Introducing Resilient HR: A New Way To Run Your Business

From the very start of the pandemic, business leaders and HR teams have been in shock. Who is impacted? When do we bring people back to the workplace? What are our new work policies? And how do we quickly develop the new communications, work protocols, training, and wellbeing support to keep our people working and the business thriving?

The sheer number of issues is massive, and the pace of change is relentless. As we’ve seen in our Big Reset research, companies have been going through four cycles of change – often in parallel: React (figure out what’s going on); Respond (take immediate actions to reduce harm or help teams); Return (come back to a new work environment or back to the office); Transform (redesign jobs, services, and customer offerings for the new world).

four stages of the pandemic

In large organizations, companies are cycling through these stages – dependent on factors such as geography, business sector, and type of business.   In some countries, organizations are still reacting, while in others, employees are returning to the workplace. And all over the world, business transformations are taking place as companies in every industry are finding new ways to serve customers and develop products in more digital, low-touch models.

How the HR Operating Model Has Changed

When we first started studying these changes, I noticed one profound thing. The whole operating model for HR has had to evolve – and fast. For many years, companies built HR teams that were efficient and responsive. We organized into centers of excellence, we created specialist roles and teams, and we set up call centers, business services teams integrated with IT, and solution centers to manage employee transitions. And many companies started the move to the “product operations” model of HR – assigning HR professionals to be offering managers or product managers who build solutions that iterate over time, focused on different segments of the workforce.

Resilient HR

What we never expected was a black swan crisis. In such a crisis, we have a violent, sudden, unpredictable, and asymmetric enemy. The virus is all of these things, to be sure. But there are other types of black swan events as well. I’d suggest that a horrific accident, a major sexual harassment claim, a huge social or political upheaval, or even a massive financial downturn can also be black swan events– and we can bet these will happen more frequently over time. We don’t really know what global warming will do to most companies, so even that problem has yet to be understood.

By necessity, black swan events change the operating model for HR. Now, rather than building organizations that are efficient, highly aligned, and scaleable – we need to build organizations that are fast, adaptive, and easy to change. This is what we call Resilient HR.

In the Big Reset Research initiative, we interviewed more than 300 companies over recent months and found many things have to change. (You can read the results of our research here.) And this week, we are launching a new Josh Bersin Academy program, Resilient HR, designed to teach you and your teams everything we’ve learned.

Let me give you an introduction.

First, Resilient HR is based on an operating model that optimizes local action, high degrees of expertise, cross-functional teams, and real-time shared data.

In other words, this model doesn’t centralize all skills and expertise into service centers; rather, it empowers and enables local HR and facilities teams to act.

Second, Resilient HR rewards fast, cross-functional solutions that can be built, launched, monitored, and continually improved in days or weeks.

Before the pandemic, most companies had multi-year programs to drive HR technology, culture, careers, or other initiatives. Now we have to react in hours or days, so we need to build new solutions, deploy them, monitor them, and improve them on a regular basis. We like to say we are “being agile” not “doing agile” – and the program has many examples of this.

Third, Resilient HR demands what I call “distributed control with centralized coordination.”

Business partners are now teamed up with facilities managers, IT teams, and local safety leaders to make sure each country, city, and location has the right policies and procedures for their people. Global policy setting is still needed – but it has to be implemented in an adaptable, localized way. We have to move away from policy drivers such as fear and risk aversion because speed and adaptability are now essential. This federated policy model is critical, and it changes the way HR leaders and HR teams must act.

Fourth, Resilient HR is built on deep skills: within the HR team and across the organization.

As the military has proven (and the military is our model for resilience), professionals at all levels need a never-ending focus on training. As my old boss (an ex-admiral) used to say: “In the military, we only do two things: we fight or we train. And when we aren’t fighting, we’re training.” The same is now true in HR.

