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The art of letting go: rethinking HR

Lucinda Carney, CEO - Actus

Businesses that have thrived during lockdown are those who were good at focusing on and connecting with their people. In reality, the workplace had become pretty stale prior to this point with a strong transactional emphasis. Now, after months of lockdown, there is an opportunity for HR and business to rethink the relationship with their employees, to let go of the hierarchy, rules and strict processes, and emphasise trust first. That means letting go of the ego and the sense of control, and thinking of staff more as citizens and colleagues.

The question, however, remains: how do we keep this empathy and human-first approach, adopted during lockdown, when moving forward? For organisations to be more human-centric, there needs to be an elimination of bias and self-selection of what HR wants to hear versus what is actually being said. Ultimately, in order to deliver change (or to adapt to situations where change is imposed), there must be a shift from controlling employees to empowering them.

Acknowledge the bias to self-select what we want to hear

Although a recent flash survey revealed that 62% of HR professionals believe the workplace will change for the better, letting go of that sense of power and having empathy for what the workforce is feeling is not an easy task but rather a huge leap for many HR teams and employers.

Are there areas where we could be accused of micromanaging or spoon-feeding employees? Having trusted people to work remotely for months now, perhaps this is a great opportunity to ask them what they want from the new workplace and that includes what they want from leaders including HR.

Surveys are only as good as the questions within them, the real leadership skill is being able to create a climate that allows us to deeply and sincerely listen to the needs of our people. Having done that, how can we build on these ideas or better still empower them to run with them?

Crowdsource the best of ideas

Crowdsourcing isn’t just for new products – why not crowdsource better results by listening to your staff and involving people in building a better business? Ultimately, feeling distanced due to working remotely is a state of mind, some teams have built stronger, closer relationships through collaboration technologies.

The truth is, our people are talking about their experiences in chat rooms and a variety of other platforms anyway. Employees expect their leaders to take a more shared approach, and those who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. If we want our staff to advocate for us and not against you, as well as maximise their productivity, then we must learn to let go of power and control, sideline our ego, and embrace employee involvement. This works as a two-way street, allowing HR teams to utilise the power of a hundred brains, not just three.

Ultimately, we need to think of our employees as citizens and colleagues – make sure their ideas are heard, their concerns are addressed, and suggestions are taken into consideration. Ping-pong tables and yoga rooms no longer drive the company culture, nor do they help with employee engagement and wellbeing. Sometimes, having a real pulse of where our people are through dialogue and conversations is even more important than survey data or superficial symbols.

Learn from new experiences

We’ve been through a rollercoaster of new experiences and learnings during the last couple of months. And although many are struggling to cope with low energy levels, decreased productivity and are longing for a sense of normality, this period has also brought an opportunity to reflect on the way organisations work and the approaches they take.

Ever since lockdown, we’ve shifted towards a more human-centric approach. Emotions and empathy are making their way to the top of most employers’ agendas – for many, it’s important to find out how people are doing and how they are coping emotionally, and it will continue to be the case as we emerge from the pandemic.

Some things that were considered to be inappropriate – to bring personal or family issues into the workplace – are now perceived as absolutely normal due to current circumstances. That work/home blend has allowed both employers and employees to actually be ‘whole people’, and more connected than ever. It’s up to business leaders to ensure it stays that way. Just like after every major revolution or event, the society changes because we as humans pause to reconnect. This period is no different – we have an opportunity as HR professionals to rethink the way we do our work and accelerate humans in the workplace.

Survey by Actus

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