Suzanne D. Williams
Those responsible for human resources management have always found themselves in a precarious position. After all, HR pros often deal with a trust deficit on either side of the bridge they span. From one side, senior management feels HR practitioners lean too much towards employees. From the other, employees often blame HR leaders for taking the side of “management.”
A problematic situation, indeed. And one complicated by the almost unannounced pandemic that has arrived much like an uninvited, overbearing guest.
With the potentially long-term impact on our workplaces, Human Resources Management will need to evolve. We must redesign the theories and practices of the 21st century to suit the new demands.
So, where does one start?
First, we must realize that moving forward, organizations will take the form of dispersed networks rather than formal structures. Leadership and HR teams will facilitate collaboration between individuals and teams separated by distances, time zones and cultures. A significant portion of these may be folks who come on board for specific projects. Once they accomplish team goals, those people will move onto their next gig. In fact, Gartner’s 9 Future Trends of Work Report estimates 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure already.
Given this fundamental reality, the approach of human resources management will need to transform in a manner never seen before.
Let us see what the key salient features of this new approach to HR management would look like.
Guiding, not Driving
For far too long, the HR function has been a gatekeeper of the organisation’s culture. They have also been very directly associated with driving policy adherence. No doubt, this is required to create a unified operating methodology. However, it also often leads to restrictive practices that limit creativity and experimentation.
In the current times, employees are juggling more than work. In many cases, they are dealing with multiple challenges such as pay cuts, health matters of close family members, online study requirements of their children, and the like. This means HR managers and leaders need to play the role of guides and mentors during their operations. They must help employees perform in their new environments with a ‘silken glove’ approach.
Empowering, not Policing
With policies and practices, comes policing. It is this compliance mindset that has become the silver bullet in every HR practitioner’s arsenal.
We have forgotten, perhaps, that humankind’s most successful creations have come from individuals who are self-motivated to build a better future. Instead, many in the HR field have attempted to create an environment closeted by rigid boundaries. In fact, today’s automated reporting means there is no shortage of data when it comes to tracking employees.
However, as many ‘pundits’ have shared over the ages, nothing works better than enabling and empowering employees to take charge and work responsibly.
In any case, as we have witnessed in the ‘Work-From-Anywhere’ environment, much of the tracking falls apart due to lack of last mile ‘surveillance’. Hence, the mantra really has to be about moving power into the hands of the employees. With, of course, the right amount of coaching to ensure that they put the organisation’s interest at the top, in all matters under their purview.
Counseling, not Judging
The sudden move to a remote working arrangement did thrill some hearts in the initial stages of the COVID-induced lockdowns experienced in many parts of the world. The euphoria was very short-lived, though.
Surveys, including one by Kincentric, a Spencer Stuart company, showcase that the life altering pandemic has impacted the wellness of employees at many levels. Given this realization, HR fraternity members will have to simultaneously don the hat of confidants and counsellors. While supporting their colleagues, however, they will need to be appropriately empathetic towards them. As they stretch to extend a helping hand (or shoulder) to them, HR practitioners will have to ensure that they adopt a very mature approach. This will be especially true when it comes to balancing the needs of the organization with those of its employees.
Human Resources Management in Transition
In summation, the HR community must realize the industrial era practices that evolved into the era of the services economy will no longer work for the digital, distributed age we live in now. In such an environment, an employee has maximum touch-time with managers, not HR. The quality of this interaction assumes greater significance given that much of this interaction is remote and bereft of social connection, quite unlike the past.
Therefore, extending HR management beyond the HR function is the need of the hour.
This means HR professionals must enable all managers in the organization to own the HR agenda as well. This will require more of our workforce to be elevated with regards to their maturity and ability to handle people processes.
The optimum starting point for embarking on this journey is to stitch trust into the fabric of the organization and enable managers and employees to have faith in each other. It is only then, that the foundation of our organizations will be built on solid bedrock. Only then will be in a better position to survive the kind of shock we are now facing.
It is now up to human resources management professionals to rise up to the challenge!