Eight Thought Leaders Discuss HR Opportunities

Eight Thought Leaders Discuss HR Opportunities

“What HR OPPORTUNITIES do the present situation and near future present to us? Every adversity contains within it the seeds of opportunity.” (Readers will recall that the previous blogpost dealt with the ‘Challenges’ question) LINK

Eight eminent HR Leaders answered this question on my request, published here is their unedited response. They come from diverse background and bring diverse perspectives to us which will enrich our understanding of the situation:

1. Dr Raju Mistry, President and Global Chief People Officer, Cipla, 2. Kaviarasu (Kavi to friends) Learning & Change Specialist for modern day workplaces & communities, 3. Sujata Deshmukh, Leadership, OD and Culture Shaping Expert 4. Salil Chinchore, Head HR Godrej Agrovet, 5. Dr Joseph George, Author of “Being People”, Leadership & OD Facilitator, Coach and Human Assessment Specialist 6. Prof Dr Seema Rawat, Chair – Industry & Alumni Relations, Faculty HR & Behavioural Sciences Area, School of Business Management, NMIMS, 7. Vineet Kaul, HR Advisor and Mentor, and Advisor, Group HR, Aditya Birla Group, and 8. Sumit Neogi, former VP – HR Reliance Industries Ltd.

My gratitude to them for sharing their thoughts.

Dr Raju Mistry  President and Global Chief People Officer at Cipla

The pandemic was thrust upon us suddenly one day and the whole world was caught off guard. Unaware, unprepared, confused, scared, anxious and panic – were some of the expressions that were most commonly heard. Also heard were terms as unprecedented, challenges, crisis.

I liked a quote of Lenin which I heard from one of my friend Vikram: “There are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen.” I thought that quote was just apt in describing the opportunity that HR has to bring about the transformation and radical change they have always been wanting to and waiting for.

For once, this is a situation when the world is prepared to accept any change – so the cliché that change is difficult and people don’t change, have been thrown to the winds. People changed, they had to and they adapted to the new normal like the fish to water.

Dr Raju Mistry

For once, people have started realizing and understanding the real meaning of life – it’s not only about wealth generation, but becoming more human, more compassionate. The opportunity for HR is to dial in to this heightened sense of compassion to make bring more joy and meaning to work.  Engagement is not only about arranging various song and dance activities, but by connecting the minds and hearts of employees; of reaching out to them and letting them know that you exist for them.

As HR it is important to let employees know that the organization stands beside them, and it is important for everyone in the organization to make small sacrifices if required to salvage the jobs and employment of people. We talk of loyalty to organizations, it is time like these that organizations have to demonstrate the loyalty to its employees. Several employees are being laid off – I understand that businesses have been impacted. But this is precisely the time to involve employees and discuss the solutions to the crisis. If organizations stand besides their own people in these times, the people will stand with the organization.

The other phenomenon is the “New Normal”: WFH  and WFA has opened up new vistas – like never before. Now people don’t have to deal with the daily commute to work, traffic jams and fatigue and can still contribute meaningfully whilst at home. It’s the new normal. This is the time to revisit all the HR policies in light of the new normal. Suddenly people have realized that we can work from anywhere. We don’t need an office set up to be more productive. We don’t need to commute several hours every day to come to work. We are realizing that meetings virtually have the same results and outcomes as face to face meetings. Now talent is available anywhere, everywhere and this is a great opportunity for expanding the talent network for an organization.

A lot of businesses will change and some will have to emerge in totally new avatars.  The hospitality, travel industry will perhaps not be the same again. The rules of the game are being rewritten, as we speak, the business models will change and commensurate with it will be the people practices, policies and talent agenda. This is the time for HR folks of these industries to be proactive and contribute in shaping the business agenda and lead the discussions rather than be a spectator and bystander.

Perhaps the term life term employment, permanent and full time employment also will become a thing of the past in the future. The gig economy and flexible work force seems to be the order of the new ways of working. This is a great opportunity for HR to change the manning models which provide such great flexibility and immense talent on tap.

There is panic and anxiety with regards to safety of employees, job security, and world peace. This fear will prevail for some time to come. It is time for HR to play the role and the mantle which it has been bestowed with – to be the custodian of Human Resource interests. Time for HR to claim the seat on the table as a lot of progress will depend on the soft decisions – not the hard ones.

