As HR professionals, our plates are full helping our organizations navigate life during COVID-19.
However, that does not mean that all the other strategic and tactical HR needs have magically disappeared, they have just shifted in priorities and rightly so. HR professionals challenge today is addressing the emergent needs but also keeping our eye on the future. Eventually, the hot HR issues specific to COVID-19 will be addressed or no longer needed. What we do not want is to move from the COVID-19 HR crisis into another HR crisis or miss key learning that can occur in this unique situation. During the world-wide pandemic, HR can consider the organization’s needs beyond COVID-19. There are a number of areas HR can implement some interim measures to avoid another crisis and to be in a better position for the medium and long-term HR strategies.
I was talking to a small organization and their 5-year plan was to double staff. After COVID-19, this organization’s services are going to be needed, and they need staff to meet those needs and their growth projections. What does that mean when they are facing possible layoffs due to reduced work during this time? Laying off staff may be a short-term answer but could create a different crisis after COVID-19 – being understaffed in a critical growth phase of the business. Some interim measure to create balance between current staffing challenges and future ones are:
- Use government programs to keep workers engaged as long as possible.
- If you were in the middle of recruiting, consider keeping the process going, but just slow it down;
- Consider a delayed start date for new employees;
- If employees have a reduced workload, consider this a time for development. Gear up your current staff for future growth and change.
2. Policy development.
As HR consultants, we have seen a number of organizations changing work, the workplace, and work processes as a result of COVID-19. Organizations that had up-to-date policies that reflected their values, were in a better position to respond to the needed changes. Other organizations struggled and some are taking this time as an opportunity to change their policies so the organization can respond more effectively and appropriately during times of stress.
This unprecedented time allows HR to see the “holes” in their policies. It is a unique opportunity to identify the policies that are not effective and/or supporting the values of your organization; identify the policy with “holes”. Take this time to update your policies or create the list of policies that need to be updated when time permits. Consider the lessons learned and your policies strengths and areas for improvement when you update them after COVID-19
3. Employee performance.
Supporting performance through clear expectations and communication should be a standard practice, but sometimes, for a number of reasons, it doesn’t happen as it should. Now, organizations have less time to deal with struggling employees and less resources to cover off the work of the struggling employees. In fact, this time may highlight marginal employees. Take this as an opportunity to look at your performance management policies and practices: do they provide the support and direction to ensure that employees can be successful?
COVID-19 is providing HR with a unique situation that can actually help HR highlight the challenges and possibilities with the performance policy and procedures. It can also be providing a unique situation that encourages or requires managers to deal with employees that need additional supports or who’s performance is marginal. At this time clear ensuring expectation and communication with employees is even more critical.
4. Leadership development
More than ever, organizations need leaders. With strong leadership, organizations can navigate change and challenges better. During COVID-19, HR will be in in critical conversation and unique situations supporting the organization’s leadership. Use this highly concentrated interaction to reflect on what are the trends in leaders’ actions, where is their greatest need in their own leadership development, and where are the shining moments of the leadership? Use this time to ask questions, observe trends, and gather information. When the dust settles and time allows for other HR priorities, talk to the leadership team about your observations and possible trends in leadership’s strengths and opportunities for growth. As strange as it may seem, the situation with COVID-19 is providing organization with a unique opportunity to understand leadership’s current ability, and this is key for strategic development.
5. Transitioning out of the pandemic.
Our transition into operations during this pandemic was not planned. However, the pandemic will pass, and HR will be key in developing a plan to transition back to work when there is no pandemic. When we transition back, we may not be transition to the old “status quo”. The transition needs to consider lessons learned during the pandemic. For example, was there greater or less efficiency with employees working from home, and in the transition back what will be the organization’s policy if more people want to work from home? Having a transition plan to return to operations after COVID-19 will avoid another HR crisis.
As HR professionals supporting organizations through these unprecedented times, we will address the short-term and emergent issues, but these times will also provide us with opportunity to get unique information or see things from a new perspective that will help with medium and long-term HR strategies. Additionally, we want to be sure that we do not get through the COVID-19 crisis only to embark on another HR crisis that was caused due to lack of medium- and long-term focus in the next while.