by Shayne Thomas
12 Nov 2020
Preparing for 2021 Starts Now
5 goals every HR professional should set for the year ahead
Don’t worry, this is not going to be an article about New Year’s resolutions. You’ll be seeing plenty of those soon enough—just not from this writer. Figured a preface was in order.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s have an about face around 2020. This has not been an easy year thus far, and whatever is left of this year is already promising to be an uphill battle. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on, you, as HR professionals, have had the enormous burden of keeping the workplace together. And although that task is technically the shared responsibility of all leaders and employees within an organization, there is no doubt that you’ve uniquely felt this weight resting sturdily and steadily on your own shoulders.
Here’s what you’ve had to do this year. You’ve moved employees from the office to their homes in one fell swoop. You’ve had to ensure that your distributed workforce had access to the tools and resources necessary to stay connected and productive when working remotely. You’ve had to reinvent many of your own HR processes—from recruiting to interviewing to onboarding—to respect ongoing safety and security measures. You’ve had to reinforce online learning and skills development, especially around mental health and wellbeing, during this challenging time. And probably the worst part of this all, you’ve had the painful task of having to let employees go during a time of massive uncertainty.
In other words, it’s bad enough that the pandemic turned the world upside down, but in the lives of HR professionals, it’s probably felt as though you’ve been doing a series of somersaults as you’ve adapted to the ever-evolving nature of this absolutely insane year.
Take a quick moment to reflect on this, and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. You’ve gone through the gauntlet this year—and even though there’s a glimmer of a light starting to shine at the end of the tunnel, you know there’s still a way to go.
Nonetheless, it’s time to start thinking about 2021
Gartner asked HR professionals what their key priorities would be for the year ahead, and here’s the verdict: building critical skills and competencies (68%), managing organizational design and change management (46%), and identifying their current and future leaders (44%).
If you’re reading between the lines, what this basically says is that HR professionals are already thinking about what the future workplace will look like—or rather, how to adapt the workplace based on everything we’ve learned from this year’s unexpected surprises.
Let’s tease these out just a little bit. For starters, only a small fraction of the global (full-time) workforce was working remotely before the pandemic, even if only part of the time. Many companies didn’t even have formal remote working policies. Then within a matter of days, before lockdown measures went into effect worldwide, entire workforces suddenly had to adapt to working from home. Was everyone ready for this? Not in the slightest. Did some employees struggle with this transition? Most definitely.
Building new skills—especially soft skills—around how to communicate and collaborate effectively in a virtual work environment became a major focus for many companies. It was critical to ensure that employees could continue to thrive under these new circumstances. So it’s no surprise that learning and skills development ranks high on the list of HR priorities.
The next point is truly a no-brainer. The entire concept of the workplace essentially got thrown out the window in 2020. This weighed heavily on managers, especially those who had never managed distributed teams before. So not only did HR have to help all employees work through the upheaval of “normal” work life, but they had to begin rethinking how teams are organized—from the top down and bottom up—to maintain productivity and efficiency while simultaneously supporting managers and keeping employees happy. And this work is far from done, because it’s still unknown what new surprises 2021 has in store. If anything, this has taught organizations to be nimble, flexible, and adaptable in the face of massive change.
And finally, with change being the only constant throughout the year, business leaders have had to step up and play an even more critical role in helping employees navigate through all these challenges. From your own experience, you may have seen some leaders succeed while others have buckled under the pressure of the ominous “unknown.” This has obviously put the notion of “leadership” under a spotlight: Do we use the same criteria for identifying and recruiting the leaders of tomorrow as we did pre-pandemic? (Hint: The answer is likely “no.”)
5 more HR goals to add to your list
While these key priorities are certainly important to add to your own checklist for 2021, we thought we’d add a few more suggestions to expand on this list a bit. Here’s a quick rundown:
1. Make learning accessible and relevant
Aside from simply focusing on skills development, it’s more important than ever for businesses to provide learning opportunities in ways that adapt to different employee needs. Some of your employees may work primarily at their computers. Others may rely on their mobile phones to manage through their day-to-day tasks. The learning content you offer must adapt seamlessly to any medium, so that employees can access information in the way that works best for them.
