HR’s serenity prayer in the face of COVID-19: How to accept, guide and implement change
The serenity prayer: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference’ [Reinhold Niebuhr]* has probably been in many people’s minds over the last year. COVID-19 meant status quo was no longer an option. ‘Acceptance’ became a case of working alongside unasked-for change with ‘courage’ to make the best of things in a COVID-19 world.
As an HR professional, wanting to do what you can to look after your organisation’s human capital, finding and holding the line between what you can do to help your people and what’s out of your hands can be very difficult – especially when you want to go above and beyond to support your workforce. And it’s not just about having the courage to make changes, it’s also about having the right tools to work effectively, too.
A tsunami of change
Some of the changes HR has seen since COVID-19 – and will continue to be part of in the future – have been like a tsunami with little warning. A few HR professionals might have glimpsed the changes that the virus would bring when the first reports of it started to surface, but not many businesses would have been ready for the level of agility that the global pandemic has demanded.
Clinging to the old or accepting the new
Many business leaders have met the changes by doing everything they can to support their workers with new COVID-19-safe working practices, keeping people at home where possible. Other businesses have made headlines by clinging to old ways of working, needlessly insisting staff come into the office when it’s not been essential, and they’ve consequently faced the backlash of workers going public with these unsafe and unreasonable demands.
Failing to accept the changes that COVID-19 has forced on the working world and burying heads in the sand is a good way to not only disengage staff but to also put people’s health at risk, too.
HR guiding change
HR has a role to play in helping business leaders come to terms with any changes that are needed to operate in a COVID-19-safe way. Staying up to date with the latest government and health guidance, keeping an eye out for exemplary COVID-19 processes being modelled by others in relatable industries, and listening to what your workforce is telling you is how an HR professional can determine what changes need to be embraced, and what you can do to mould those changes into an advantage for your business.
Channelling good intentions
Distinguishing the avoidable from the unavoidable changes coming at a business from external pressures may well end up being easier to manage than the internal requests that will invariably knock at HR’s door. If your business is blessed with a lot of ingenuity and entrepreneurialism, HR will need to find ways to constructively channel ideas for how the business can adapt to meet the current circumstances, to avoid being flooded with change requests.
As with so many of the challenges that the pandemic has created, technology can be HR’s solution for organising and managing change.
Using a shared workspace to organise ideas
If you’re currently receiving a lot of ideas from your business, you could ask your workforce to post them on a shared workspace to avoid email threads that might be easily lost. This would then allow staff members to discuss the ideas together, too, so anything HR does decide to take forward would have greater employee buy-in.
If it’s your management team who are suggesting and wanting to discuss changes, HR could set up a workspace just for the business’ leaders. This creates a safe place for management to brainstorm ideas before introducing them to the wider workforce. Having the ideas visible in one workspace also highlights to your leaders what’s already been tabled, avoiding repetition and inundating HR with lots of similar requests.
Once a change has been agreed on, whether it was initiated by HR, business leaders or the wider workforce, good HR technology can record, facilitate and communicate that change to your staff. Going back to the workspace where a change was first suggested and announcing that it’s been implemented will encourage employees to keep engaging with the business and thinking of new ways to overcome COVID-19’s challenges.
Evidencing the results of change
After fielding, choosing and then implementing changes to help your business move forward, it’s important for HR to keep track of how the changes are working, and to then report back to the business on what’s been successful and what’s been a learning curve.
If your workforce has requested more flexibility with the assurance that productivity would stay high, using HR technology will help measure if this is the case. If a less formal approach to performance management has been trialled, concerns can be allayed by showing that goals and check-in conversations are being documented and completed.
It’s no secret that change, whether chosen or imposed, can be hard. Knowing what changes to action, what can’t be avoided, and what’s better left well alone can be tricky. HR can use their understanding of their own business – including employee feedback and results derived from their HR system – as well as external insights/advice from other players in the industry, the government and public services to drive the right changes to help their business survive COVID-19.