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23 April 2020 5 min read

Covid-19: People, talent & workforce planning – five actions that speak louder than words

Rob Maguire

Rob Maguire
Partner | People and process excellence | London

Catherine Walker

Catherine Walker
Senior Manager | People and process excellence | London

Any major shock to a system creates a vacuum that needs to be filled. Now, more than ever, driving business performance and employee engagement through a transparent and supportive people strategy is vital. It can prevent the haemorrhaging of cost from a people productivity, critical role delivery, and broader HR-perspective e.g. unaccounted absenteeism. In these unprecedented times, companies find themselves acting without a script or dress rehearsal, on a very public stage. 

It can be overwhelming and requires HR and the business to act in unison to support and enable, rather than confuse and distract, a workforce at the helm of unprecedented change. Successful companies are able to maintain high performance - without stretching people beyond their limits - even when faced with dramatic flux across their markets and workforce. They will view the pandemic as we do: an opportunity to adapt and—to some degree—experiment; that should not be missed. It is the action that is taken now that will drive impactful people-change and resilience for the long term.

Based on the current people-challenges we are observing we have developed five actions that all businesses should consider taking now, as part of an effective and relevant people strategy: 

  1. Act through policy - make responsive changes. For example, revise the core-hours policy so colleagues are available during consolidated core slots of the day, or introduce shift patterns, opening up part-time and new and flexible working options. Businesses need to be proactive in order to safeguard their employees. One topical example of this is Amazon limiting their delivery services to essential items only in order to prioritise health and safety of their employees.   

  2. Act through talent management - take the opportunity to divert vital talent into critical roles which may have been hit by increased demand. Creating a breadth of experience for employees is always a goal for talent programmes.  The current market conditions present an opportune moment to redeploy resources into critical roles across the business. Not only will this help plug gaps operationally but, with the right support, can offer individuals the chance to develop their knowledge, skills and experience in a way that may not have been previously available or considered. Exercising organisational agility at this time will support a more flexible approach to delivery and maximise people utilisation and productivity. 

  3. Act through engagement - during times of uncertainty the workforce looks to its business leaders for guidance, assurance and stability. This provides a great opportunity to re-engage with the workforce on a personal level and demonstrate company values.  How businesses are seen to act now will likely have an impact on future recruitment and retention, therefore employee engagement now will be key to that future. Previously used engagement patterns and channels may not be fit for the current ways of working. These should be quickly and frequently re-visited to ensure all members of the workforce are reached and that the workforce has effective means of making their voice heard.  

  4. Act swiftly and decisively – make short-term tweaks to help you survive. In addition to taking advantage of government support there are further, more localised and additive measures that can also be taken. Changes to expense rules (revised deadlines, faster colleague pay outs etc), refined budget sign-off processes, requested pay reductions and deferred bonuses are all short-term actions that can be considered. The converse also applies: where businesses are flourishing, best practice would be to pass the benefits on to employees. One example of this is Marks & Spencer and other supermarket chains that are providing pay rises to store and distribution colleagues on hours worked.  

  5. Act now for a better tomorrow - optimising people management approaches can provide a platform for driving sustainable change when businesses get back to operating in a more stable market.  Throughout the emergency period take stock of what worked well, what could be improved or what should stop once normal business is resumed. The current climate could provide a great test bed for trialling future ways of working. For example, deploying more automation and utilising digital services while still protecting employees’ wellbeing and safety. Whilst there is a desire to focus on and manage the here and now, planning for the future is of equal importance if businesses and their workforces are to emerge from this crisis in good shape. 

The examples given are a sub-set of the initiatives that, when applied in the right context, can help businesses to accelerate their people, talent and workforce-response in this time of crisis. Not all initiatives will be successful and some may even be counterproductive to the long-term business objectives. However, many successful organisations are already recognising their unique position to ‘sandpit’ changes quickly. This continuous improvement approach to your people strategy can help to ensure that the future workforce is optimised and ready to take on the brave new world when it arrives.

If you want to discuss any of our people strategy expertise, please contact Rob MaguireCatherine WalkerTom Lewis or Helen Moss.