No pandemic or crisis has ever thwarted the progress of any country and nation. This too shall pass. We got over the great depression of the 30’s the 2008 crisis and many more. The important thing is that did we learn enough from this lesson/experience, did we leverage these learnings for the benefit of humankind and progress, and did we shape the world in a way better than what it was before the adversity.

Kavi Learning & Change Specialist for modern day workplaces & communities, Director, FoundingFuel.com

COVID 19 has opened several windows in the mind.  Speaking of windows, the Overton window signifies “a window that is available for action”. Anything outside of the window is too radical a choice. The pandemic has shifted the Overton window and what was radical in February became standard in March! Fast, furious and sudden.


With much of the ground work stood on shifting, there is an opportunity to rethink work from the ground up.  From the new ground, that is! To start all over again is relatively easy when everything you have held dear is blown to smithereens. Old habits have had a hard death and a quiet burial. It’s a new world.

So, what has changed?

Peter Drucker said this. In 1993!! 

“Yet none of this is necessary anymore; indeed, commuting to office work is obsolete. It is now infinitely easier, cheaper and faster to do what the nineteenth century could not do: move information, and with office work, where the people are. The tools to do so or already here: The telephone, two-way video, electronic mail, the fax machine, the personal computer, the modem, and so on. And so is there receptive 80: witness, for example, the boom in fax machines in the past eighteen months.”

Surreal, won’t you think. He said this a quarter of a century ago in a world rife fax machines!

The office has been incidental to work getting done, for a lot of jobs. This has been the case for a long time now. Yet, the office has been central to many of us. COVID 19 decoupled the office and work, in a rude and quick way!

Of course, that’s not applicable for several jobs like health care workers or factory shop floor employees. But for a large number of others the world over, the mass ‘work from anywhere’ experiment has pointed us to a few results. The potency of our devices to get work and communication done have been discovered all over again. So much so, some organisations have shuttered their offices for good.

This presents a huge opportunity to Human Resource professionals to usher in a different reality. COVID 19 is the devil with its evil dance. But for the world of work, it has had angelic benefits, considering how many radical ideas have become mainstream.

“The smartest hr-es at the doughtiest firms are already gazing beyond the flattened curve.” says a piece from The Economist, titled “ The coronavirus crisis thrusts corporate HR chiefs into the spotlight”.

The imperative of ringing in comprehensive change is both a business need and an opportunity to correct what have been inefficiencies for a long time. That Overton window has shifted and the HR world can look at in many ways.

I group it together under three essential lenses.

1. The lens of chance

Until February ’20, anyone who couldn’t submit to the centrality of working from an office and its demands, did not get a chance to work! It was plain and simple.

With Working From Home becoming de rigueur has meant that the talent pool has become richer and wider. This is a large pool and can alter several aspects of work.  Women whose family circumstances didn’t allow them to commute to an office, physically challenged people will come readily to the mind. 

Anyone who can’t work anywhere else other than the city where the office is based out of suddenly gets a look in. This can have great business benefits to the organisation, when managed well. Now, everyone gets a chance!

Extending that lens, progressive ideas that didn’t get to see the light of day need a second chance of being examined under a different lens. Case in point. An organisation that I know intimately, had fretted so much about ‘swipe in’ and ‘swipe out’ times earlier. There were debates about the need for clocking in hours. With forced WFH, the organisation has now asked employees to ‘be honest’! No one is watching the hours.

The Human Resources function has to help craft different policies and ways of working to make this ‘chance’ thrive. To enable people who may be at different locations or who will have different contracts will require HR to slay some holy cows. (Re)Designing work, compensation, performance, nature of rewards etc need special attention. It’s not going to come easy!

2. The lens of choice

As a customer, the modern world offers innumerable choice sets. From cookies to computers and mothballs to motorcycles, we have choice sets galore. Accustomed to that level of choice in life, for a long while now, organisation policies have been monochromatic and inflexible.

The mass customisation that is available for the customer could well be made available for employees as well. Flexible policies will be needed as multiple arrangements for work all be needed to help facilitate a diverse and distributed talent pool deliver well.

