How has the role of HR leadership changed in today’s climate?

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As part of a series of workshops ECI is running for HR Leaders within its portfolio, leadership consultancy firm, YSC, were recently invited to host a session on how HR leadership was changing considering the pressures and tensions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the session, we invited YSC to discuss the shared experiences they had discovered within the ECI portfolio and ways they thought HR leaders could build individual and collective resilience during this period of change. 

How has the role of HR leadership changed in today’s climate? 

YSC views resilience as the ability to grow, adapt, and perform through times of change. It is multi-faceted – so much more than bouncing back and recovering from setbacks. Based on over three decades of research with global leaders, YSC’s model considers five critical facets to developing resilience: 

1. SUPPORT: the ability to build positive relationships which create systems of support during stressful events
2. CONFIDENCE: the capacity to build belief in abilities to achieve goals
3. STRIVING: the ability to persevere by seeing multiple routes to a goal in the face of challenges
4. RECOVERING: the ability to re-energize toward your goal 
5. ADAPTING: the capacity to incorporate learning to evolve with the changing context

As individuals, we all have more or less of each of these facets at any one time, but all can be increased. The approach can be applied not only to managing personal resilience but developing resilience as leaders, and within our teams. So, what are some of the changes we are seeing?

Firstly, HR leaders within the ECI portfolio agreed that they had seen a significant increase in role scope for HR. Remote working meant adapting processes overnight, but also required a rethink on benefits, performance management and professional development in the longer term. Larger contingent workforces also brings challenges in terms of upskilling, building capability, compensation, and agile resource planning. 

This increase in role scope comes at a time when many businesses are under pressure. Roles, supply chains, and workflows were already heavily streamlined; the pandemic has exposed the fragility of this by bringing new challenges, budget constraints and higher incidents of employee absence. 

Despite all this, positive trends are also emerging. People have rallied together and, in many cases, HR leaders across the ECI portfolio have felt empowered to make quick business-critical decisions. It has resulted in some organisations fundamentally reviewing the way they manage talent – re-defining critical roles and looking further afield to fill talent gaps as the war for talent intensifies. 

Given that the pandemic is proving to be a marathon rather than a sprint, the question becomes how do we best move forward and embrace the changes, while protecting ourselves and our people from burnout?

A good starting point is to assess existing resilience resources. What healthy habits are already in place? In the past year HR professionals adapted their people strategies at pace, the next step is to identify the gaps in your organisation’s resilience strategies and to cultivate healthy behaviours. 

Based on YSC Leadership resilience model here are some practical and easy actions you can implement:

1. SUPPORT: Re-creating corridor conversations virtually. These may be five-minute check-in calls or a message via digital platforms (e.g., Teams, Slack)

2. CONFIDENCE: Increase positive feedback and assurances. Use virtual interactions to recognize small milestones and individuals’ contributions to team objectives. 

3. STRIVING: Reminding teams of their organisation’s enduring purpose. In your team meetings and communications, take time to explicitly link individual tasks or progress to the team’s longer-term goals. 

4. RECOVERING: Help people to create new routines to break up the day and maintain energy levels. For example, encourage walking meetings on the phone instead of zoom, offer lunch-time Yoga sessions or virtual morning coffees. Flexible working hours will further support employees in creating routines that fit their home-work life. Revisit your benefits packages and add/replace offers that work in a virtual setting (e.g. online classes instead of gym voucher).

5. ADAPTING: Foster the agile crisis mindset by encouraging people to use the challenges to create new opportunities. Invite employees to share their ideas, host virtual brainstorm sessions and create space for people to try new things in a safe environment. 

HR leaders have a busy time ahead, their attention is going to be pulled in many directions. They can weather the unpredictable times ahead by building resilience in their people through small but meaningful measures.

For more information about YSC’s work in this area, please contact David Longmore (

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