Top practices to deliver COVID-era business resilience highlight people first approach

3 minute read

High-performing organisations put people first when responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, finds a survey of HR leaders worldwide. Josh Bersin Academy's Kathi Enderes reveals the best practices highlighted in the research

Top practices to deliver COVID-era business resilience highlight people first approach

High-performing organisations prioritised people in their responses to the pandemic. This was the key finding from a Josh Bersin Academy survey of 1,349 HR leaders and professionals across the globe and multiple industry segments. The survey, carried out in August, aimed to identify practices with the highest business impact in areas such financial performance, customer satisfaction, workforce engagement and retention.

Organisations demonstrating best practices focused first on the health and safety of their employees. For example, Google, Facebook and Atlassian reacted quickly to send employees home from the office and started remote work immediately. High-performing organisations also extended support beyond the working day to encompass childcare and dependent care. People-focused companies also created activities that helped remote working employees establish connections with co-workers based on hobbies or interests, included families in social interactions such as virtual movie nights, and offered free subscriptions to Netflix. There was a focus on helping employees reduce stress, disconnect from work and take time off rather than micromanaging productivity.

Communicating purpose

The research showed that employee communication is key. Now more than ever, people need to know why their work matters and how it helps create a better world. The survey found high-performing enterprises are nearly five times more likely to communicate and educate to help people deal with constant uncertainty. High-performing organisations are three times more likely to reinforce mission and purpose.

When organisations started asking employees to come back into work, high-performing organisations acknowledged anxieties. They supplemented data with customer and worker input to determine their return-to-workplace planning.

This type of communication should not be a one-off. It needs to be ongoing. AB-inBev conducts weekly pulses to understand its employees’ personal readiness. Meanwhile, some firms have set up channels of communication for employees to raise concerns and suggestions around office and home working. Discussion forums such as Reliance’s MyVoice and WhatsApp groups at Deutsche Telekom open up channels for people to be heard.

Hire responsively

When the pandemic hit, many companies froze recruitment to cut costs. While understandable, this reaction may not be helpful. First, it doesn’t set the company up for future success as the talent pipeline dries up. Secondly, when people are already overwhelmed and stressed, adding more work to their plate is not wise. In fact, the most successful corporations are six times more likely to continue to hire needed talent strategically – the research also found high-performing organisations four times more likely to leverage contingent and part-time workers.

Facilitate learning

As business changed to respond to new customer needs, demand increased for training to help people learn about safety, new protocols and changed procedures, and new technology tools. Overall, high-performing organisations are five times more likely to support teams to experiment and learn quickly and to use learning on the job. L’Oréal has been leveraging an existing transformation programme that promotes new ways of working and managing in complex environments. Southwest Airlines is replacing over-complicated decision making with multidisciplinary teams making ‘good’ rather than ‘perfect’ calls and then iteratively improving.

Simplify and speed up performance management

As managers focus on high-priority operational work, performance management processes may have been neglected. High-performing organisations have addressed this by simplifying and speeding up performance management. IBM has an agile performance process, Check In, that facilitates employee input and lets people adjust priorities in real time. This simple and clear process paid dividends for pandemic performance management. We’re also seeing evidence that organisations with top-down talent management approaches that treat employees as expendable resources have been far less successful in responding to the changes of 2020.

Adopt technology to develop new products and services

Customers are looking for different products and services and different ways of accessing these products and services. Technology has a pivotal role in fulfilling these needs. The survey revealed that high-performing organisations are nearly four times more likely to adopt technology quickly to develop new products and services. Retailer Sainsbury’s has developed a scan-and-go technology for contactless pickup of groceries, for instance. Tech and finance companies are increasingly collaborating – such as with BBVA’s partnership with Google or Goldman Sachs’ partnership with Apple – to bring digital financial solutions to customers. Restaurants have rapidly created online ordering mechanisms.

As firms balance the multiple drivers of survival in the pandemic, HR leaders have a real opportunity to support business resilience. HR must lead on health and safety and day-to-day business continuity, with strategic and forward-looking people practices that build employee empowerment. At the same time, HR professionals should take the lead on fostering and communicating employee engagement and building a renewed sense of purpose.

As companies continue to deal with the COVID crisis, HR professionals focusing on people-centric practices will be helping to create high-performing and resilient organisations able to respond to ongoing challenges effectively.

Kathi Enderes, pictured below,leads Josh Bersin Academy research in areas of HR, learning, talent and HR technology. You can find out more about Business Resilience: The Global COVID-19 Pandemic Response Study here

Kathi Enderes leads Josh Bersin Academy research in areas of HR, learning, talent and HR technology

Published 26 November 2020
Enjoyed this story?
Sign up for our newsletter here.