How HR Leaders Can Adapt to Uncertain Times

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How HR Leaders Can Adapt to Uncertain Times

By Sue Bingham, Harvard Business Review

August 4, 2020

Grant Faint/Getty Images

Human Resource departments had a difficult job prior to the pandemic. In 2019, more than 50% of HR leaders struggled to ensure that employees had the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly digitized workplace. But, admittedly, this “future of work” had always seemed a safe distance ahead — far enough, at least, to thoughtfully prepare for.

My company, HPWP Group, has been leading discussions surrounding the future of work and how it impacts HR professionals for the past 15 years. We can tell you that Covid-19 has changed the playing field. Today, HR leaders are working around the clock, taking unprecedented measures to keep their employees safe and ensure that their organizations survive. They are navigating furloughs, layoffs, and reductions in force. They are adjusting to mass remote work. They are creating business continuity plans, drafting emergency communication procedures, and preventing the spread of germs in the office.

All of these issues are being addressed through a familiar process: defining the problem, addressing the variables that make it complicated, and agreeing on the best way forward. But when we consider that today’s greatest challenges are ones that many leaders have never faced before, it becomes clear that they are not just complicated (predictable) but complex (unknown). Traditional problem-solving, which is aimed at addressing the complicated as opposed to the complex, will not establish the most effective solutions.

As we’ve seen through our work, many HR teams aim to resolve issues by developing new policies and procedures. Unfortunately, once created, those same policies are rarely revisited, ultimately leading to additional problems — especially now, when the landscape is changing so fast. At the same time, a “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t allow for the kind of individual thinking and creativity that result in the most innovative solutions.

To be truly effective in this “new normal,” then, we believe HR leaders need to adjust and develop a new core capability: a complexity mindset. Read more