by Laurie Ruettimann
24 Feb 2021
The Great Reset: HR Must Adapt and Accelerate To Thrive
Thanks to COVID-19, the qualities and characteristics of high-performing human resources teams changed overnight.
It used to be that the best HR teams managed their legacy HR duties while also researching best practices and leveraging case studies to implement organizational change initiatives. After the coronavirus, it became clear that future-ready HR teams must operate from a different playbook.
For over a year, companies have relied on HR departments to demonstrate agility, identify significant gaps, respond to risk, and adapt to change while also getting payroll done on time. But how do you adapt and accelerate during the Great Reset when you also have a legacy of human resources practices to manage?
The answer comes in three parts. First, HR professionals must discover new ways of thinking critically during a crisis. Then they must embrace active listening skills and speak with confidence and clarity to engage even the most reluctant members in a conversation about adaptation and change. Finally, HR teams must learn a new way of managing risk to go fast and make as few mistakes as possible.
Here's how you do it.
Think Slow to Go Fast
It's hard to be strategic when the world is on fire, but a growing number of HR professionals are learning the power of the pause — the ability to go faster by thinking slowly.
How can you press the pause button but also move swiftly during a crisis? The answer is in improving your critical and logical thinking skills.
Dr. Matthew Stollak is an associate professor of business administration at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and an expert in HR. He defines critical and logical thinking skills as the ability to read documents carefully, ask relevant questions about evidence, and consider issues such as bias, language, context, authorship, and intended audience. HR leaders who identify problems and analyze different approaches to reach a suitable and appropriate solution are in the zone of peak performance.
When I asked him how HR departments can improve those skills, he said: "Arguably, the world would be served by everybody improving their critical and logical thinking skills — not just human resources professionals."
Dr. Stollak explained that the first step in improving critical and logical thinking skills is to be aware of your limitations, which is often challenging. Most people have a difficult time admitting intellectual constraints for fear of being judged harshly. But the only way to improve your thinking is to lean into learning.
Where to start? All learning is worthwhile, so Dr. Stollak advises taking some classes, reading a new book like Thinking, Fast and Slow, or talking with other subject matter experts. Those efforts will help you expand your knowledge and help you to discern truth from fiction more appropriately. Technology has also made it easier to hone these skills through critical thinking apps such as Lumosity.
Finally, Dr. Stollak believes HR teams can be better thinkers and doers in a crisis by focusing on the process of making decisions rather than the decision itself. "Who will be part of your crisis management team? Do we see all angles or just our perceptive lens? Are all stakeholders being considered? Are basic assumptions challenged? Is there someone playing a devil's advocate?"
Those are all excellent questions, but the one truth about HR leaders is that many of them harbor impostor syndrome. They worry that they'll never be good enough or smart enough to make strategic decisions. The irony is that you must see yourself as a critical thinker fully capable of making decisive decisions before you can do it.
Hung Lee is a London-based talent acquisition expert and publisher of a weekly email newsletter called Recruiting Brainfood. He believes that HR professionals need to renegotiate their relationship with confidence and, ultimately, let it go. The more you worry about whether or not you're an impostor, the more likely you will be seen as one.
"If we continue to express confidence as something that can be possessed, then we put ourselves in a position where we can be stripped of it,” he says. “The way forward is to act and stop worrying about whether or not we're fully capable of making the right decisions."
Hung is correct. If HR professionals do the work of improving their critical thinking skills, as Dr. Stollack suggests, they can stop worrying about being impostors and act with confidence and clarity.
Embrace Active Listening
Active listening has been taught in team-building courses and HR certification classes for several decades, but it’s enjoying a renaissance now.
Susan LaMotte is the CEO of exaqueo, an employer brand consulting firm in Charleston, South Carolina. She believes active listening is the art of listening to dig deeper and uncover a narrative's depth. "Instead of a typical back and forth in a conversation, active listening puts you in a journalist's chair. You're listening purely to dig further into the dialogue and get through as many layers as you can."
Often, a conversation is a two-way street where communication goes back and forth without a lot of significance. While this may have worked before the pandemic, life has completely changed in a remote-first work environment."When we actively listen, we are forced to park ourselves and truly pay attention instead of thinking about what we'll say next,” Susan says.
What are the benefits of active listening in the post-COVID era? Kanika Tolver is a Washington, D.C.-based CEO and author of Career Rehab: Rebuild Your Personal Brand and Rethink the Way You Work. Her leadership philosophy is simple: Active listening promotes engagement, inclusion, and transparency between the listener and speaker.
"Within the workplace, active listening is a great way to create and foster healthy relationships with your peers, stakeholders, and leadership teams. When HR leaders actively listen to their employees, it builds workplace trust. Employees want to know their voices are being heard during those difficult conversations with their supervisors and peers."
Kanika coaches leaders to practice being silent when a worker speaks and listening with their whole selves — ears, eyes, body language, and heart. "To show empathy and understanding, it's crucial to listen without first probing. Allow an individual to tell a full story. Hear them, marinate or think on what you heard, and then, and only then, come back with questions."
Through active listening, HR can quickly adapt to the dynamic shifts in workplace cultures, incorporate the requirements of executives and employees alike, and accelerate much-needed change throughout the entire enterprise. If you haven’t revisited active listening in a few years, now is the time to start.
Learn How to Manage Risk
Long before the pandemic, I was taught an exercise called the premortem to help me make better strategic decisions. It's a stoic exercise meant to help you predict failure and fix it before starting a new project. Now, I teach it to HR teams. We ask one question before beginning a new initiative: "How will this fail?"
Let's say a human resources team is thinking of implementing a new onboarding program in a remote-first work environment. How would that plan fail?
Well, newly hired workers might not have reliable access to the internet or wifi. Or it might be that the onboarding program still uses old language from before the pandemic and doesn't feel inclusive to newly-hired employees. And you might need to send new hires a packet of paperwork before day one, and there could be delivery disruptions related to the pandemic.
When I work with HR teams, we set a timer for one minute and flash forward to predict failure. I ask people to list all the silly, irreverent, totally predictable, and surprisingly random ways a project or initiative might go wrong. When the timer is up, we collect the responses and categorize them into three buckets of glitches:
- Likely to happen, so we should fix this within the project plan.
- Something to consider and keep on our radar screen.
- Never going to happen, but thank goodness someone mentioned this potential glitch.
By simply completing this exercise and addressing the first bucket, you improve your chances of success by over 30%. That's a serious competitive advantage in an environment where adapting and accelerating are the key priorities.
Putting It All Together
Human resources leaders have always been asked to improve organizations’ capacity to change, streamline workforce planning, and identify critical skills gaps. Before the pandemic, they relied on case studies and data. They must now react to real-time threats and challenges using enhanced and elevated competencies rooted in their historical wisdom.
These days, companies need confident HR leaders who can move fast, think critically, listen to multiple constituencies, and avoid risks and failure while implementing leading-edge programs and policies. Adapting to a dynamic environment and accelerating organizational change are critical priorities for all human resources departments. Thankfully, it's never too late to learn those skills, gain senior leaders' trust, and tackle the most challenging HR projects during COVID and beyond.
Laurie Ruettimann is a speaker, author, podcaster, and all-around badass helping companies, leaders, and HR departments fix work by creating policies, processes, and programs that value the inherent worth of people. Her new book, "Betting on You" is available now.