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Authentic leadership begins with employee relations

Peter Byrne, CEO and founder - ESPHR

Turn the clock back five, ten or even twenty years and the ‘desirable’ skillset that would have formed a large part of an HR director’s role, would have been dramatically different to what is expected of them today. Of course, this industry is not on its own in how it must constantly innovate and embrace change in order to stay ahead of the curve.

For many HR managers and their teams, they are part of a profession that has – for decades – notoriously relied on ‘traditional’ methods to compile reports for the board, understand internal capacity and resources, manage budgets via manually-intensive spreadsheets, and tap into an outsourced, on-the-clock employment law firm to discuss complex employee relations (ER) matters with.

However, new-model organisations are coming to the fore to challenge the norm as they explore solutions to re-address how the HR industry can move away from such inefficient and expensive processes, and into a more modern-day and contemporary approach to thinking. And with that comes an innovative workforce that is collectively committed to driving forward meaningful change.

There is no question that there is still a long way to go, especially following an extremely difficult 18 months where HR professionals have not only had to continue tackling their overwhelming caseloads during vast economic uncertainty, but they have also had to get to grips with new guidance and fresh legislation such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or how to manage furlough.

Each change has shone an even brighter light on the importance of learning and development, and what it takes to remain relevant during the most challenging of circumstances. Employees have had to move with agility in order to embrace change, understand how to implement new ways of working, and continue to stay motivated and productive while based remotely – many of whom have often been miles away from their colleagues when they need support the most.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a seismic shift in how organisations and their HR teams operate in modern-day society. On the one hand, it has been incredibly difficult to manage, but on the other the global crisis has presented many opportunities for savvy HR professionals to adapt and evolve their skillsets, and lead from the front regardless of their job title.

It is clear to see that for many professionals, they want to be up to speed with the latest technology to streamline internal processes, have their voice heard and positively impact the company’s mission and its culture, and feel motivated to play a vital part in building a collaborative team that is able to move beyond the economic challenges with agility.

Foster leadership throughout the team and become a ‘workplace of the future’
The requirement for teams to develop their attributes show no signs of slowing down either, with recent pwc figures reporting that 74% or workforces are ready to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable in the future. There has never been a more important time to operate as a forward-thinking and innovative workforce that wants to nurture talent and lead from the front.

Of course, the answer is not simply a case of getting colleagues to sign up to a one-off webinar or watch a training video if they want to truly enhance their capabilities – it takes much more than that and a commitment from both the employer and employee. Instead, the company’s learning and development culture should be engrained in its DNA in order to move forward effectively, retain staff and develop skillsets even further.

Throughout the pandemic, many HR teams have taken the time to look inwardly at their training provision, brand identity, and dedication to what it means to foster a collaborative team of leaders. Alongside which, several will have implemented an agile ER strategy – that is authentically and intrinsically linked to its company values – to make sure they set themselves apart from the competition.

That is because ER does not solely relate to the relationship between an employer and an employee, it represents empowerment, it drives meaningful change, and ensures every single colleague has an opportunity to play an integral role in how their company moves forward. Without an effective ER agenda, a firm can soon become lost in how it acts, what it stands for and question the validity of its in-house beliefs.

And with ER, HR leaders can pinpoint exactly where improvements need to be made when concerning their people, processes, or technology – and act accordingly sooner rather than later. It can provide the answers as to what the organisation requires and what investments need to be made, in order to equip their staff with the tools to succeed and build from the ground up.

It is not possible to implement an effective ER strategy overnight
However, none of this has any hope of longevity or encouraging leadership throughout the entire workforce if the ER strategy is not authentic. It is no good simply saying there is an ER strategy in place and a focus on company culture if every single person – connected with the organisation – does not live and breathe it.

When ER goals are implemented and represent exactly what the team requires to become impactful HR leaders, a business breeds unrivalled employee buy-in which can be an extremely powerful tool. Equip HR professionals with the guidance and support they need to exceed individual goals – that can be measured via realistic KPIs and regularly reviewed – and companies can begin to drive meaningful change that filters throughout their entire workforces.

It does not just stop at open dialogue either, although that is clearly a key component of employee engagement. Streamlining processes and utilising savvy tools such as ER case management technology can help managers to identify staff patterns that need to be handled carefully and effectively before they turn into complex ER matters that could lead to costly, time-consuming tribunal battles and long-term damage to a brand’s reputation.

And now is the time to provide HR teams with the tools to upskill in employment law so they can manage complex cases, use up-to-date literature and legislation confidently, and provide a greater level of understanding of the real issues that are happening throughout the workforce. All these areas of improvement will begin to foster a culture of future leaders because, after all, ‘knowledge is power’.

When ER capabilities are enhanced, it provides a company with the opportunity to grow, develop in-house attributes and brings authenticity and integrity to the fore. And the result? A highly motivated, skilled HR team that is committed to the cause and wants to do everything it can to drive their company forward.

Simply put, a company cannot effectively implement a powerful ER strategy if it is not prepared to work on its foundations first and truly get under the skin of what it has to do to engage employees who today want more than ‘just a job’ – they want a career, and a successful one at that. The businesses that want to make a difference and are willing to offer boundless opportunities, create a team of critical decision-makers and innovators who develop together – from the foundations up –  and continue to be the heartbeat of their organisation.

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