Why are we here? HR’s big questions for 2021

In today’s blog we are reflecting on the comments from our recent podcast featuring HR influencer and author Kevin Green, Aaron Alburey and Annette Andrews from the Guild of HR Professionals. The trio talk about…

Will businesses ask themselves the right questions in 2021?

There is a huge opportunity in 2021 and we are at a tipping point. The HR community needs to embrace it or fall back. This year’s health crisis has meant HR has been in the ascendency due to the people-centric nature of what has happened to nearly all businesses globally. It has been broken down into three phases: adaption and reaction to the crisis and delivering new models, with people quickly being forced to work from home, then the furlough scheme which needed quick, rapid, tactical HR issues. Engagement and trust were at the forefront of businesses minds, and organisations had to look at their approach to communication, becoming more willing to be transparent about information they were sharing with their people.

The moment is now upon us. In the first half of 2021 businesses will be asking themselves a lot of existential questions about how they can deliver their future products and services: Why are we here? What is our purpose? How do we add value? What does talent look like? What is our culture?

A great example of this is Kevin’s former organisation Royal Mail, who have announced that during this period they have seen a 28% decline in letter usage, but a 42% increase in volume of packages being delivered. In just a few months we saw this rapid change. Think about the operating model of a business like that. Imagine the fleet that Royal Mail has; designed to deliver letters. Sorter and sequencer machines designed for that demand, office space designed to handle large volumes of letters and for packages you need different machines and different warehouse space. Postmen ‘walk the route’ but parcels are delivered by car, so suddenly you need to think about the logistics of equipping your people to this different demand that has been placed on the business. Every job needs to change and this is just one example.

HR Directors need to be leading a lot of the big strategic questions around how a business operates and how to engage, motivate and support people as the business and people’s jobs change, then use their influence at board room level to drive how a business effectively manages its people management strategy to deliver better productivity.

This is an exciting time and there will be opportunities for businesses to be innovative.

People-led change vs operationally driven change

It isn’t always as easy as stating that the world can work from home however. The pandemic forced many people to change their way of working but it isn’t always practical. The HR Director and team are going to have to marry the need for personalisation across large workforces, with the realities of optimising productivity for a business. If part of your workforce wants to change their working hours yet it has an effect on how you delivery services to your customers, for example, then there will inevitably have to be tradeoffs that exist. How do you balance the difference between people-led change and operationally driven change? This is going to be one of the biggest challenges for businesses. If you go too far one way you have operational issues, but too far the other way and you lose the talent within your organisation.

There is a balance that needs to be struck.

COVID has changed the speed, but not the direction of travel for HR

Businesspeople often didn’t really understand that people are the core to creating value and providing wealth and HR Directors have not been as successful in aligning people strategy to business performance. That was something Kevin wrote about in his book Competitive People Strategy before the pandemic hit.

What 2020 has meant for HR that reinventing your people strategy has never been more relevant. 75% of value comes from the intangibles such as brand, customer services, relationships, etc. That means people drive business performance and so the need is there to educate businesspeople and HR leaders on how they complete their HR strategy together.

The future of the HR function will see a split in to two cohorts:

  1. Operational efficiency looking at self-service, contact centres.
  2. Strategic function looking at how you compete with people.

That is how other functions have developed, like IT, for example and that is how we will see HR evolve. It is how it needs to evolve.

How do you change the purpose of an organisation? And what role does HR play?

This has to start with the value you provide to your customers and what you do differently from every other business. The organisations with the clearest business strategy are those that can tell you very clearly what they do not do. Those are the businesses that have a clear understanding of where they are different and can articulate their purpose, can also – from a HR perspective – tie individuals’ work back to a higher purpose. People want to belong to an organisation where they are making a difference. People want to work in an environment where they believe they are part of a higher purpose and bigger picture.

If you would like to find out more about the HR on the Offensive Podcast series, visit our podcast page, Find out more about Kevin’s book Competitive People Strategy.