Leadership Has Expanded Beyond Titles

The times are tough, but HR is navigating its way to most efficiently handle this tectonic cultural shift and recreating the future workplace


In Jan 2020, nobody ever imagined that their business and people strategy for FY 20-21 would turn upside down, just as they were on the cusp of entering the financial year. Like it did elsewhere, COVID-19 hit Indian businesses and workplaces abruptly, and it was colossal. There were moments when thousands of managers and teams stayed home, probably speculating how work would continue hereon. Instinctively, everyone then looked at HR to expectedly develop path-breaking initiatives to keep such a widespread workforce engaged and productive.

While the HR function was always a critical cog in the business wheel, the changed realities of the pandemic brought to fore its role more prominently. Deliverables now extended way beyond just people management and engagement. The function metamorphosed into a key planner that was tasked to ensure business continuity in the newly emboldened digital world. And after that, right from providing the right resources to work from home to keeping them engaged and productive through continued communication, HR teams across the globe have worked day and night with undying passion.

For HR, COVID-19 has brought about the mindset transformation that it has been attempting to achieve for a long time. Just a few days ago, what seemed implausible suddenly is working effectively and like a well-oiled machine. People had to shed their deep-rooted beliefs and adapt to a newer way of doing things. This HR-enabled workplace transformation journey commenced with a challenge to re-think, redesign, and re-launch every single process in the employee life-cycle.

Hiring is now virtual!

Before COVID-19, nobody could imagine recruiting a team member without an in-person meeting! Today virtual hiring is the new normal. Right from hiring senior management to recruiting management trainees, everything works seamlessly on a digital platform. Even work contracts have been re-imagined. In a world where there is a fight to attract scarce talent from the market, the Flexi-working, any time – anywhere work model, and the Flexi-staffing option took center stage during this pandemic. This has allowed organizations access to a diverse talent pool that was otherwise not being explored. Today, it hardly matters where the talent is - they can work from wherever they are and for as much time as they want. In fact, it has also provided an excellent opportunity to speed up the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) agenda. An organization that encourages such a diverse talent pool and promotes an inclusive culture will find it easy to deal with talent inadequacy in the future.

Hybrid working, WFH and WFO, is here to stay!

The concept of "time" and "space" has undergone a significant shift during the pandemic. Remote work that seemed flimsy and less efficient a couple of years ago is now real. Workplaces may never go back to 100% work from office scenario. A hybrid model offering flexibility to the workforce will be the best bet, and HR will have to redesign workplaces and policies to align with the different ways of working.

Goals cannot be static anymore

This balancing act of driving performance while ensuring employee safety in this pandemic, or in this fluid environment of uncertainty, has become a bit too challenging. Today's

traditional performance management process is under the scanner, and this far more dynamic world has made static goals redundant. While SMART Goals are still relevant in the current times, they now have to focus on shorter-term prioritization of workflow rather than long-term goals, susceptible to change. An annual goal sheet/target may be set to provide direction for the employees, but these need to be reviewed quarterly and improvised periodically to keep pace with the dynamic environment. Flexi goal setting with multiple quick review cycles provides opportunities for employees to adjust their goals and identify ways they can upskill to remain relevant in the new work environment. Such changes in culture may not be easy, and HR has to aggressively evangelize it across the board.

Innovative learning mediums will rule the workplace learning

Employee development and training have also revolutionized. The most preferred training mode - the classroom is no longer available. This has left HR scouting for diverse learning mediums and exploring newer ecosystems such as peer-to-peer learning, virtual Instructor Led Trainings, Digital – Online / Mobile learning, Simulation-based learning, Learner Community groups, online courses, online expert talk sessions. These methods can make the entire training and upskilling process scalable as well as cost-effective. The pandemic has also brought to fore the significance of unlearning and relearning. What was yesterday's trump card is ineffective today. Resilience to sustain and agility to unlearn and relearn have emerged as arguably the most vital leadership skill in the new normal. Employee community is the clear winner

More than before, what is gleaming brightest in these times is the strength of the employee community. It is overwhelming to see how employees have come up to volunteer and support each other, ready to do anything to help. Indeed, it is far more distinct that leaders do not need to find solutions to problems single-handed –there are multitudes of employees ready to support, as long as we make an efficient platform (be it formal or informal) available for their contribution.

Leadership has expanded beyond titles

Virtual working has also made hierarchy and titles somewhat irrelevant. Employees across organizations have shown that they do not need a manager supervising them all eight hours a day. The workforce has given a big thumbs-up to floating teams and changing supervisors – HR teams need to ensure an all-pervading culture that embraces 'leadership fluidity.' 

Employee well being is the new priority…and it will stay on top

We have realized that businesses are only as strong as their people. Their well-being, both mental and physical, is now the most essential and inviolable HR agenda, and it will need to be maintained as our top priority for us to withstand such unprecedented human challenges. 

Don't miss the human-touch

Overall, with everything moving virtual, HR will play a pivotal role in refining the employee experience - ensuring that technology-enabled experiences coupled with continued communication compensate for the personalized touch that was the cornerstone of employee engagement till not-so-long ago.

The times are tough, but HR is navigating its way to most efficiently handle this tectonic cultural shift and recreating the future workplace that conforms in spirit and substance to the new normal.

(This given article is attributed to Mr. Vibhash Naik - Head HR, L&D, and Admin, HDFC Life and has been solely created for BW People publication)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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