Catalyst | Dexterity
The time of the
chief HR officer
With much of the COVID disruption profoundly ‘human’,
HR is in the hotseat, writes Jo-Ann Feely, global managing
director, innovation, at Alexander Mann Solutions.
In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, we ushered in the ‘era of
the chief financial officer (CFO)’. Now, as organisations work furiously to
adapt to the new market and employment dynamic imposed by COVID-19,
and to address the needs of their people, we could be seeing the ‘time of
the chief HR officer (CHRO)’.
After all, the pandemic has fast-tracked the future. Changes to working
conditions that would ordinarily have taken years to put in place have,
in fact, taken weeks or months, with the virus forcing us to work and live
differently. How and where we work has been brought into sharp focus.
A new employment dynamic
Both the marketplace and customer demands are changing rapidly, and it
has never been more critical to align our business and people strategies,
while recognising that constant flux will be the ongoing pattern. This
reality must be overlaid with the fact that some parts of organisations
will be slowing down due to market conditions, while others accelerate.
All this means that adaptability and dexterity have never been more
critical to success.
CEOs will be hugely
reliant on their
CHROs to help
navigate the current
environment and to
lead the way in
changes in how
To survive and thrive, businesses have had to re-invent themselves,
reprioritising their business goals to meet customer demands, while
adapting employment models that support both.
Meanwhile, employees have been juggling their personal and professional
lives – mostly from home – amid disruptions in education and childcare.
Of those organisations reopening physical workplaces, 77% plan to stagger
employee hours onsite in the face of likely ongoing school and nursery
closures, according to Gartner’s recent survey of HR leaders.
Changing workforce needs
Many of the issues facing businesses as we emerge from the pandemic are
profoundly ‘human’. A recent study by Forbes and SAP SuccessFactors
revealed that the top three topics on CHROs’ minds are:
• communication – understanding what employees are experiencing
and taking action accordingly
• upskilling/reskilling – to redirect and channel existing capability
to where it’s needed while training others in new skills
• business continuity – balancing flexible and remote working
while managing employee/customer welfare and safety.
CEOs will be hugely reliant on their CHROs to help navigate the current
environment and to lead the way in making significant changes in how
organisations work, including the employment models they adopt. The
pandemic has already forced organisations to digitise more and to get
work done in a completely different way; this is likely to drive a change
in culture for many businesses.
Talent strategies that underpin the new organisation must include:
• understanding skills and capability; identifying gaps and
• strategic internal mobility that includes upskilling/reskilling –
a ‘grow your own’ approach that includes external and internal
talent to plug skills gaps
• using contingent and gig workers
• a culture of ongoing learning and development
• an inclusive and compelling employer brand
• social capital: remote working has negatively impacted
organisations’ abilities to create engagement and community,
so this must be addressed.
An opportunity for HR
In the previous edition of Catalyst, Josh Bersin described HR and talent
leaders as the new “heroes of the C-suite” as they simultaneously navigate
public health challenges, psychological safety issues and unprecedented
There is certainly a seat at the table now for CHROs; an opportunity to
lead the reinvention of the organisation, and in doing so, elevate the role
of HR significantly.
Jo-Ann is a member of Alexander Mann Solutions’ Executive
Committee and the Global Managing Director for Innovation, a
newly created function that focuses on evolving and developing
Alexander Mann Solutions’ service portfolio while realising the
benefits of technology in an ever-changing marketplace.