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Driving agility in HR to plan for an uncertain future

Business agility is no recent phenomenon but the current pandemic has placed an unprecedented amount of pressure on organisations to step-up their operations.

Technological advancements and changes in employee’s expectations are constantly driving HR leaders to find new ways of doing things better and faster. But the pandemic, and the recession that has followed it, has placed greater pressure on them to step-up their operations. HR teams are having to make sensitive decisions, from whether or not to make staff redundant to re-opening offices in the middle of a pandemic. They have to do this against a constantly changing backdrop, as a matter of weeks, days or even hours, the situation changes as lockdown and quarantine rules develop. In the meantime, they also have to keep staff engaged and productive.

In this time of uncertainty, having the agility to make these decisions at the right time has become critical to managing a workforce. But, the question in many HR leaders’ minds is: how do I plan in an agile way to respond to any event, from the predictable to the unlikely? The answer lies in taking an active approach to planning.

Why static planning is a practice of the past
What I found when speaking to HR teams is that many have struggled this year because they didn’t have the planning processes in place to make decisions at the speed the pandemic was developing. In fact, research by Fiverr revealed that 30 percent of business leaders blame their own lack of preparation for failing to adapt and recover from the effects of COVID-19. The problem is that many organisations still rely on static planning, characterised by long cycles, outdated methods and goals that quickly become obsolete.

While this method could work if we were able to see what was coming in the months ahead, it won’t work in a year marked by swift market shifts. Being able to adapt quickly regardless of events outside of your control is now a critical requirement. The companies showing signs of recovery are those that have pivoted in a matter of weeks or days. A good example are those who re-engaged their entire workforce in a new business model to accommodate unprecedented needs for PPE equipment or NHS gowns, for example.

It’s safe to conclude that these companies weren’t weighed down by manual, episodic planning, or they wouldn’t be able to change their entire operation in a short amount of time. What they have in common is an active approach to planning, which is collaborative, comprehensive, and continuous. This mindset allows teams to look beyond the HR silo, pulling in real-time operational data from enterprise systems and across departments to make better, data-driven decisions quickly and respond to a constantly changing business landscape.

Three essential steps for active planning

Many companies are coming to realise agility is a business imperative, and planning with an active approach is crucial to achieving it. However, in order to establish agility in HR or any other department, there are three essential steps you should consider:

1. Assess the current scenario
Before deciding where you should be going, you need to understand where you are. Take inventory of the current state of your company, beyond just your department, and take time to understand the obstacles that are keeping you from implementing streamlined planning. These can be outdated processes that have remained unquestioned or IT investments in systems like HCM softwares that aren’t being used at their full potential. The best way to assess this is by asking questions. What do your current planning processes look like? What technology do you have in place? What are you lacking in workforce planning? This will help teams identify where there’s room for improvement.

2. Get organisational alignment
When decisions need to be made with agility, every part of the business must move together. For example, you won’t be able to change HR planning processes quickly if you’re still depending on a budget that is being calculated with a static approach. You therefore need to recruit other senior-level active planning advocates from different departments to champion agility as a necessary cause. Remember to include IT to make sure you have the right technology in place and that data is consolidated into a single environment.

If this is a hard sell in your organisation, keep in mind that the best approach is always to focus on the return of investment (ROI). Ask yourself how much time and money static legacy processes are costing your business. Once your pain points are recognised and quantified, you can map out a multi-phased plan to deploy agile planning. A plan that considers getting teams onboarded with new processes and technologies across the business. The ability to effectively communicate the why behind this initiative will help secure any executive buy-in you need.

3. Expand across the business
Once you start implementing active planning, don’t fall into the trap of relying on just technology. Having a collaborative planning system and regular stakeholder one-on-ones, identifying lessons learned along the way and uncovering opportunities to improve processes will be essential to move the organisation forward. The key is to make sure the impact of active planning is seen throughout the company. In fact, many businesses are finding collaboration is a natural response to recover from COVID-19. A study by AchieveNEXT found that HR leaders are moving toward a partnership model with other departments, with 80% of them expecting to work more closely with operations, finance, and sales. The key to deploying an active approach lies in this partnership, and strengthening communication across all departments will help it become the new norm.

Laying the foundation for agility
There is no doubt that agility has become a business imperative. As the department responsible for a businesses’ most important asset, its people, HR plays a key role in making sure this is seen throughout the company. Assessing the current state of your processes, communicating with other departments and engaging the workforce to drive collaboration will help you plan with the agility needed to respond to any event. Once active planning is in place, you’ll be able to spend less time trying to predict the unpredictable. Instead, it will allow you to focus your efforts in making the best decisions to keep staff engaged and productive as the company moves towards not only recovering but thriving beyond COVID-19.

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