Has the coronavirus pandemic elevated the perception of HR?

3 minute read

HR professionals tell us they have never worked so hard. But has the business taken notice? The People Space asked six HR leaders how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted HR’s image

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10Eighty helps individuals to maximise their potential and helps organisations to harness that potential. We are experts in developing leadership capability and helping organisations increase employee engagement


Below is an edited transcript

Hayley Connor, head of people & learning at Brewhouse & Kitchen

“The driver behind the crisis”

“We've really been the driver behind this crisis. If executive teams didn't value their HR teams before this happened, they certainly will now. I also think the other thing is that consumers have spoken, and will speak, with their feet once this is all over and they will only engage in establishments that have treated people well during this pandemic.”

David Frost, organisational development director, Total Produce

“People talk about HR and the value it’s brought”

“I think from an HR point of view what this has done is to really highlight the role that HR has within the business. So from that point of view, it's put the spotlight on to the function. But in a sense we just have to do our job, haven't we? We’ve had to advise our colleagues in the business. We've had to make sure we understand the policies, the legality, and do what we do, if that makes sense. So I think it's great that that has been recognised. And I think the value of that has been acknowledged – certainly in our business people talk about HR and the value it’s brought.

“But I think we've been able to highlight more in terms of the connections that we bring, the way that we connect the business, the communication that we provide, the sharing of knowledge and information. That's very, very important as well. So, I think we've highlighted that to our colleagues well, as a profession generally.

“But I think there's also another very important part of this, which is what comes next. HR has now got to move from handling the immediate crisis that we've been through to really supporting the strategy piece. So what does the business need to look like after this? Are there any changes that will come? How do we make sure we learn from the experience so that we can improve our processes for future events like this? And how do we ensure that we strengthen our businesses based upon the learnings that we've had in general terms? So I think we've got a really important role to play going forward on a more strategic basis as well. And it's important that we really deliver on that.”

Stephanie Neuvirth, global VP, people and organization, Mars Veterinary Health

“There’s no better time to be in HR”

“I think the pandemic is definitely raising the visibility for the function. Associates, our people, have always been at the core of work and I believe that ensuring that you have the right associate population to take your business into the future has never been more critical. But I also believe that disruption is taking place right before our very eyes. And this might be the greatest behavioural experiment from a work perspective in our time, for sure.

“And so I think how we support people to embrace the new ways of working and to figure out how to transform a workforce very quickly is a role that we should be at the very front of leading. And I think that we have an opportunity to do that. So how we help to introduce new tools, new processes, how we help to support people and how we help to drive the necessary resources to deliver the new business agenda are really, really critical. So for us, what I can say is that there is no better time to be in HR. The business model is changing right before our very eyes. I believe it is a huge opportunity for HR leaders everywhere to be a part of what is the next phase of work.”

Eugenio Pirri, chief people and culture officer, Dorchester Collection

“If you just go back to what you're always doing, you become known as the good person in a crisis, but not the good person all the time”

“You know, to me, the core of HR has not ever been about the administration. It's about how we make people feel and how we get them to strive towards the vision and the values of the company. Because I think there's an expectation that you can do all of those required things like recruitment, keeping a handle on costs and all that kind of stuff, but it's truly about making people feel like they're on the same road together.

“And I think this has really shown that HR has to be, is – not has to be – part of that. And I think we’re the department that's really stepped up and had to take a lot of things front on. And I think it's really, really elevated our status. And I think it's quite exciting from that perspective.

“I've always believed this elevated and I've always made sure it stays elevated, but that's me, so I think this is a great opportunity for people to sit back and realise this is what I did during this. This is how I contributed and make sure they continue to contribute at that level. Because if you just go back into what you're always doing, then you become known as the good person in a crisis, but not the good person all the time. And don't be that person.”

Nalin Miglani, EVP and CHRO, EXL

“Technology-driven, hierarchy-free people are more likely to succeed”

“Different HR leaders will make a different impression during this time and a different impact. And maybe some HR people will make more than some others, but I don't see a kind of a secular trend across the profession. It'll again depend on how different leaders make the most out of it. But certainly at least, and this is just a prediction, no data, certainly those HR leaders that will make an impact will have to be those who can engage through technology, who are not hierarchy driven, and who have been from even before very used to doing new things rather than, you know, replicating what they have done in the past. So technology driven, hierarchy free people, I think, are more likely to succeed.

Michael Moran, CEO 10Eighty

“It’s enabled HR to become centre stage in terms of making sure we’re employee centric”

This has been an excellent time for HR to be used as a vehicle to express what it is our employees want. To make sure the employee voice is heard. Because in times like this, it's impossible to run a business without listening to what your employees are telling you, if you want engagement, if you want productivity, if you want innovation – and those things we absolutely need at this moment. So I think it's enabled HR to become centre stage in terms of making sure we design jobs around the employee, making sure we're employee centric, making sure we understand what employees want from us. And I applaud that, that's great. Of course, the critical thing will be, as we come out of this, can we maintain that momentum? Can we make sure that we don't think business is normal, it's returned to the old ways of command and control? HR is there, I absolutely believe – going along with the 10Eighty philosophy – to help employees maximise that potential and making sure that organisations harness that potential.

Published 12 August 2020
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