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The new top challenge for HR teams: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

The pandemic and economic uncertainty makes long-range employee planning more difficult. The emphasis, for now, is on agility to respond to the unforeseen.

The new top challenge for HR teams: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
[Source photo: Igor_Filonenko/iStock]
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HR teams played active roles in 2020 as companies reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic and engaged in workplace equity conversations brought on by the Black Lives Matter movement. Those who helped their companies adapt the fastest to the fundamental changes caused by these events were the ones that ultimately thrived. 

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But a new test awaits HR teams in 2021. Leaders will be tasked with holding their organizations accountable to greater diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. At the same time, many challenges remain in keeping employees engaged and their well-being high in both remote and hybrid workplaces. 

The accelerated changes that upended organizations at the start of the pandemic will remain in 2021. But now that workers have adapted to these shifts, HR teams must rethink their talent approaches. Visier, my HR tech company,  surveyed HR thought leaders from our clients and leveraged third-party research and identified these three top challenges for people managers in the coming year.

Problem-solving through uncertainty

Your HR team cannot fall back into strategic workforce planning that scopes years-long initiatives. These plans need to instead focus on weeks- and months-long plans with agility at their core. 

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Looking back at previous recessions, we know that businesses with an agile approach to workforce planning emerge stronger from a crisis than their competitors. HR leaders should mirror these examples by preparing for multiple scenarios. Whether your organization experiences splits, zero growth, slow growth or rapid growth, understanding all possibilities will help your organization remain resilient. 

Leverage workforce planning technology to generate hypothetical situations you can build contingency plans around. Also, develop skills information on employees to determine multiple business needs they can fill outside of their typical role, based on the demands of the business. People analytics—the practice of collecting and transforming HR data and organizational data into actionable insights—can help identify candidates for reskilled positions needed by your organization. 

D&I action, not talk

D&I initiatives must be a core component of all enterprises. Companies that fall short on these efforts risk incurring fines, bad press and class action lawsuits. In fact, new SEC rules and ISO metrics are being used to promote better accountability and reporting in workforce management. Additionally, both employees and the public are demanding corporations address outstanding core issues around D&I. 

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Your company probably already has a wealth of data that can help create an impactful D&I strategy. Layered operational analytics like hiring, promotion, and pay equity data can help determine real areas of improvement. And tools such as employee pulse surveys and behavioral resources like organizational network analytics can uncover insights directly from employees.

Employee data can provide answers to your organization’s D&I questions. With clear answers, you can make talent decisions that improve your entire employee lifecycle. Use data to go beyond blanket numbers and dissect the various factors related to all of your company’s workforce groups. Closely examine your business processes to stay ahead of risks that could negatively impact your diversity efforts and keep leaders accountable. D&I should be a total business initiative, not just an HR initiative. 

New expectations around employee experience 

The employee experience left the confines of the office when teams shifted to working remotely at scale in early 2020. Office culture was brought into homes, which meant employee well-being and safety needed to be fostered at a distance. As a result, employees now need to know your organization supports them as they navigate at-home childcare responsibilities, increased health risks and a weakened economy. If not, you risk losing workers to a more flexible and supportive career option. 

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Company cultures are typically built with an organic, habit-based framework. To better meet employee needs in a remote or hybrid work environment in 2021, implement a culture-by-design approach. Take the elements signature to your company’s culture and identify opportunities to retain them in our current work environments. Successful execution of culture-by-design lies in a people-first approach fueled by data insights. 

Combine data from sources such as human capital management platforms, well-being tools and employee engagement surveys to determine where employees need your support. These insights can help address personal stressors your employees deal with, like at-home childcare, for example, to provide flexible PTO and scheduling. Organizational network analysis (ONA) can also supply a real-time view of employee communication and help you understand how team dynamics change in a remote or hybrid work environment. 

2020 taught us that everything can change overnight. Let 2021 be the year your organization readies itself for all possibilities with an agile foundation for decision-making built with real-time data. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, make D&I a core component of employee engagement and put people first to rethink your talent approach for sustained success. 

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Paul Rubenstein is chief people officer at Visier, a people analytics company.