Over the past few months, we have all been bombarded with predictions of what is going to happen during 2021. Many of those predictions are preposterous, some are interesting, and a few potentially useful.
But, all of the authors are on safe ground. Nobody knows what is going to happen – 2020 has certainly taught us that. We don’t have any modern-day Nostradamus! And, by the time we know what did happen, we will have forgotten or lost the articles that all got it wrong. Yes, the authors are on safe ground. So, why am I bothering to join the motley crew of futurists? Because I believe we should work on the basis that we don’t know what is going to happen, and not over-invest in trying to predict it.
Instead, we need to equip ourselves to excel in the face of unpredictability.
For many organizations, it was their obsession with planning for what they believed would happen (and believing it!) that made them less agile. Despite this, so many organizations are still setting annual goals and tweaking out-of-date performance management and remuneration systems, all predicated on a relatively stable state.
Yet, the companies who have survived best even benefited from, the current turbulence, are those that previously invested in management excellence. They had clear long-term goals and strategies. But, they underpinned these, not with unrealistic long-term operational plans, but with:
- Many very specific short-term goals supported by highly tactical plans which they reviewed and adapted routinely to address rapidly changing demands and evolving circumstances. This approach enabled them to maintain operational businesses and gave them sustainability.
- Rolling risk analyses. These forced them to think through worst-case scenarios and to prepare for their potential occurrence. Did many predict a pandemic? No (even though we have known for over a decade that one was extremely likely). But, many did predict potential major supply change disruptions and global market crashes and so prepared their businesses to cope with them.
- A cadre of managers who understood that their sole role was to optimize the development and performance of their employees, through whom they achieve their results. Those managers also had proven skills at doing that – they had a skill-based, not a hope-based strategy. And, organizations with highly flattened structures and people-management as a bolt-on to “your real job” have paid the price of reduced staff loyalty.
As we come out of lockdown they may well see significant levels of attrition.
The pandemic has placed a huge burden on HR professionals, to which most have responded exceptionally well.
Across the globe, HR has led the way in ensuring that staff have been looked after. Could some have done better? Of course. But, the evidence is clear. HR has stepped up to the plate and added value to organizations of all sizes and sectors in ways never before seen.
But, what now? This is the end of the start, not the start of the end. We must now learn from this experience.
Now, we have to build organizations to face a future characterized by:
- Rapid unpredictable changes;
- Decreased staff loyalty;
- Greater value being placed on the employee experience and less on tangible benefits;
- Demand for increased productivity to recover lost liquid assets;
- Surplus people-power but top-talent shortages;
- Demands for increased healthy and ethical workplaces;
- Pressure for evidenced inclusion, not merely diversity.
Our HR challenge now is to ensure that each of our organizations equips itself to:
- Focus on developing flexible, adaptable, and sustainable business models;
- Analyse the risks it faces and determine how to cope with, mitigate, or avoid them;
- Make effective principle-based decisions with speed at all levels;
- Innovate – not to try to emulate or be distracted by others, rather create our own futures.
Traditional processes for preparing individuals for people-management positions, selecting them, and ensuring continuing personal development did not work, do not work, and will not work. Traditional processes for managing performance and rewards have also been shown to be flawed.
HR now has an opportunity to excel, to build on the credibility that 2020 has given us, and to strike out a new path on the journey to achieving management excellence.