Similarly, you must offer a robust library of engaging and personalized content that covers a wide range of topics, from job-related training to soft skills development (and well beyond). If you’re learning content is facing a dry spell, maybe it’s time to consider Cornerstone Learning.
2. Get employees back to the office safely
At some point, a vaccine will be available, and office life as we once knew it will return to “normal” (whatever that means at this point). Even so, there isn’t going to be a switch to flip to make this happen. Over the next six to eight months, easily, HR will have to work closely with other business leaders to create “come back to work” plans for many employees that have been working from home since lockdowns first went into effect back in March. In some cases, you may even have a larger part of your workforce continue to work from home in a more permanent capacity moving forward. Either way, there are a lot of decisions and security measures that need to be taken into account to make this process go smoothly—and you go about this will ultimately determine how quickly things actually do go back to “normal.”
3. Focus on the employee experience
Nothing about this year has been easy for employees, either. Returning back to the office or creating new work habits all over again is going to take some time for adjustment. And for those employees who really struggled during the pandemic or may have even contracted COVID-19 somewhere along the way, there could be some residual trauma lingering in the background. That’s why it has never been more important than now to prioritize the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health of your employees. For example, you might want to consider offering on-site (or virtual) yoga or meditation classes. Whatever you choose to do, 2021 will be a year where taking a holistic view around employee wellbeing will be paramount.
4. Pay attention to the signs of “change fatigue”
As Gartner’s Vice President Jessica Knight puts it, “The amount of change that the average employee can absorb without becoming fatigued is half what it was last year.” In other words, we can only roll with the punches until we hit a wall. Many of us have already hit that so-called wall—or rather, continue to hit that wall over and over again. There will be a point—if it hasn’t come already—where people will just need a break. We all know that anything resembling normalcy isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
As many of your employees make the transition back to office life in the new year, you’ve got to let them ease into it. This won’t be the time to knock everyone over the head with a slew of new changes. Give your employees the space to get back into a routine and to reconnect with their colleagues. Letting them build up new (and positive) work habits is the key for success. And once everyone’s got their groove back, go ahead and sprinkle in some new surprises here or there. Just be mindful that everyone’s been through a lot of change this year—including yourselves as HR leaders—so give everyone the opportunity to come up for air .
5. Stay flexible
Not that you haven’t heard this enough lately, but the same will still be true as we enter in a new year, complete with an entirely new set of challenges (and opportunities). Flexibility and adaptability are essential for a business’s success. Given what we’ve learned this year, we’ve got to stay calm and go with the flow. There’s no point fighting against the circumstances we’ve been dealt. Nor is there a way to change the fact that 2020 has been marked by a fairly gnarly pandemic, among other things. We simply have to accept that there are a lot of things out of our control and show ourselves a little forgiveness when we do, in fact, come to the realization that we can’t control them. But it’s in these moments that we all become more resilient. Being flexible doesn’t mean we have to assume the role of life’s “whack-a-moles.” We just have to learn from our experiences, letting that guide our path forward. (I know, it’s a lot easier said than done, but when in doubt just repeat to yourself: “I can go with the flow…”)
What are your HR goals for 2021?
Consider everything here as a thought starter. While we strongly encourage you to embrace these HR goals with open arms, we know that you probably have a few other priorities to tackle as well. It goes without saying that, as much as we’re all looking forward to putting 2020 behind us, it’s not likely to happen in the first part of next year. So use this time now to take stock of what you’ve learned, as an HR leader, during what’s been one of the most challenging and unprecedented times in modern human history, and use that inspire and inform how you’ll overcome whatever unexpected obstacles still lie ahead.
If this past year has taught us one thing, it’s that we are all a lot more resilient than we probably ever give ourselves credit for. And even though it’s sometimes hard to see the clearing through the trees, don’t forget that the lessons you’ve learned this year will make you more prepared for the unexpected, should it ever strike again in the near future. And should you ever need a little help fine-tuning your goals for the year ahead, our team is always here to help. Contact us today to learn more about Cornerstone’s talent management and learning solutions.