How might we ensure that more is at the hand of the employee to choose and operate with? How might the HR world enable that? I would think, the opportunity for the Human Resources function is to lay emphasis more on the ‘human’ than on ‘resources’. I am aware its a cliched expression but am stating it again here. The window to make that possible is now. 

The question of choice, often brings a debate on fairness. Being fair goes beyond a blind adherence to rules. Interpreting rules for context and application with courage and imagination, is necessary. Coopting employees in the making, updating and holding the new rules of work in the organisation’s context is key.

3. The lens of change

“Talking to My Daughter About the Economy” by the Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is an awesome book for anyone who wants to have a good grasp of economics in a simple way. In the book, he makes an important distinction between, “Exchange Value” and “Experiential Value”.

Exchange values reflects what something is worth in a market in exchange for something else. Since Fredrick Taylor’s times, the exchange value of work has displaced the purpose and richness of creation that work can beget. How much money I make, in exchange of my work, becoming more important than what I do).  People who are/were in boring jobs that are devoid of meaning will relate to what I am talking about. 

By contrast, experiential value cannot be sold and it tends to be considered worthless. (The experience of working together, the joy of creation etc). By reimagining work , re-designing jobs and workflows , empowering employees to make their choices well, the Human Resources function has a good chance to shine more light on experiential values that work can get.

The change to the lowest common denominator of every enterprise: every day jobs, will make a lot of difference. This has a corollary benefit. Senseless fun and games that pass for employment engagement exercises will be relegated to the dustbin of “silly things we used to do”!

Enablers in this journey

To enhance chances, to bring more choices and to herald change in everyday jobs is no easy ask. But it’s possible. The window of opportunity with HR that COVID 19 has offered is a large one.

Firstly, the Human Resources functions will have to learn new skillsets and sport the mindset of change for a while. At the heart of it all will be the skill of fostering conversations. With many generations of employees at work, creating empathy for each other is crucial. Free-flowing conversation is a great place to start.

As much as the first part of this essay made it appear that office is dispensable, we all know that it has it value. It is the best space for collaboration, informal networks and tacit knowledge, among other things. It is a place where serendipitous conversations and ‘bump ins’ bring disproportionate results. To be able to create the space for such stuff to happen when some employees will work from home and others from office, will require imagination and deliberate effort.

Finally, the human resources function needs to foster in the organisation is more of ‘trust in employees’.  When performance is not predicated by presence, building systems, processes and policies that builds trust becomes necessary. Trust begets trust! 

These of course, are subjects of long conversations. The shifts in the workplace have been tectonic and sudden. When the Human Resources function deploys its best imagination over its memory, much shifts will come to the whole organisation. 

May the conversations flow. 

Sujata Deshmukh, Founder Tutul Consulting – Leadership, OD and Culture Shaping Expert

The city I live in recently faced the prospect of a cyclone and heavy winds in addition to the challenges it was already facing due to the pandemic and the lockdown. One of the pictures that stood out for me while I read the news reports were those of hastily put up structures (for Covid patients) that were in tatters, flapping around, completely destroyed by the force of the winds.

Sujata Deshmukh

That image led to a reflection that ‘If the tent like structure were to be firmly anchored to the ground, the winds would not be able to blow it away easily’. Let us apply the metaphor of the tent pegged firmly to the ground with that of an HR function with well embedded fundamental principles around the people agenda. When the fundamentals are already well thought of and in place then I believe that the current set of challenges would only serve to amplify the positive impact that HR can make in an organization. It is akin to having one’s ‘real self’ emerging when it matters. One’s real self may get suppressed at times due to some reasons but when it is put to the test the real nature of the self will emerge and shine forth.

One of the quick ways of identifying whether HR has its fundamentals in place is to speak to the person in the frontline of HR. What will the person do when the SOP/ rule book cannot be directly applied to an employee related concern? How confidently and surely does the frontline HR reach out to do the right thing, fueled with the confidence that s/he is following the underlying principle and knowing that the organization will support his/ her initiative?

