potential obstacles and identify the appropriate candidates. Predictive analytics use big data to help identify internal strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities so management can make strategic talent-based decisions.

Build a case for support that starts after the onboarding process.

Once you find the right talent, you want to hold onto them — and that takes more than a smart recruitment process. Ongoing training, mentorship, and education doesn’t just help with retention; it can directly support money-making activities such as marketing, production, and sales.

Highlight the value of a positive corporate culture.

Attracting and losing talent comes at a cost — not just financial, but also the impact on productivity and morale. An engaged, supported, and motivated workforce improves employee satisfaction and results. HR can only do so much to create the thriving and productive corporate culture current, and potential employees are looking for; it has to be consistent across the organization.

Show how HR can match talent with critical business programs.

When it comes to talent, the C-suite’s final consideration is its effect on profitability and revenue. If HR can’t directly answer that question — with supporting information — it will be harder to get buy-in for initiatives. You need to be able to match business initiatives with the right people to show the impact strategic talent management can have.

HR tactics that drive talent recruitment.

Once the HR department proves it has its finger on the pulse of the organization’s talent needs, its leaders will have a framework within which to ask for additional resources. But first, make sure your talent recruitment strategy is already poised to win. CareerBuilder recently published a recruitment guide to help identify gaps, improve what you’re doing, and check the health of your talent pipeline.

How can you strengthen an already solid strategy? Here are some tactics that can give your efforts an edge.

Market the company.

Just as consumer marketing promotes a product, a well-developed recruiting strategy should include a plan for your talent brand. People want to know the who, what, and where about companies they might want to work for. Making a positive impression means taking an active role in how people perceive your business.

Use gamification to improve talent pools.

From the PlayStation to the workplace, people have a competitive streak — which is why game theory is making its way into everything from health apps to the recruiting process. Creating a talent pipeline can speed up the hiring process and, if you incorporate activities and gamification principles, you can boost interaction and potentially cut recruiting costs.

Invest in benefits and perks to encourage top talent.

Companies that go above and beyond to create an engaging and rewarding work environment can effectively secure and retain talented individuals. Benefits packages, training and education opportunities, and perks such as happy hours and flexible schedules make a company look more inviting.

Focus on managerial training and leadership programs.

Skilled people will often leave a job because they have problems with management. While focusing on leadership and managerial training programs may not seem like they’re part of a talent strategy, but they can have a direct impact: Unhappy employees talk, and can influence their network or otherwise hurt recruiting efforts.

Cement the HR talent function as a vital business strategy.

HR leaders who understand what they need to prove a strong talent recruitment function, and how it affects not just overall goals but also the bottom line, can more readily secure funding and approval from the C-suite — just what’s needed to bring good talent strategy to life.

A version of this was first posted on

#TChat Recap: How HR Leaders Achieve Talent Brand Dominance

Last week we talked about how tech professionals can help assess and hire other tech pros, and this week we discussed how HR leaders can achieve talent brand dominance.

Employers are constantly assessing the state of their company brand. But very few understand how their talent brand impacts their reputation to job seekers and the company morale amongst existing employees.

A talent brand is what people think, feel, and share about a company as a place to work.

According to this week’s guest, less than 30 percent of the working population cares about their company’s product brand. What they are concerned with is how employers care for their people and address their needs. Most hiring authorities aren’t coming to terms with the reality that talented employees have options.

Joan Graci, CEO and President of APA Solutions, a boutique employment and human capital consulting firm, joined us to share a wide variety of knowledge on talent branding, employee brands and much more.

It was a lively #TChat podcast and Twitter conversation on a topic that’s very relevant to organizations of all sizes across industries.

Want to learn more? Listen to the recording and check out the highlights below:

Thank you to all the TalentCulture sponsors, partners and supporters!

The TalentCulture #TChat Show is back live on Wednesday, February 3, 2016, from 1-2 pm ET (10-11 am PT). Join TalentCulture #TChat Show co-founders and co-hosts Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman as they talk about how to manage through influence with next week’s guest: Jim Fields, Vice President of Customer Experience Marketing at SAP, a multinational software corporation that makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations.

Join our social communities and stay up-to-date! The TalentCulture conversation continues daily. See what’s happening right now on the #TChat Twitter stream, 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 on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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HR Leaders: The Value of Climbing the Analytics Ladder

HR leaders are often put in tough spots. It’s not unusual to have to choose between a decision that’s unpopular and one that’s ineffective.

Take this real-life example: A line manager noticed that more of his employees were resigning than ever before, and he wants his company to do something about it. He approaches HR with what he thought was the right solution, to raise the base pay for all of his employees by 10%, and he now just wanted HR to execute his idea.

The HR team knew from past experience that an across-the-board pay raise was the wrong thing to do. It was an expensive way to fix the problem, and worse, it was unlikely to lead to fewer resignations. The problem was that HR had no data to prove it. Worse, the data the HR team did have only served to support the manager’s case. The data confirmed that the resignation rate had in fact increased. Given the lack of evidence to prove that an increase in base pay wouldn’t work, the people experts were left with two unsatisfying choices: Acquiesce to the manager’s demand and put the company’s headcount budget at risk, or dig up a compliance-related reason for not raising base payand risk annoying the manager and his team.

