HR Agility in the Times of Crisis

HR Agility in the Times of Crisis

It’s 2020… where are the flying cars, why are the books not dead and how did AI not overtake and endgame for HR? We heard all this and believed that 2020 will be a year of dreamers, a futuristic year with vision 2020 driving us there, instead, it turned out to be a year of crises that no one ever envisaged. However, it did bring a realization to us that our paths are filled with surprises and disruptions, and we have to be ever ready.

So how do we do that, be ever ready? It’s simple, as human resources we have to be agile – both externally and internally. It’s just not about systems or policies rewritten overnight to address the needs, HR here has to be agile on how they connect in a special way to business, how they connect to employees and be focused on what they want to achieve.

We all agree that the current crisis is new to all, it is a problem and how to solve this is also a problem as nobody has prior experience. So breaking this systematically to achieve results that are measurable and correctable during their course is imperative to success. It is key to not think about a goal but rather a right direction. The rule remains that what works for one organization may not really work for another, hence a lift and shift may not be really relevant and thinking plus action will have to be very personal to the organizational vision, business and impact. Currently, what is important for us as a function is, if we can look ahead of the bend and make this a palatable experience.

As Coronavirus strengthens its grip on business and societies around the world, HR professionals are facing unprecedented demands for crisis management, resilience, and adaptability in real-time. Although there are no easy answers or precedents in this pandemic, it is worth considering how crucial agile working is when it comes to effective-crisis management. Since HR is at the forefront of the crisis they will have to be ready to ‘live agile’ and help employees, customers, businesses navigate COVID-19 and prepare their organizations for a resilient future.

Subhashini Panyam - HR Agility in the Times of Crisis 2This crisis has created disruption at every level – employee, organization, business and customers. HR now has to play a key role in driving this disruption more than ever. Things have changed overnight for all. Operations had to be shifted from the workplace to virtual workplaces. For companies that did not believe in work from home, imagine the agility displayed to run the business from homes with zero deviation. Employees suddenly woke up to running their household and doing office work at the same time from their new zones of confusion, in all likelihood they had never planned to have an office set up at home and running this from their living rooms or bedrooms. They are trying to make things work for themselves, for the company and for their customers, they are displaying great agility too. Business and customers have no answers or solutions, they are looking at HR to provide solutions like never before. They are all carrying a lot of emotional loads, so how will HR make them more agile while being agile?

Most of them are looking at how the crisis can turn out, frankly, no one knows! HR needs to look at it from short-term, mid-term and a long-term perspective and with that in mind, find solutions or experiences that will allow the business to run as usual and how well can they be prepared from a best-case scenario to a worst-case scenario. HR should ensure that communication flows at multiple levels, personally connecting at the leadership level and employee level to ensure mental wellbeing during these testing times.

While business is taken care of, how do you get your talent to stick for a longer-term? It’s true that far and few are looking for a new job but once the market opens up, we don’t want our top talent to become active. So how do we ensure they stick to the employer? I just heard of a company where the managing director personally called his employees to wish them on their service anniversary. The wow feeling that he created, I don’t think will leave the employees for a long time. This is a good example of inner agility.

Another view for HR is to zoom in and zoom out – not just look at the region but look globally as an organization, connect with core teams and war teams that are formed to address the need and shift the powerhouse to least impacted locations. Growth at go-to-market locations is maybe a choice now for us to make it into a reality, by moving it from strategy discussions to an implementation level.

Let’s look around at some possible outcomes of agility and how HR can learn from them? Did we ever imagine and believe that fitness would be possible without hitting gyms, yoga centres or equivalent. The same gyms and yoga centres have come home to us virtually and people are working out from their home locations at their comfort. This disruption may become a new normal, people will still prefer online classes of their favourite gyms and centres and will continue to enjoy the benefits at their own convenience. Similarly, work from home with new norms may become a way of life for us.

People have turned to home gardening, to grow their own herbs and veggies. Maybe we will do the same, we will look at harvesting our own talent internally for our survival and be ready to take on any such crisis next.

On cost, we don’t want to spend in excess, we are being conservative, buying essentials in a way that would be just enough.

The same applies to our cost optimization at the organization. We are under slow down, maybe we will continue to practice that – not over-hire, not buffer for more than what’s required, be agile and satisfied with what we can and look at innovative ways of sustainability and advancement.

Let’s remember, HR agility should not be temporary like a disclaimer – applied when in an emergency. It should be evergreen and be continuous.

As a summation, we are a family now, we are in it together, everyone – HR, business, employees, customers and their customers. The crisis has got most of us to stick to a unique cause unlike never before, this is such a powerful union, and such power can only create solutions. No doubt, this can be a game-changer for HR and if not flying cars, we will come out with flying colours!


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