What could take place if the principles around the people agenda are not well defined in an organization? Or if the HR agenda is centred entirely around power centres who decide how people need to be dealt with? In this scenario, there may be two ways in which HR responds: 1. Continue running the function in the same way while modifying decisions and policies to incorporate current realities (for a better chance at survival) 2. Look around to pick up best practices and novel ideas and try and introduce them in a manner that matches with their current context. ‘

‘Who you are in turn shapes what you do. It is also possible that ‘what you do (differently) may also end up shaping who you are’. Hence there is opportunity for every team to go forth and create new possibilities

HR like every other team is going through the metaphor of being in the crucible. (Crucible situations are situations of severe trial, in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new).

This is the opportune time for HR teams to enhance its level of Consciousness along with Impact and Excellence.

Here are four of the many dimensions that have undergone fundamental change. These are opportunities for HR teams to apply fresh thinking and work on

1.       Employee presence and participation in work

Hitherto HR has perfected the way attendance systems and various checks and balances are applied ensure the employee is present and participates in the work activity to be able to earn the salary at the end of the month. How would participation and presence be measured and upheld in these times when remote working for white collared employees appears to be inevitable for a long period of time? There will need to be a shift from monitoring and enforcing presence to creating a dynamic of mutual respect and connection for the employee to not even think of slacking off. Design principles to gauge employee presence and consistent participation would have to be of a higher, more evolved nature.

2.       How managers drive employee performance and desired behaviours

Supervisors and managers have their own rhythms of allocating tasks and reviewing outcomes. They use acknowledgement and have their own checks and balances to ensure everyone delivers as per expectations. The new context of remote working does not provide managers/ supervisors with the cues to gauge how employees are applying themselves to their tasks. Performance can be gauged only through outputs/ meeting of pre decided milestones and no longer through assessment of how they are completing tasks. The manager may feel helpless about managing the team and anxious about meeting his own commitments to his manager. Managers needs to establish and work through news of leading and managing their teams. HR could play a key role in helping them re-examine their assumptions about people and their behaviour and embrace new expectations from the way their teams work.

3.       Consequence management when employees appear to/ not do what is expected of them/ take short cuts/ flout process/ norms/ code of conduct

Become “slower instead of going faster”. Sounds counterintuitive? Managers are likely to be stressed around ensuring their team members deliver in line with expectations. Virtual communication makes it so much harder for the manager to understand and pick up cues from the employee’s body language. There is a tendency to quickly form judgments and critique the employee instead of double checking to see if the conclusion made is correct or not or if the employee needs more support and guidance or not. Managers need to be slower to judge and faster to offer support and provide the benefit of the doubt to their team members.

HR needs to understand and sensitize managers about what their team members are experiencing. For instance, the simple act of walking across to a peer for a quick consult for help has almost vanished (except on chats on internal messaging systems). Even talking to one’s colleagues and drawing energy and strength from those interactions has diminished since most employees are continuously on some call or the other throughout the day. The employee sitting at home (while also juggling household work in parallel) must work through tasks almost all by himself/ herself. Every individual feels isolated over and above feeling constrained with the novel experience of a lockdown. With all this going on, feedback from one’s manager can appear to be harsher than intended.

There is an unlearning required around how managers give feedback when performance is not forthcoming from their team members. New capabilities and sensitivities need to be learnt. HR can play a significant role in leading this.

4.       A more involved and supportive culture with highly evolved levels of communication and feedback

Social distancing and remote working have practically diluted the phenomena of emotional contagion. Soldiers at war seek energy from each other by bonding in ‘trenches/ posts’ in between skirmishes. We may be in a sort of quasi war too, stationed at solitary posts with no one around us to talk to and share our fears.  Building a stronger culture of respecting each other and encouraging initiative and dialogue will be required to sustain efforts around innovation as well as recoup from failures and setbacks.

As people get back to the workplace more actively in next few months, HR may have to deal with two very different emotions of its employee population in the near future. One study reveals that for the next few years people who have kept their jobs will be happier, more content and grateful, no doubt triggered by the relief of having survived the challenges in the workplace. Happy and content employees would mean they would be stable, loyal and committed to organizational goals. This will no doubt be a strong factor for HR to leverage.

