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Editorial Team
18 Nov 2020



How a CHRO should manage talent during and after COVID-19

The pandemic has thrown the world of business into a tizzy, and traditional workforce management will no longer suffice. Here is what CHROs must consider.

When COVID-19 struck, the first in the line of fire were hospitals, with patients queuing up for life-saving assistance. As it happens, though, with any cataclysm, the effect spread far and wide, ensnaring businesses and taking away the jobs of millions of workers.

It is but natural that as the world settles into this uneasy understanding with the pandemic, the job market will change… and massively, at that. Traditional ways of work will not suffice, and HR in particular will need to step up to innovate how it manages talent, given how the talent market itself is changing.

The challenge – and the opportunity – for HR is in revamping its planning approach. Static plans will work no more, with agile planning serving to reshape the workforce continually as business and skill needs change. The process of rebuilding will need a close look at and often modification in people, processes, and systems followed. From a time of record lows in unemployment to a sea change in the way of work, the post-COVID future for HR looks hugely different.

What could be the immediate challenges companies face?

  • Transitioning workforces to remote work
  • Planning and implementing protective measures for field workers

The biggest challenge – and change – HR will face is likely to be the glut of jobseekers in the market. More choice is good, but it will be a task to pick the right people from the sea of talent on offer. There will be tons of respondents to each job opening, among whom many may not even have the requisite skill sets. It follows that sorting through all applications is going to be even more time-consuming than in the past.

So, what has made flexible workforce planning so urgent? New remote work norms, for one. According to Gartner, 48% of employees will work remotely after the pandemic, up significantly from the pre-pandemic 30%. Here’s a sense of the newly unconstrained talent:

  • No geographical limitations: Radical change in competition for talent and more options for diverse and lower-cost talent
  • Lower cost, better flexibility and productivity: Higher digitalization and compartmentalized workflows, leading to high discretionary effort from 48% of fully remote employees (vs 35% of never-remote employees) and high enterprise contribution (41% vs 24%)
  • Skill clusters over roles: Workflows assigned outside of organizational charts – 40% of employees do tasks outside of their job descriptions
  • Gigs to the fore: Easier to fill critical skill gaps with contingency and gig workers

This mix of a human crisis and opportunity has brought CHROs to the fore, given how important, visible, and stressful their role is. Their expertise puts them in possibly the best position to guide en masse workforce shifts in organizations. They are well positioned to craft agile workforce strategies to sustain economies as well as workers and their families. Their task is critical, as plans must simultaneously look at the present yet build in the capacity to evolve as health and economic situations change. Workforce “futuring” – using labor market analysis and technology to plan workforces for the future – of this nature breaks the shackles of legacy talent management processes and offers much better flexibility.

What is also important is to keep employees engaged. Back in 2016, a Gallup poll unearthed a miserly 13% global employee engagement level, which is bound to fall considerably in the face of a crisis of this nature and magnitude. The process of employee engagement must be consistent, reliable, and data driven. Here are some key strategies:

  • Regular leadership communication: Open-door policies for easy voicing of concerns, and emotional support for personal issues
  • Team-based coaching: Involving employees in work discussions and brainstorming on solutions
  • More employee autonomy: Collaborating with employees for wellness ideas, training plans, and more
  • Telecommuting: Improved communication and higher productivity by leveraging available technological tools

Another important aspect the CHRO must look at is succession planning. Critical C-suite roles might need emergency plans, but there must be a concerted effort on identifying future leaders on an ongoing basis. It is essential to retain, develop, and leverage future talent, and these plans will be significant in establishing a competitive advantage as business attempts to get back to normal. Tips for good succession planning include the following:

  • Purposeful talent reviews: Quick, virtual sessions rather than dragged-out discussions, leveraging technology for reflective downtime and remote talent assessments and interviews
  • Lower barriers: Removing hindrances to high productivity and low stress through constant advice and coaching
  • Improved executive coaching: Pushing leaders to think differently, integrate data and analytics

Looking ahead, what else must CHROs focus on? Leverage technology to selectively and thoughtfully identify candidates fitting both the role and the culture. Handle the situation well and boost the employer brand considerably, as good communication, training, and culture get people informed and talking about the company in a positive way. Given how workers will seek consistency, longevity, safety, and stability, flexibility would serve the company well as new work methods have been demonstrated to be effective.

In conclusion…

Planning must remain predictive, involving the workforce and keeping them engaged in driving strategic changes. As businesses and economies recover, proper talent configuration and redeployment will be essential to secure or retain a strong market position.


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