Suzanne D. Williams

The Ever-Evolving Role of Human Resources Management

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!


Photo: Anika Huizinga

How to Stay Productive During the COVID-19 Crisis

Remote work isn’t new. In fact, working from home been on the rise since 2010. But this new decade brought with it COVID-19, triggering a complete paradigm shift for remote work, school and life — worldwide. As a result, how we communicate, learn, teach, and conduct business has changed. And staying productive has become a challenge all it’s own.

Back in April, FlexJobs reported more than half of all Americans were working from home. Since then, 65% said their productivity increasedIn June, Stanford reported that 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full-time, signaling a return to the office for many. But in July, COVID-19 cases soared by more than a million globally. More than half of all states in the U.S. that reopened (or planned to), closed in an effort to curb the virus. Given this ever-evolving context and data, we soon knew it would be a tough summer. 

How Do We Stay Productive?

Now that we roll into the fall, families and students grapple with how to return not just to school, but to some sense of normalcy. At the same time, organizations struggle with re-entry to the workplace. While Twitter says they’ll begin reintegrating employees into their offices soon, major companies like Amazon have decided to remain remote until the end of 2020. Google and Facebook have announce their employees will work remotely until mid-2021. 

So amid this ongoing crisis and uncertainty, how exactly do we keep stay productive? In the workplace, how can we find the balance between completely safe and fully engaged?

For many leaders, these seven strategies now serve as a roadmap that helps teams stay productive during the COVID-19 pandemic…

1. Focus on Priorities

Location shouldn’t matter as long as the work gets done, especially now. Employees should think about what work needs to get done, in what order, and how they should tackle that work. Managers, on the other hand, should think about the work that must be produced today while keeping an eye on what’s on the horizon. Combined, this strategy helps set realistic priorities while reducing stress and burnout.

2. Boost Communication

For a remote workforce to be successful, strong communication is key. So managers must integrate communications technology like Slack, Trello, Basecamp, and Zoom. By leveraging these tools effectively and in a balanced manner (no Zoom calls at 6:15am!), managers can easily check-in with employees – perhaps even more often than they did when sharing an office. The win-win: this boost in communication builds even stronger working relationships across the organization.

3. Adopt New Approaches

As the world of work changes, managers must change their approach. True, we’re no longer in the same office. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to build mutually-beneficial, one-on-one relationships. One example is making remote work feel more human. Other approaches range from more informal meetings (just to connect), to co-created checklists and to-do lists (to build autonomy). Bottom line: The same rigid approaches to work we used to rely on may not work well now.

4. Set Clear Expectations

Clearly stating expectations and setting common goals is more important now than ever. Just as vital: A clear of understanding of how work will be measured. This will help ensure everyone understands what productivity looks like. At this time, being autocratic may not be the right answer. So welcome input and questions. After all, when managers encourage curiosity it naturally empowers each of us to do good work.

5. Offer Respectful Radical Candor

Managers and leaders must lead by example. So, no more excuses to others — or ourselves — as to why we can’t get work done. To excel, we must be honest about why we can’t be efficient during these times. Let’s accept responsibility and ditch the lies to hack productivity. Let’s consistently offer respectful radical candor. We can then co-create solutions to the challenges we face. By working together, we can overcome whatever keeps us from being productive.

6. Use Stress to Your Advantage

Not all stress is bad stress. Some stressors actually motivate us to better maintain our focus, stimulating a better work performance with goals and deadlines at the forefront. Of course, sometimes stress becomes too overwhelming. When that happens, take a deep breath. Refocus on the highest priorities. Where possible, reset expectations. By focusing on an employees strengths rather than what feels like a weakness during stressful moments, managers can help reduce the bad kinds of stress. And use the good for good.

7. Employ Empathy

Remote work has always meant a flexible work location, work schedule and dress code. But now, empathy plays a role in flexibility. Today, many of us must think about the pressures of working from home. We must integrate family responsibilities, distance or hybrid learning for children, and other life commitments. Showing empathy, and specifically knowing what each of us might be going through during the COVID-19 crisis, helps maintain – and even improves – our work culture.

Leverage these seven strategies. Help team members and leaders stay productive. Enable a positive company culture. Do it well, and you’ll help everyone feel more at ease during a complex time.


The Power of a Purposeful Hashtag: #WorkTrends

If we’ve learned anything over the past decade, it is the power of a hashtag…

#WorkTrends has been on quite an adventure. Over the past 10 years, TalentCulture’s signature podcast has introduced us to great minds in the HR space. We’ve produced over 700 episodes — packed with insights, future-casting and anticipated trends.

We’ve had an incredible range of guests on #WorkTrends, from CEOs to technologists to practitioners, psychologists, data mavens and more. They’ve given us unparalleled perspectives and wisdom on so many subjects — leadership, recruiting, management, recognition, strategizing, coping, thriving. How, where, when, and even why we work is ever-expanding — and we’re proud to say our savvy guests predicted every pivot, and every moment. 

In our episodes and in our Twitter chats, we’ve heard some groundbreakers I’ll never forget. Listing the many names would take pages and pages, so to all our guests so far I’ll just say this: Thank you for gracing the #WorkTrends stage with your presence and your brilliance. 

And now it’s time to expand these amazing discussions… it is time to release them into the world.

The Power of Change

Even before the massive changes of 2020, TalentCulture was planning our own set of changes: a new website, an expanded community, and a new way to bring #WorkTrends to our growing audience. We recognized that in today’s business world, we’re connecting across digital space more than ever before. And we realized there isn’t a better time than now to broaden our discussions. 

So we’re inviting everyone to join the #WorkTrends conversation beyond Twitter — and across more social media channels. We’re taking #WorkTrends to LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and beyond. Of course, you’ll find the same dynamic conversations about key work topics and all the issues that matter. Instead of exclusively through a weekly Twitter chat, though, #WorkTrends will be an ongoing discussion.

We believe the world of work is limitless: it’s a wellspring of energy and engagement. And to honor that, we’re opening the gates. 

The Power of a Purposeful Hashtag

#WorkTrends is now a legacy hashtag. It’s become a classic that represents all the best minds and conversations. We’re excited to watch it grow wings — and move across time zones, borders, and barriers. So please join us. It’s going to be another wonderful adventure!

Be sure to tune into our weekly #WorkTrends podcasts and recaps. And to learn even more about how we’re growing the podcast, check out our WorkTrends FAQ page.

As always, thanks so much for tuning in and being a member of this amazing community. You #inspire me — every day!