On the other hand, there is also the likelihood of hidden fears, anxieties and concerns resurfacing from time to time as people try and get back in familiar rhythms of operating. A section of the population may display PTSD symptoms that HR needs to be mindful of and work with.  (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) continues to haunt war veterans in ways we cannot possibly imagine long after they return from the battlefield. The symptoms are not always seen clearly or understood by people around them.

In conclusion, why its HR’s finest hour

There is a wonderful scene in the movie Apollo 13 based on the real-life mission to the moon that did not work out as envisaged (The book is called The Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13). There is an exchange between the NASA Director and the Flight director during a particular tense scene when the teams are racing against time to save the lives of the crew who are in a damaged space craft in space and facing adversity and the likelihood of failure at every step. The NASA Director says to a colleague “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced!”. Gene Kranz, the Flight Director hears this and turns to the NASA Director. Krantz says “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.” Krantz conviction and calm assurance silences the rest of the people as they turn back to figuring out next steps and successfully get the crew safely back to earth braving very steep odds.

These unprecedented times could turn out to be HR’s finest hour as it visualizes the irrevocably altered, new ways of working and holds hands with stakeholders to ease into the new ways of being and doing.  HR will need to over the following aspects: Going back to fundamental beliefs and principles while revisiting all assumptions; encouraging managers to go ‘slower instead of faster’ to allow for recalibrating employee connect and build new capabilities and mindsets so that we can “be comfortable with being uncomfortable”

SALIL CHINCHORE, Head-HR Godrej Agrovet

Today, Employers have the opportunity not to waste such a great crisis. Decisions made during / after the crisis reflect the character of the organisation.

Here are some thoughts on leveraging this crisis:

Salil Chinchore
  • Use the crisis to improve trust levels, bring the company closer to the customers, trade partners, employees & unions through – regular connect, inclusive decision making, ‘WE’ approach to tackling the post COVID business challenges. At Godrej Agrovet, we assured no salary cuts and job cuts for our employees in April itself. We announced special allowance for employees working during the lockdown as gratitude. We communicated to them and their families the measures undertaken towards employee safety. We secured COVID insurance for all our indirect employees who are beyond ESIC limit. 60/ 61 of our factories are working during the lockdown with healthy attendance.
  • This is one of its kind crisis. Companies will have to come up with innovative solutions, alter their business models to solve the post COVID challenges. Another opportunity here is to leverage the employee experience and expertise in co-creating these solutions with employees. For example, for productivity improvement, they can seek advice and participation of the unions and workmen – instead of doing all the thinking themselves.
  • Most of the companies have Trust, Empathy, Ethics are values written on the notice board. There is no better time than this to go back to your organisation values and demonstrate them through the organisation decisions. Value based decisions will always stand the test of time.
  • People decisions have long lasting impact on the organisation. One can defer the compensation revisions and promotions or even reduce salary levels for manage the financial performance for few quarters. But it would significantly impact the employee morale, productivity as well as increase the attrition risk. Employees never forget how they got treated during the times of crisis. So, think long term and then take actions, rather than for short term benefits.

For example, At Godrej, we believe that People & Planet come before the Profits. With this in mind, in Godrej Agrovet, we launched a unique recognition program called – Corona Warriors to recognise the exemplary behaviour of the employees. For the blue collar and non-supervisory cadre, we are doing increments and promotions this quarter. And in the second quarter of the year for the rest of the business. We will honour all collective bargaining agreements fully.

Dr Joseph George A: Author of “Being People”, Leadership & OD Facilitator, Coach and Human Assessment Specialist

Perhaps, not every adversity contains an opportunity. What if the dinosaurs fell extinct to meteors? What options did the helpless creatures have? Maybe shamans who connect with the spirit worlds have a clue to transcend such existential limitations.

If you were to ask of opportunities HR as a profession has to redeem itself, there are a few, provided they overcome or at least compensate some structurally determined distances.

1) What in the virtual connect can they recognize more clearly of their role, than they did in face to face mode?

2) What in HR processes and procedures can they reframe and/or reposition to endear people to their organizations?

3) What in their interpersonal relationships with stakeholders and employees can they turn on with compassion, so that stakeholders and employees extend the positive contagion with clients and communities that need a semblance of sanity and hope in pandemic distress?

