This article is part of our new State of Employee Feedback Series which will interview a diverse mix of HR experts and thought leaders with a goal of better understanding their perspectives on the current state of and future of HR.
The following is an interview we recently had with Smitashree Menon, Founder, theboardiQ.
The past two years during the pandemic, first to a completely virtual world and then to a hybrid environment, has only heightened the importance of Human Resources in organizations. Companies have had to pivot their business models to bring in sharper focus to a new vision/strategy, shrunk their operating budgets or had to re-skill / refresh their talent base, all the time keeping employee morale high and motivated. HR leaders were seen as trusted advisors, helping organizational leaders, CEOs and executive teams to deliver fast paced culture change interventions enabling better business results.
It was important for leaders to keep a finger on the pulse of the organization, adopt an “inside out” approach in understanding employees’ personal values under these changed circumstances and see how they meshed in with overall organizational business goals and values.
The need of the hour for HR leaders was to quickly understand new and changing laws, regulations, policies and processes globally and apply them at the workplace, sometimes in a very complex environment, dealing with religious, political and personal sentiments of employees.
HR systems and virtual productivity tools had to be tightly interwoven with adequate security levels, to enhance employee performance virtually, in whichever locations they needed to operate out of. In a divisive society, HR leaders had to step up internally, to ensure voices were heard, employees were “included”, create safe work spaces without fear of retaliation, conduct investigations with complete anonymity and confidentiality, and be seen as having courage to do what is fair and just by taking action on any form of misconduct, misdemeanor or harassment at the workplace.
The increased attention on “sustainability” for corporations, meant that HR leaders were required to benchmark, envision, measure and link employee performance and compensation (variable and equity compensation) to sustainability metrics (progressive companies have begun using the world economic forum framework - people, planet, principles of governance and prosperity).
Diversity and inclusion have become the norm where progressive boards and management teams are ensuring that grassroots driven talent attraction and retention of diverse talent (entry level right up to management and board level) is a priority for business success.
Moreover, talent re-skilling and refreshing to newer priorities / new skills is being driven through HR.
There are basically three layers of segmentation of feedback and reporting during annual or periodic employee opinion polls / pulse surveys: a) at the organizational / company level; b) at the business unit / department level and c) at the immediate manager / supervisor level. It is imperative that HR leaders analyze the results and provide actionable recommendations at these three levels without any negative repercussions on any employee / associate / worker. Communication of results at the organizational level on all actions being taken throughout the year, brings about transparency and trust among employees. Sensitive information gathered on individuals, departments or organization as a whole, has to be properly investigated, ideally with an independent committee including legal counsel and neutral members who can take informed decisions on action to be taken.
Communication, transparency and accountability are key for organizations to thrive. Boards, CEOs and leadership teams need to embrace the culture of always listening and practicing empathy with their employees, associates, workers and even customers. Cases in point, the CEO of a leading ride-sharing company being the driver for a full day to experience how well the app works and gather customer feedback; or the CEO of a leading retail company spending at least 2-3 days on the shop-floor every month to understand worker related issues or another CEO and his leadership team taking turns to sell in stores to understand how their products and services are being perceived and experienced by customers.
The future of HR is one where employee experience is seen by the leadership team as more critical than customer experience - employee experience driven by critical thinking and business acumen - where your visioning, coaching and execution skills as an HR leader are unparalleled.
You are adding value with every HR initiative that you introduce in the organization and are able to present the ROI impacting the top line and bottom line of the financials of the company.
You are data-driven - you are able to articulate and implement a compelling employer / employee value proposition to differentiate yourself from the competition.
You are making a difference in ensuring gender pay equity and reducing the CEO-median pay ratios with concerted compensation planning and execution.
You are fearless, independent and a trusted advisor. You lead by example in providing a safe environment without fear of retaliation. You understand geo-political issues, laws and regulations and how that impacts people and business. You practice “inclusion” where every individual is treated equal irrespective of their gender, color, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, social, religious or political affiliation.
You are experienced in understanding different global cultures and are adept in change management and culture change interventions through mergers, acquisitions and divestitures ensuring minimum disruption to the business.
You have business acumen and can interpret financial statements of the organization.
The role over the next 3 - 5 years is one where one can create impact and relevance in four core areas - inclusion, technology innovation, transformation and sustainability. A role where you are a thought leader and enabler of solutions that foster positive change in bringing about inclusion and equality. A role where you are a creator of a platform (or tools, processes or systems) that is a game changer in the People space.