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“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory is ever more apt in our COVID-19 world, writes Grace Lavery, Manager, Management Consulting.

Just six months ago, no one could have predicted the degree of change across the globe and that many of the challenges facing the world prior to the COVID-19 pandemic would be amplified.  If there’s one thing that’s certain in a year filled with unprecedented uncertainty, it is the constant need to adapt. Even under the best of circumstances, enterprise organisations often find themselves in a constant state of flux to remain relevant and competitive. 

COVID-19 a change agent, driving new realities

We are seeing organisations needing to reimagine how they can manage change especially as the question remains as to how can you engage with a workforce that is physically disengaged? How do you understand the emotions, feelings and attitudes of teams when they are not face to face with you?

With organisations facing these challenges, this is where the hand of change comes into effect. The hand of HR that is. The role of HR needs to change from a support, administration function to becoming a value driven strategic adviser. Leaders and executives need to be equipped with the know-how to deliver well-timed communication to support changing workplace culture. It is the HR leaders who are the catalyst of change to empower the organisation to successfully adapt to the new reality driven by COVID-19.

Dramatic workforce changes

Our Global KPMG 2020 HR Pulse Survey reveals that the workforce will change ’shape’ dramatically over the next two years. To deal with these changes, more than two-thirds of HR executives (69 percent) believe the HR function needs to completely transform itself to respond effectively. This pivot requires new mindsets, skills and priorities.

There’s no doubt that the priorities of the HR function have shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The new questions now being asked are:

  • How do we measure productivity?
  • How do we maintain collaboration for innovation?
  • How do we nurture culture and embrace common values and goals?
  • How do we deliver a consumer-grade, individualised employee experience?

Not surprisingly, employee productivity and well-being go hand-in-hand. That is why HR leaders agree that “taking steps to safeguard the experience and well-being of employees” is among the key priorities for the HR function. These results are echoed in the KPMG 2020 CEO Outlook COVID-19 Special Edition.

The pace of change

We have seen how quickly change can happen and we need to embark on this change journey into the new reality.  HR focus needs to shift from firefighting and reacting during this time, to shaping their own future and adapting the organisation to new reality.  HR will be called upon to innovate with the rest of the C-suite to re-evaluate what productivity means in the new reality, and to redefine what an outstanding employee experience looks like.

According to KPMG 2020 HR Pulse Survey, the top-ranked initiatives are:

  1. taking steps to safeguard the experience and well-being of employees (47 percent);
  2. helping leaders develop new management and leadership skills to support remote working (38 percent); and
  3. redefining or further enhancing the culture to emphasize digital mindset, virtual working, and agility (34 percent).

HR Driving Change

  1. Safeguard experience and well-being of employee
    HR have a duty to stay true to the organisation’s values and purpose during this time. The needs of today’s teams need to be prioritised and plans must be tailored to quickly respond to these. An example of this would be ensuring employees are supported for success while working from home. As with any well-thought-out change and engagement plan, carefully listening to an employee’s exact needs is fundamental.
  2. Leaders develop new management and leadership skills
    HR professionals play a critical role in equipping leaders with timely management and leadership skills to empower them to lead confidently through change. The focus here is on transparency and honesty. When leaders maintain transparency, it builds a sense of trust amongst their teams. Trust in the organisations’ leaders motivates an employee to tackle the challenges and obstacles which are continuing to test us during this time.
  3. Enhancing the culture to emphasise digital mindset, virtual working, and agility
    HR functions have an extraordinary opportunity to overcome the adversity brought about by COVID-19, to leverage more digital ways of working and foster a more collaborative and flexible culture with remote working. As part of implementing a shift to a more digital mindset, HR professionals need to consider what HR technology platforms are available to support employees’ remote access to learning and development, self-serve, performance management etc. 

What does success look like?

Bring successful change within HR and the organisation needs proper and prompt planning. A solid change plan should include clear steps to implement the changes required with reasonable timelines tailored to the individual organisation’s overall business strategy. HR functions will not transform overnight however, change is crucial in order to keep up and attract the best talent. HR needs to strive to communicate their transformed purpose simply, clearly and allow the organisation to respond according.

Our experience in KPMG People & Change shows us that people’s first reactions to change are not always positive. However, HR functions should not let this distract from realising the overall vision and change for the organisation. Often individuals simply need to challenge and ask questions in order to understand change in depth. While this is frequently perceived as negative, without carefully communicating the need for change and its associated benefits, successful change adoption is unlikely. Encouragingly, the pandemic has presented an uncertain future, it has quickly become the “new normal” and those who adapt quickest, thrive. 

About the survey

The HR Pulse 2020 survey covers 1,288 HR executives in 59 countries and territories (with majority representing from the largest economies in the world) and 31 key industry sectors (such as asset management, automotive, banking, consumer and retail, energy, infrastructure, insurance, life sciences, manufacturing, technology, and telecommunications).

The survey was conducted in from July 21 to August 7. Note: some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

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