Dr Joseph George A

To accomplish these opportunities, however, HR may need to come into its own, not merely by unyoking itself from the ‘business’ HR identity; but by positioning ‘people’ as a generative capacity that can renew themselves and their firms. This has been briefly alluded to by Nohria et al in terms of Theory O and Theory E, albeit couching the Organization man in Economic terms. So, instead of mindless conformity to chartered professional bodies, that limit the scope and expectations of a profession via quasi-legal frameworks; HR can self-govern through considerate conduct and authentic reach into inter-disciplinary diversity.

The COVID crisis emerges into the institutional and interinstitutional spaces. To generate ecologically sound responses that involve requisite innovation is the choice we are living into. HR needs to hold the space for the variety of professions and stakeholders to engage for inter-institutional effectiveness and trans-national impact. E.g. the scope of cooperation and collaboration could rise higher than the geographical reach of the virus. Could they combine the focus on Health and the competing Focus on the Economy, for mutually inclusive possibilities?

In natural consequence, for example, health diagnostics innovations in the Bay Area are already finding regulatory approval in Pune (GenePath Diagnostics Inc, Los Altos CA and Phadke Hospital, off JM Road, in Pune). In natural arcs, either reciprocally or in serial progression, vaccine and protective equipment relief may be economic sector opportunities, that impacts health too. Understanding how people involved in such sectors are enabled to perform, and tracing the scope of their visions, will provide insights to HR to lead into complementary, or adjacent sectors that require augmented attention in terms of Health and the Economy – for example, travel, food, tourism, and manufacturing technologies that eschew harmful impact on the planetary environment.

The shift then may have implications on traditional measures of contribution and performance to re-imagine ways to track well-being, community health, individual and team orientations, feedforward and inter-disciplinary complexity.  If HR misses this opportunity, line leaders would seize it given the natural orientations this crisis has precipitated, making the formal requirement of a distinct profession a ‘nice to have’ option, with former components of salary and benefits administration, performance management, et al an outsourced SaaS based utility available on demand.  Having said so, what HR needs to watch out for is not to do the bidding for business in ways that make the profession an instrument of control for less enlightened and less self-initiated Boards or Top managements.

A crisis as this which regresses us as a species, is an avoidable scenario. Or will we in our collective blindness make the virus the equivalent of a meteor, and us the modern avatar of the dinosaur?

Prof Dr Seema Rawat : Chair – Industry & Alumni Relations, Faculty HR & Behavioural Sciences Area, School of Business Management, NMIMS, Mumbai.

Ensuring business continuity will be HR’s biggest opportunity- from restarting the business operations, to ensuring aligning of business targets with manpower availability, employee safety, alternate work practices (more on this n next point)- assuring the employee & supporting the organization.

Dr Seema Rawat

Work transformation will be an area of opportunity- most processes and the engagements at work were geared to face-to-face interactions. The return to a workplace environment which existed prior may not be a possibility nor is something many organizations would want at least in the near future. In this scenario the work processes, accountability of work for purposes of performance evaluation, development needs, career development all would be seen from a new lens.

From the employee experience perspective-employee commitment, involvement and socialization to the organization will need new approaches. Mentoring interventions would be redesigned. Employee wellbeing will take centre stage.

As job insecurity rises, developing long term vision will be a challenge for business. HR can step in with reskilling, redeployment, focused recruitment.

The spotlight would be on the Human in HR. The opportunity to drive technology not to have technology driven HR. What I mean is that till now the focus was tech deployment to reduce human interface. But now technology would be driven to provide more human interface.

Mr Vineet Kaul   HR Advisor and Mentor, Advisor, Group HR, Aditya Birla Group

I need not go into details or elaborate the adversity and the various Challenges that have come along with it. Let me look at some opportunities for HR. This crisis/situation has everyone echoing “People are at the core of the crisis”. Many articles mention that 2008/9 saw the CFO take the Initiative – now it is the time for CHRO’s to lead.

Vineet Kaul

1) The importance of Health has been brought out very well in this crisis, both for the employees as a group and at  the individual employee level too. HR has Employee health on its Agenda and we now have the opportunity to build on this plank and develop programs focusing on Health & Wellness as it is the need of both the Organisation and the Employee. Two colleagues shared with me that they have initiated employee assistance programs to provide  support  to employees in need.