Think about the number of new things HR teams have to learn. We have to understand public health, mental and physical wellbeing, family issues, hygienic workplace design, and the tools, rules, norms, and cultures of working at home (look at our Remote Work Bootcamp to see thousands of ideas here). HR and the company as a whole must be learning as fast as we are doing, and this must be built into the operating model.

Fifth, Resilient HR is built upon shared awareness.

This does not only mean having accurate, reliable, and trusted data and analytics.  It also means sharing data daily,  making sure everyone has the same information and looking at HR data along with travel, financial, and health data in real-time. Nokia, for example, put together a dashboard that shows what employees are on the road, where there are virus outbreaks, and family risks so anyone in HR can quickly see trends impacting workgroups or the organization. All the work we’ve done in people analytics over the years must now become real-time, shared, and available to all. (Our People Analytics curriculum dives into this area in detail.)

Sixth, Resilient HR means that HR itself must do away with silos and operate as a “pool” of highly trained professionals.

In the military, when it’s time to attack an enemy position, the team assembles a cadre of soldiers and they come together, share their expertise, and go after the target. The same must happen in HR. And that means pooling our teams across HR and also with IT, facilities, legal, and often finance. And new hot topics like racial injustice or income protection must be included in every initiative.

Finally, Resilient HR changes the role, activities, and theme of HR leadership.

The CHRO or VP of HR is not only the organizer of the HR function, but is now the cheerleader, supporter, and day-to-day coach of HR work. Most companies now have a weekly all-hands meeting of some kind, forcing the HR leader to come up with new solutions to unknown problems on a regular basis. He or she has to play a very active role, and must support and motivate the HR team to adapt as the pandemic situation changes.

Resilient HR Supports the Business Transformation

As you go through the program, you’ll see stories and examples from dozens of companies to explain what this means. Let me conclude with one important point: Resilient HR is not really about HR at all – it’s a way for HR professionals to drive, support, and enable the business transformation that’s going on.

Remember, the pandemic is not just a public health crisis – it’s also an economic transformation: all of you are changing your products, services, customer experiences, and physical work locations. Resilient HR means that we, as HR professionals and leaders, are set up to quickly enable this transformation – not only helping people come back to work, but also helping the company transform in the fastest, most positive way.

In addition to The Big Reset Research report we just published, we are also completing one of the most interesting studies I’ve ever done:  a comprehensive and rapid study of the business and HR practices that drive the highest business outcomes during the pandemic. Among the 60+ practices studied, we found ten that far outperform the rest.

Among these ten are the practices of redesigning performance management, adjusting programs around family issues, and creating a far more agile model for recruiting, workforce planning, and employee transitions. Resilience is not just about making people feel good or giving people emotional or physical support: it’s about making your company resilient as well. How well has your company been able to move people into new positions? Quickly retrain them and get feedback on their new roles? Make them feel ready to support customers in a new paradigm?  Resilient HR is designed to make this all possible in a human-centric way.

Learn About Resilient HR: Join the Josh Bersin Academy

Our new Resilient HR program is one of the most exciting programs we’ve built in the Josh Bersin Academy. We developed this program in partnership with Accenture, a company that has studied resilience and adaptive organizations for years. The program is designed for all HR professionals in all domains, and I encourage you to make it available to your entire team. Participants will see examples and case studies from almost every industry, and the collaborative learning experience will expose learners to many different strategies and perspectives.

If you want your whole HR team to join, please call us to take advantage of team discounts. The Resilient HR program gives each member access to more than 400 different learning resources, case studies, and  tools for all aspects of HR. You’ll get access to our newest research on the Big Reset, video interviews from some of the world’s most innovative companies, and direct access to our senior faculty who have been studying the pandemic with us for the last six months.

This truly is a heroic time for everyone. A CHRO for one of the world’s largest companies recently called this to be the most exciting and important time for our profession. We’re all learning more this year than ever before. Come join us in the Academy and we can help define Resilient HR for organizations throughout the world. The journey begins!