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How Agile Is HR In Times of Turbulence?

How Agile Is HR In Times of Turbulence?

What are the five key steps that HR professionals should take with their business leaders in this current VUCA world?

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by Soon Eng-Sing

News headlines in the past months have not been short of negative developments. From China’s slowing growth to large lay-offs; from volatility in stock indexes to new bottoms in oil prices; many signs are pointing to a slow down in 2016, and maybe beyond. If we end this year positively, consider ourselves lucky. We might not be able to predict the economics outcome accurately but we can activate our thought leadership, and think ahead of how HR can be agile in times of turbulence.

One of the major characteristics of successful leaders and people with high potentials is learning agility. We know that past performance may not guarantee future success. In times of turbulence, when performing under pressure or in new business realities, it is natural for people to want to stick to what worked previously. To be agile, however, requires a change of attitude, quickly wresting meaning from experience, and learning how to do something better and differently in the new environment.

The key questions HR professionals can ask in these turbulent markets are:

  1. How they can partner their business leaders to identify and capture opportunities more quickly than rivals do?
  2. What can they learn and relearn about their current state to make fresh connections to business and talent strategies?
  3. What sort of change mindset and strategies are required to help the organization stay nimble and competitive?

Here I would like to suggest five key steps that HR professionals can take with their business leaders:

  1. Understand and identify how the current business and talent strategies are or are not supporting the company’s long-term growth.
  2. Identify key barriers and gaps between the current strategies and the new business realities.
  3. Formulate or revise the strategies.
  4. Create and design processes and measurements that will fit today’s market environment.
  5. Execute, measure and review effectiveness.

In good times, it is easy to be right and intelligent. It is in times like these, strategies and execution capabilities are put to test. A downturn might be a great opportunity to review business and talent strategies and eat the humble pies, if any, to come up with a stronger and more resilient set of strategies.

Not surprisingly, Step 5 in the above list may resonate well with a lot of people. After all, executing, measuring and reviewing are what we HR professionals do best on a daily basis. Remember, however, those activities in Step 5 are highly transactional whereas the first four steps are transformational. Helping the organization to rethink and reshape things is not exclusive to Organizational Development specialists. Any HR practitioners stand a great chance to be strategic.

Abhishek Mittal wrote about the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world and you can read about it here. The VUCA world goes into an overdrive mode in times of turbulence. To remain agile, consider allocating buffers in your planning. Leverage data analytics or run predictive data to instill more science into HR to combat uncertainty. Simplify structures and processes to make things less complex. This is also a great time to get rid of over-engineered barriers that hinder people from performing and delivering. Last but not the least, aim for small wins and small trials and errors to minimize risks.