2) Safety has come across as a key concern and Organisations have increased their attention on various aspects of Safety – Workplace  safety, providing Personal Protective Equipment, Employee Safety and  Educating all concerned. An opportunity to further build on existing levels of Safety in the organisation.

3) Coping with Change – The flexibility and tenacity displayed by Employees in working from Home/anywhere is a good example of their readiness to adapt and cope with change. Despite a lot of challenges – this has become the new ‘normal’ way of working.  Employees too have been thru’ a lot of personal hardship whilst WFA-how does HR address Employee issues so that the employee can be productive and motivated in the New normal too?

4) Adaptability amongst the Employees is at its best.  How can HR build on this foundation? The time is ripe to roll initiatives which are needed in the organisation. You do not need to “hard sell” them now, whether they be related to Organisation Structure/ Turf related problems etc. Rest assured the employee group will take it in the stride. Of course, I do not propose taking undue advantage and going overboard!!

5) Communication is the key -The situation threw open various avenues of Communication as also required more frequency of dialogue and communication all across. Employees have perhaps more interest and need of Communication than ever before. They now expect a better level and periodicity/frequency of communication. How would HR capitalise on this fertile ground of Communication that has been well practiced in this crisis. Build on more and effective means of 2 way Communication. It will see you thru and pay even greater dividends now than before.

6) A splendid opportunity to relook at existing HR practices and policies which have lived their utility or need change to address the existing requirements. Organisations would bank on such an opportune time for review/change of Policies to equip themselves  handle the changed scenario. HR should look at this time as a Pit stop and contribute with the appropriate policies and practices to enable the Organisation gear up well for the future.

7) The Visuals of the Helpless Migrants workers suffering during this period evoked the Sympathy of all sections in the Country. This adversity presents the opportunity to look at the Organisation practices of engaging contract/ Casual/ Badli labour and their terms and conditions of Employment. An appropriate time to build on Equity and Fairness to address the subject. Can we look at regular jobs for many of these people who have been working on a regular basis?  HR will do a service to the Society at large for efforts in this area.

8) The Adversity has helped many Organisations and Managers Collaborate and work as Team very well. The months of virtual working has brought about excellent Teamwork and collaborative opportunities, in a way it has achieved much more than many Team building workshops and Off-sites. Look at projects and deliverables that will institutionalize this way of working in the organisation.

9) This situation has provided opportunities individuals to fend for themselves very well. Now more than ever before, people are taking much more initiative and charge. We see a lot of people learning new skills and building on their knowledge in new areas. This is music to the ears of a HR Manager eg in Learning or career development – we can bank on this excellent opportunity. The time is ripe to focus on Employees taking ownership and initiatives in building skills, becoming versatile and on their career development etc. HR should build on the interest level on learning and reskilling which is now well understood than ever before. Let us move forward on the Development journey.

10) The adversity has also pushed many organisations into difficult business scenarios and various steps have been initiated across the spectrum. Actions include cutting salaries/jobs have been also an outcome which we cannot just ignore. This hits hard on the employee and their families. I am not suggesting that HR alone can put a stop to this action. But, HR can try a) To build good rationale for a review of these actions b) Put forth options/alternatives, c) In spite of efforts, if the inevitable steps are to be taken – how can it be better processed/ handled? d) My learning from past experience is that how we handle separations – makes a difference not only to the departing employee BUT also a lot to the employees to remain in the Organisation.

To conclude, I always believe necessity is the mother of Invention. The above are a just a few thoughts that came to my mind. These need not apply everywhere and would depend on many considerations including organisation requirements. I humbly acknowledge that there are many excellent practices being implemented by many HR professionals to steer their Organisation thru the current scenario. Wishing my HR colleagues continued success.

Sumit Neogi Former VP-HR, Reliance Industries Ltd.

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going – The HR teams have a task cut out under present circumstances. As one lives through, the pandemic is going to present several opportunities to

Sumit Neogi

The situation arising out of Covid19 Pandemic has created tough situations for humans in both personal and professional life. Organizations are fighting the battle at varied levels. Some businesses are struggling for survival whereas some are thriving & expanding in the current context.

