3 priorities on the HR agenda for 2021

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By Nicole Burton

After a difficult and testing year for all industries and professions, the goal of keeping people safe, employed, engaged and productive remains ever complex. As the go-to people and function to help organisations prepare for change and execute workforce transformation, HR Professionals are busier than ever in this climate of uncertainty. Through my regular interactions with a diverse professionals across the HR community, three general priorities dominating the HR agenda for 2021 are as follows:

1. Continuing to navigate and define the new normal

In light of the global pandemic, it is up to HR leaders to further enforce a safe workplace as staff begin returning to the workplace.

Many staff will feel apprehensive and unsafe and HR leaders will need to be at the forefront of alleviating any anxiety.  This will require open, clear and regular communication.  Keeping employees up to date will assist with feelings of unease and uncertainty.  It is important that HR leaders take on board the feedback provided by employees and address them in a clear and consistent manner.

The new norm will require a review and overhaul of many of the organisations policies, particularly with regard to existing sick leave, office etiquette/appropriate behaviours, remote working, wellbeing and reward and recognition policies.

2. Developing workforce potential beyond just building skills

2020 demonstrated that workforces are capable of adapting and responding in never before seen or imagined circumstances.  HR Professionals in 2021 should focus on allowing employees to use more initiative and provide them with the freedom to choose how they do their work and what they do.

This can be achieved by moving away from the traditional workforce planning model to one that focuses on matching an employees’ interests and capabilities against future business demands.  This will not only enhance employee skills, but also result in higher levels of engagement and motivation.

The challenge with this approach however is ensuring that the interests of individual employees meet the needs of the business.  This is where HR Professionals will need to get creative and work with the business to design roles that can easily be reinvented, creating a culture where people are constantly adapting and reinventing themselves.

HR Professionals and organisations alike will need to invest in training programs that provide their workforce with the skills and ability to do this, rewarding those employees who identify skills gaps and reinvent themselves to fill those gaps.

3. Preparedness and adapt and thrive through uncertainty

It is important that HR Practitioners and organisations alike develop workforce strategies that focus on preparing for unlikely, high-impact events moving forward to ensure they can respond better, faster and with greater confidence should another unplanned event occur in the future.

Some questions HR Professionals may consider asking themselves in 2021 are:

  • What did we learn about our employees on the back of an event such as COVID-19?
  • Did we identify any new skills that employees have, or any skills gaps that we need to close moving forward?
  • Did any employees stand out as being resourceful in a crisis? If so, how can we harness and utilise those skills in the future?
  • How ready is our workforce to perform the work of the future? How do we address what is lacking, improve skills and develop those capabilities?
  • Who left our organisation, and why did they leave? How can we retain that talent in the future?
  • What are the skills our existing employees need to have to get us through another pandemic such as this? For example, problem solving abilities and social intelligence.
  • Will the wellness programs we have in place equip our staff both mentally and physically? And if not, what do we need to do to improve them to ensure our employees adapt and thrive?

We’ve survived one pandemic which means we are better prepared to deal with it if it happens again whether in short or long periods of lockdown. Organisations who are well prepared to swiftly adapt how they work will always be more effective, and their people safer and happier.  Having a deeper understanding of our workforce and recognising that a one size fits all approach is outdated is the first step in achieving this.


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