The Metrics Trap

This unfortunate story highlights the trap many HR teams have fallen into: They’ve bootstrapped their people metrics to the point where they can answer a few basic questions about their workforce, such as the resignation rate for a given teambut they discover that a limited set of descriptive analytics isn’t enough. For many, it’s worse than having nothing.

What they need is a way not just to see what happened, but to understand why it happened, what will happen next, and how to adapt their workforce strategy to align with company objectives.

If the HR team had been able to dig deeper into the reasons for the resignation rate increase, they could have proposed a solution that created a better business resultinstead of engaging in a head-to-head conflict with the manager, supported by little more than anecdotes and gut feel.

For HR teams to climb out of the metrics trap and realize their full strategic potential, they need to get past the first rung of the analytics ladder descriptive analyticsand move up to exploratory, predictive, and guided analytics.

The analytics ladder

Descriptive Analytics: The First Rung

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with descriptive analyticsthey’re a vital component of any workforce intelligence solution, and they’re the foundation that subsequent rungs of the analytics ladder are built on. To even begin creating a strategy, you first need to answer simple questions like, “How many people in Group X have resigned in the last year?”

Every HCM vendor worth its salt will say their product comes pre-built with analytics, but typically these are nothing more than descriptive analytics a visual representation of what’s happening, sometimes appended with basic, simple-to-calculate attributes of the data set, like mean, median, and mode. Beyond describing the current situation, they do little to facilitate effective decisions or drive action.

What’s missing from descriptive analytics is a way to see why something is happening. People who resign, for instance, might have something in common that isn’t easily uncovered by basic descriptive analytics. Their age, tenure, performance rating, or some other more obscure attribute might play a roleand that’s the kind of context you need to move up to the next rung of the ladder.

Exploratory Analytics: The Second Rung

Exploratory analytics facilitated by in-memory technology help you drill deep into the data quickly and see patterns that otherwise aren’t obvious. If the resignation rate is increasing only for low performers, perhaps the answer is not to focus on retention, but instead to focus on hiring top performers.

On the other hand, if top performers are leaving, exploratory analytics can help you create strategies to retain them. Perhaps a specific career band of top performers is most at risk — you can develop a targeted approach to keep that group engaged and excited about their job and career prospects.

Exploratory analytics can also help you discover common ground among people who do stay. For instance, if you see that internal referrals are more likely to stay than external hires, you can ask your recruiters to shift even more of their focus to internal referrals.

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Predictive Analytics: The Third Rung

As much as exploratory analytics help you, predictive analytics give you even more power: In the context of resignations, predictive analytics can help you pinpoint who is most at risk of leaving the company next. This level of foresight means you can take action to prevent a negative outcome before it happens.

After you’ve used exploratory analytics to create a long-term strategy for reducing resignation rates in a business unit, you can use predictive analytics to see who the Top 100 employees most likely to resign are. If the list includes key performers you need to keep, you can create custom retention strategies tailored to just those individuals.

For instance, based on statistical analysis by data scientists at Visier, predictive analytics technology can be up to 8 times more accurate at predicting who will resign than guesswork or intuition alone. If you can stop even a single mid-level salaried worker from leaving, you’ve saved your company a replacement cost that could range from 1 to 1.5 times that person’s annual salary. For senior-level employees and executives, you’ve saved a replacement cost that could be up to four times their annual salary.

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Guided Analytics: The Top Rung

Once you’ve reached the third rung, you might think you’ve reached the pinnacle of analyticswhat more is there to do beyond predicting the future? There is in fact a next step that’s even more critical for a business, and that’s the ability to share insights with the teams that need them.

If your business is seeking to transform HR into an evidence-based practice, then it’s not enough to be data-driven within your own silo. You have to use data to convince the entire business to make the right workforce decisions, and the answer is guided analytics. They’re the sum of the first three types of analytics, shaped into a meaningful story.

Most of your stakeholders will not have a background in statistics or analyticsor the workforce expertise HR hasso they’ll need help. The approach you take depends on your audience.

The first approachoften most effective for conversations with executivesis to present to the findings in person, weaving all three types of analytics into a compelling story. If you’re proposing a program to reduce resignations, you’ll want to help your leaders understand what the resignation rate has been, what key patterns you’ve discovered, who’s likely to leave next, and why you expect your retention plan to work.

The second approachbest when you need to provide workforce data to many stakeholdersis to give them self-serve access. But if they’ve only used descriptive analytics in the past, they’ll need a helping handa guided experienceto get the most out of exploratory and predictive analytics. If the tool or solution you use to do this is too complex, self-service will not work (read this study about why Yahoo replaced their legacy dashboard system for this very reason). The best guided experience is one that’s designed specifically for the workforce domain and prompts your stakeholders to ask the right questions.

It’s All About Trust

To build trust with the business, HR needs to climb all four rungs of the ladder. Once you prove how effective data-driven workforce decisions are, you’ll capture the attention of the business and earn the right to make valued recommendations.

Think of it as a ripple effectin a typical business, roughly 1 percent of staff are in HR, but 10 percent are in management. If you embrace the use of guided workforce analytics to build trust, you’ll expand the practice of evidence-based HR beyond your own team, making your company’s workforce decisions more effective by a substantial margin.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Visier Workforce Intelligence Blog.

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Visier Analytics is a client of TalentCulture and sponsored this post.