The Covid-19 pandemic has become the accelerator for arguably the biggest workplace transformations exercise. How an organization and their people will operate has undergone significant change within a span of last 2-3 months.

This will see tectonic shifts in the focus of HR teams. In my view, some of the opportunities for HR would be in the following areas:

Leadership: The CoVid19 Pandemic will give an opportunity to many businesses to reinvent themselves. The leaders must believe that “Crisis does not build character, it reveals it.”  The role of HR would be to bring in sanity & focus in the leadership. These times will put leadership under significant business pressure. The battle is against an unknown and unpredictable enemy with no solution in sight. The organization that would be able to keep its flock together will come out as a winner. Leaders must regroup and collaborate.

In the world of news from amusing sources, one of the key roles for HR to keep bringing in facts to educate the leadership. The source of information regarding pandemic needs to be authentic.

The leadership would be required to put up a clear and defined plan for the business. Employee safety will continue to remain paramount. The leaders would be required to be authentic and manage themselves. The HR Leader can significantly contribute towards facilitating this cause. It is also important to build a network of leadership to learn from practices across various organizations.

Two-way Communication: These are the times to over invest in communication. Employees are expected to be nervous and so as the top leadership. HR can play the important role of being the linchpin between the employee and the top leadership. They would be required to conduct open houses/ town-halls, group meetings, focused surveys and need to ensure action basis feedback and follow-ups. Many organizations have set-up special CoVid19 helplines / helpdesks /mailboxes that receive inputs /communication from employees. Organizations that focus on two-way communication will build trust in these tough times. This will anchor recovery when the economy opens. 

Talent for Future: There is mayhem in the job market. As the economic impact of CoVid19 pandemic is getting clearer, organizations are putting a hiring freeze and implementing pay and job cuts. Organizations are widely expected to give preference to contractual and temporary workers on a shorter run. Let us not be surprised if the Gig economy shows growth in a nearer term. Even during this uncertainty and turmoil, however, HR teams would do well to keep the talent pipeline full and maintain contact with prospective rehires and new hires. This is the time to align the talent agenda with evolving business strategy. One would witness significant adoption of technology in HR Processes across the sector.

Employee Wellness and Mental Well Being: There are no second thoughts that this pandemic has impacted mental peace of every employee. They are worried about health of their family members and loved ones. They are worried about constant source of income and sustaining the future. The constant worry is leading to significant impact on mental health of the individual. HR must use this time to roll out employee wellness program which are focused on providing counselling services to the employees and their family members. Focus should also be on providing appropriate medical support in case the employee or a family member gets infected by CoVid19. The future should focus on building overall wellness quotient of the organization which would include physical health as well.

Employee Engagement in a remote world: The most talked about transformation is indeed revelation that almost entire workforce can work from home until and unless they are required on the shop floor. Zoom and MS Teams have become the CoVid19 era buzzwords. Even leaders who used to assign significant value to in-person conversation have latched on to the online modes of communication to take critical decisions. It is expected that nearly 50% of workforce would never return to offices. This would entail tremendous focus on providing support to the employees to set-up home offices. Areas that HR must focus would be about enabling the work, work-life, connectedness of the said employees. Two more factors that would be fiercely debated are – a) Should organizations pay more to encourage work from home as they are going to save from infrastructure cost and b) Should work from home be treated as extension of workplace under statutes /labour laws?

Cost Consciousness: Cash is King – many business leaders will thunder. HR must respond to the same. In my view, reducing compensation and benefits must always be the last refuge. Organizations will do well to remember that the same set of employees have brought annual profits over the many years they have served them. These are the times to get into focused interventions that includes organization restructuring, OD interventions that will use technology for process debottleneck. Use of technology brings in scale and consistency. The travel and entertainment cost will go down however the operating cost will remain significantly high in shorter term. The focus will also be on skilling / reskilling the employees. A surge is expected in skills-based hiring as more companies outsource routine tasks to machines and humans focus on uniquely human skills of creativity and critical thinking.  

I invite all readers to share their thoughts, as well as respond to the HR leaders’ thoughts in the ‘comments’ section.

Vivek S Patwardhan (I have only compiled!)​ 

Feature Photo: Represents “Doors of Opportunities” (Courtesy Christian Stahl on Unsplash)

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