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The Ten Pandemic Responses with Highest Business Impact

The Josh Bersin Academy recently set out to establish the strongest ways to deliver COVID-era business resilience. The Academy’s Kathi Enderes tells us about what it discovered

The global pandemic’s impact on business as a whole has been huge. We launched a major survey to see how organizations have been responding and what outcomes they were seeing.

The research was conducted in August and comprised outreach to 1,349 HR leaders and professionals, across the globe and also across multiple industry segments. Out of 53, ten practices were found to have the highest business impact in areas such financial performance, customer satisfaction, workforce engagement and retention. Let’s consider these ten practices in detail.

1 Focus support on employee health and safety

The health and safety of employees is always important, but especially in the pandemic. High-performing organizations have the health and safety of their employees as a first priority in pandemic response. For example, Google, Facebook and Atlassian all pulled teams out of physical offices into remote work immediately. In industries such as healthcare, remote work is not possible for most employees, so such companies had to take intensive action to safeguard employees. For instance, healthcare providers supported nurse safety through thorough training, protective equipment, redesigned facilities for quarantining, and psychological counseling.

2 Listen to the workforce to define return-to-workplace plans

In parallel, return-to-workplace readiness is not just an organizational decision, but a highly personal one. Health concerns, child and dependent care considerations, commuting challenges, and mental wellbeing are just a few of the issues people encounter. High-performing organizations don’t just use health data to determine their return-to-workplace planning; they supplement it with customer and worker input. AB-inBev conducts weekly pulses to understand their employees’ personal readiness. Meanwhile, some firms have opened up dialogs in which people can offer up suggestions. Discussion forums such as Reliance’s MyVoice and WhatsApp groups at Deutsche Telekom open up channels for people to be heard.
3 Factor into planning employees’ personal lives
High-performing organizations are extending support beyond the workday to encompass childcare support, dependent care opportunities, or social interactions for families such as virtual movie nights or free subscriptions to Netflix. They help employees reduce stress, disconnect from work, take time off, and establish connections with co-workers based on hobbies or interests. An example here is Salesforce, which is granting parents an additional six weeks of paid time-off to help them with their new roles as teachers.

4 Reinforcing mission and purpose

High-performing organizations are three times more likely to reinforce mission and purpose. Now more than ever, people need to know why their work matters and how it helps create a better world. Healthcare organizations, always driven to save lives and improve health, typically performed well here. Deutsche Telekom’s mission statement, “I will not stop until everyone is connected,” takes on a new meaning in a world where technical connectivity can mean the difference between work and unemployment.

5 Communicate and educate to help your people deal with ambiguity

Dealing with ambiguity has perhaps become the most important power skill anyone can possess. Overall, we found high-performing enterprises are nearly five times more likely to communicate and educate to help people deal with constant uncertainty. For example, Norton Healthcare’s promise to keep each worker paid and to protect all jobs goes a long way to help people manage other insecurities.

6 Quickly adopt technology to develop new products and services

High-performing organizations are nearly four times more likely to quickly adopt technology to develop new products and services. Customers are looking for different products and services now, and technology has a pivotal role in fulfilling these needs. Retailer Sainsbury’s has developed a scan-and-go technology for contactless pickup of groceries, for instance. Tech and finance companies are increasingly collaborating – such as with BBVA’s partnership with Google or Goldman Sachs’ partnership with Apple – to bring digital financial solutions to customers. Restaurants have rapidly created online ordering mechanisms.

7 Rapidly, creatively, and strategically hire new, needed talent
We found the most successful corporations are six times more likely to rapidly and strategically hire needed talent. When the pandemic hit, many companies implemented hiring freezes as cost-containment measures. While understandable, such clampdowns often backfire. First, it doesn’t set the company up for future success; second, when people are already overwhelmed and stressed, adding more work to their plate is not a good idea. For example, Sainsbury’s added delivery drivers to “feed the nation.” Schneider Electric and Unilever are using talent marketplaces to facilitate an internal rebalancing of their talent. Danone had to learn how to redeploy people at speed; the company trained factory workers via Zoom instead of sending specialized engineers from overseas.

8 Leverage contingent and part-time workers

In times of workload uncertainty, rapidly changing skills needs, and evolving strategies, contingent workers are increasingly important to help companies quickly scale up and down. And overall, the research found high-performing organizations four times more likely to leverage contingent and part-time workers. Big tech companies like Facebook and Google doubled down on their use of contractors to satisfy the exponential demand. Job sharing is another good alternative to layoffs and furloughs. To ensure loyalty, one healthcare provider paid on-call nurses even when it couldn’t give them work.

9 Facilitate and support teams to experiment and learn quickly

The demand for learning has significantly increased during the pandemic to help people learn about safety, new protocols and changed procedures, and new technology tools. Overall, high-performing organizations are five times more likely to support teams to experiment and learn quickly. In addition to formal learning, the crisis has necessitated experiential learning – letting people safely experiment and learn from mistakes. L’Oreal has been leveraging an existing transformation program that promotes new ways of working and managing in complex environments. Southwest Airlines is replacing over-complicated decision making with multidisciplinary teams making ‘good’ rather than ‘perfect’ calls and then iteratively improving.

10. Simplify and speed up performance management

Performance management is ripe for disruption, especially when manager time is needed for high-priority operational work. As a result, high-performing organizations are much more likely to simplify and speed up performance management. AB InBev and Atlassian have moved to a continuous performance management approach, for instance. IBM was well positioned with an agile performance process, Check In, that facilitates employee input and lets people adjust priorities in real time. We’re also seeing evidence that organizations with top-down talent management approaches that treat employees as expendable resources have been far less successful.

COVID-era and beyond

In conclusion, whatever industry, geography or size, the most successful organizations coming out of the COVID crisis are the ones focusing on people. These firms balance the multiple drivers of financial survival, health and safety necessities and day-to-day business continuity with strategic and forward-looking people practices, employee empowerment, and a renewed sense of purpose.

People-focused practices are nothing new and have been highlighted as business critical before. The pandemic has reinforced how organizations that built on this understanding are the ones that are much more resilient to handle this current crisis, and beyond.

As an HR professional, you can lead on this change if you step up to the challenge with new skills and mindsets.

Learn more about Business Resilience: The Global COVID-19 Pandemic Response Study here

About the Author

Kathi is the vice president of research at the Josh Bersin Academy; she leads research for all areas of HR, learning, talent and HR technology. Kathi has more than 20 years of experience in management consulting with IBM, PwC, and EY and as a talent leader at McKesson and Kaiser Permanente. Most recently, Kathi led talent and workforce research at Deloitte, where she led many research studies on various topics of HR and talent and frequently spoke at industry conferences. Originally from Austria, Kathi has worked in Vienna, London and Spain and now lives in San Francisco. Kathi holds a doctoral degree and a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Vienna.

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