The sudden wake-up call of the pandemic created a massive challenge for organizations around the world, with many of them rising to the occasion through fast and practical action. It revealed just how critical it is for companies to be able to deal well with instability. The irony is that in order to create stability, we need to constantly adapt our approaches to people management and the way in which we do business, with HR strategy playing an instrumental role.
Building and Encouraging the Capacity for Change
Company culture should guide organizations during chaotic times, offering the ability to handle frequent shocks, challenges, and disruptions. That’s why many organizations have a mission statement that formally set the company’s main values in ‘stone,’ so to speak. But a mission statement written decades ago cannot create a real company culture today. With rapidly changing technology, work methodologies, and new generations of employees, company cultures can and should be fluid and aligned with the personal values and needs of the current employees and the workplace for that specific period of time. Company culture should be flexible enough to evolve in response to changing demands and opportunities.
Considering HR’s impact on organizational performance, they’re the natural team to address the need to create more stability in the workplace. The caveat here is that it’s crucial to keep leadership in the loop and leverage their company goals, missions, and the like to ensure the company culture is in line with, well, the company. The mission statement is only a set of guidelines and goals the company wishes its employees to follow and believe will bring them success. In reality, stability is built from the ground up, slowly and surely. If needed, go back to square one. What is the company’s bare-bones purpose? Which aspects of the company’s culture allow it to handle strategic goals? Are these goals sustainable, and understood by the organization? The ways in which the organization benefits its employees and society, in general, should also be defined as a way to focus its sense of purpose.
This step is much more than a formality. According to McKinsey, organizations with the most ‘healthy’ cultures provide a return to shareholders that is 60% higher than those with a ‘median’ culture.
Cultural Consistency Enabled by HR and Other Leaders
Once an organization’s culture is defined, it should be extended to all roles. Step one in this process is for HR to share with the whole organization of the cultural norms and goals that have been defined, and explain the attitudes and behaviors which support them. One way to accomplish this is by spreading the word about specific actions taken by employees that typify the kind of behavior expected. Company culture is meant to permeate all levels of the organization. Communicating the necessary changes – and examples of what that looks like – is essential for company-wide adoption.
Step two is to personalize the culture. Identifying workplace role models is a fantastic way to celebrate those employees who best embody the culture while giving other employees something to aspire to. When employees see how company ideals are personified by leaders, particularly executives, they gain a greater understanding of organizational goals. When company culture has been defined and implemented properly, a role model personifies the benefits to the company and other employees, live and in-person.
Lastly, the HR department should examine the types of skills and personas that enable cultural goals and use these to guide recruitment, L&D programs, and succession planning. New employees and internal hires should personify the demeanor and skills that are related to cultural standards. HR can also base considerations about promotion and compensation on adherence to cultural policies.
Closing Cultural Skill Gaps through Digitization
Wherever skills specific to the company culture – for example, are lacking, HR’s next job is to implement reskilling and upskilling programs. This is necessary for most organizations, as very few people are adept in a wide number of skills – and the needed skills are forever changing and growing. HR departments might be reluctant to invest in L&D programs that address a large number of people, but strategy-based skills training pays off over time.
Digitization can greatly aid the quest to universalize skills that support organizational culture. The use of in-person, one-size-fits-all L&D programs still exists but is not efficient. Through technology innovations like employee development platforms, Zoom meetings, and training apps, companies can implement customized programs that impart maximum knowledge in minimum time.
Flattening the Hierarchy and Encouraging Risk-Taking
By focusing on skills that match the mission, HR can also lead another initiative that pays significant dividends. Once skills and roles are based on the value they bring to a company, instead of on their place in the hierarchy, a company can be reorganized according to this principle. Layers of middle management can be replaced by an agile system where resources are allocated to small, mission-oriented teams.
There are many advantages to such a structure, and one of them is the willingness to take risks. With fewer organizational layers, decisions can be made more rapidly and initiatives can be taken more often. A company that encourages risk, to a degree, can experience significant benefits in terms of growth, process optimization, and competitiveness.
Succession Planning, Change Management, and Stability
At the root of efforts to increase stability is change management. As we’ve seen, constant adaptation is the key to a sound organization. The increased need for change management is creating a “double whammy” effect in terms of skills:
- Many types of organizational changes, including a new or changed company culture, will require certain employees to learn new skills. This can range from familiarizing a company with the newest productivity app to overhauling the complete executive team to building leadership capabilities.
- Change management is itself a skill and is based on skill elements such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and organization. For a company to adapt and remain stable in challenging times, it must develop a core capability to handle change, which means developing related skills among its leaders.
A critical and related issue is succession planning. Succession planning prevents disruptions to operations by replacing vital roles on time with another employee who will need the equivalent skills of the successee. With the increased importance of change management, succession planning should ensure that the chosen employee with the right skills is promoted when the time comes. Succession planning also reduces employee turnover by increasing internal mobility and, in doing so helps create a more stable environment.
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