The pandemic has taught entrepreneurs many harsh lessons, but chief among them is, “if you don’t take care of your employees, they won’t take care of your business.”
It pains me to say, but as an Interim CHRO and HR Consultant, I’ve seen businesses go on life support or die within weeks after being caught unprepared. Likewise, I’ve seen others rise to the occasion and survive, even thrive, despite an unprecedented challenge to budgets and revenue and customer bases, not to mention mental health.
In every single case, the company’s commitment (or lack thereof) to its humans and empowering its HR was the X factor.
What a difference, six months can make. No one could have predicted the impact of the pandemic to force remote work, overnight digital transformation and smiles at the end of Zooms. But everyone still in business now understands that managing and empowering employees effectively from a virtual distance is a different ballgame.
And like it or not, whatever your thoughts about Human Resources, it’s front-and-center in the fight for survival and planning for future growth. It’s time for culture and strategy to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together, or else.
In our Brave New World, Thou Shalt Not Treat HR as but a cost center or talent backwater, or perish.
Now that the old, office-centered HR playbook is obsolete, what must fast-growth companies do to empower their HR departments and employees to do their life’s best work and increase productivity and profitability?
1. HR needs to get real
Authenticity has never been more important for leaders and managers. Everyone’s hurting, with quarantines in place, schools closed and vacations canceled. Acknowledge the pain (theirs and your own). Treat everyone like adults – adults that can easily choose to work in an even larger number of other companies, since everyone’s gone remote and can work from anywhere.
Check in with your employees regularly (phone, Slack, email, whatever they prefer) to make sure they’re staying physically active, mentally healthy and have what they need at home to do their best work. Install plug-ins on Slack to monitor employee mood and engagement. If it’s safe, socially distant, permissible and feasible, find a way to meet in person from time to time. In-person connection and reassurance is more important than ever.
Offer a kind word and help people improve as professionals and humans without waiting for reviews. Intervene when needed to pick someone up, clear up confusion, give time off, help resolve logistical issues.
Paradoxically, the time of greatest distance may bring leaders, managers and employees closer together than ever before.
2. Suspend non-compete agreements
They’re outlawed or ignored in many jurisdictions that are top labor destinations and too often unreasonably restrictive, especially to lower-level employees.
3. Give useful benefits rather than gimmicky perks
If not sure, survey your employees! Err on the side of strong health benefits, low co-pays for telemedicine, generous (but not unlimited) vacation days and robust mental wellness solutions (24/7 counseling, employee assistance programs, CareKits for pregnancy, paid fertility treatments, backup child and adult care), legal services, flex-days, generous parental leave.
4. Create a more agile and internally mobile workforce
Encourage managers to list projects company-wide to get help from other departments and ambitious employees who want to prove themselves. Help people break out of narrow job descriptions and move forward in their careers. Coach them on career pathways within the company and follow up with managers and leaders to pave those paths proactively.
Track progress using a performance management solution that creates an ongoing conversation between managers, employees, HR and leadership and helps give visibility and align expectations for everyone involved in job performance, areas for development, career path progression, promotions and raises. Give instant feedback, when possible, and log it and follow up on it on a set schedule to ensure progress.
5. Hire a diverse staff
As a core principle (and profitability driver), work on creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace by actively hiring, promoting and opening seats at the table for People of Color. Then, hire for alignment with said, more inclusive, culture, rather than skills and experience only. Help diverse talent share their stories on camera.
6. Get employees coaches
Get employees coaching on benefits, professional and personal development, becoming new managers and leaders, improving performance, productivity. Get them LinkedIn Learning or other resources to constantly continue learning. Create a book club. Give (and record and post on the intranet) regular training for leadership and employees, mixing employee-led, coach-led and management-led virtual lunch-and-learns and (eventually) off-sites. Help people improve and reinvent themselves, then help your company benefit from it. Bake learning and group participation in performance reviews.
7. Re-imagine the work experience
Build (or rebuild) your Employee Experience from scratch to optimize each part, including candidate experience, on-boarding experience, benefits and payroll experience, open and anonymous channels for internal communication, instant feedback and quarterly performance evaluations, employee engagement surveys, relevant rewards and recognition (both peer- and management-driven), employee affinity and mentorship groups, internal mobility programs, standardized promotions, raises and total compensation bands, as well as exit interviews and alumni programs.
8. Be authentic
Create an authentic, employee-driven employer brand. No more gaming Glassdoor reviews. Help your employees become your best ambassadors by consistently doing the right thing and treating them well.
9. Be flexible
An HR Tech Stack that’s flexible as your company grows. Make sure your systems (ATS, on-boarding, HRIS, payroll, benefits, intranet, Slack/Teams), are user-friendly, collect and report the right data for making business decisions and talk to each other (APIs are your best friends). Oh yeah, and don’t forget to tie your HR (especially talent acquisition) to your financial model.
10. Get your employees involved
Get your employees to record all their processes and playbooks on video for the internal Wiki.
In the end, HR need not be rocket science, painful or overly costly. Treat people well and help people grow. In return, they’ll grow your company.
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