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HR adaptability is needed to lead the Future of Work

The pandemic has impacted all organisations regardless of their sector or industry however some, like hospitality, were hit harder by lockdowns. This impact, whether stopping operations altogether, or increasing demand for products and services (remember back to all those queues outside supermarkets), impacted the type of activity HR were required to deliver to support their customers, the organisation’s leaders and its employees.

With this in mind, the Chief Human Resources Officer was thrown into the spotlight in a way they could not have imagined pre-COVID. Along with the wider organisational changes HR were required to support, they too had to navigate changes in their own operating model and had to adapt to the disruption of the pandemic. The CHRO and their HR function had to manage uncertainty and an increase in their workload due to coordinating their organisation’s pandemic response.

Where are we now?


How has the pandemic impacted how HR operates? As businesses establish their ‘new normal’, the questions we’re seeing now are: which HR operating model is appropriate to serve not only the wider organisation, but HR themselves? HR adapted out of necessity during the pandemic, rolling out organisation-wide initiatives quicker than ever before; now business units and the leaders they support expect this adaptability going forwards.

Adaptable-on-demand is now an expectation, but short- and medium-term implications of the pandemic are not yet stable and need to be worked through. HR should now be in the driving seat to define the ‘new normal’ – building long-term vision and ambitions of adaptable ways of working into short term responses.

So how can the HR team become more adaptable?


HR has an opportunity here to look back at how they responded to their stakeholders during the pandemic and learn from this. Typically, the first challenge HR faced was delivering an outcome for their customers that required them to mobilise a cross-functional, cross-disciplinary team – and while under the pressure of a particularly intense external event they were able to move very quickly. This would have been different to how previous outcomes were delivered and puts pre-pandemic ways of working under the spotlight.

A focus on business outcomes


By giving the CHRO and HR function autonomy and the freedom to organise around the problem they’re trying to resolve, and the outcome the business needs, you allow for innovation and experimentation at pace – something not normally found within a traditional HR command and control functional structure.

An adaptable HR operating model will need to break away from rigid policy and service-based decision making. This traditional approach is best seen play out when HR have competing departments fighting for priorities and budget, normally in cyclical strategy setting events or when defining their annual department budget. The shift to being adaptable sees all HR projects being defined as solutions to meet business and workforce outcomes. The decisions about which HR projects are given a higher priority are then set around the impact they will deliver to their customers, not driven by competing HR leaders and the influence they have.

Enabling HR to work in this way requires a fundamental shift in how they sense what the business and its employees need, by understanding the environment outside of HR. Leveraging relationships and collaborating across a broader ecosystem of partners – from employee groups to external business communities – will allow HR to respond to the needs of the business. This model will require a shift in HR core capabilities to be centred in curiosity, collaboration, co-creation and continuous learning to name a few.

Adaptability is key!


Adaptability must be front and centre of the CHRO’s agenda as they design their operating model, allowing them to take disruption in their stride. Prior to the pandemic, Deloitte helped numerous CHROs from all sectors and industries shift towards an adaptable HR operating model. And now, whether moving away from a traditional ‘silo’ structure for the first time or optimising an existing adaptable model from the lessons learned through the pandemic, adaptability will be a key trend for HR Leaders.

If you’d like to learn more about the Future of Work or the Future of HR, you can listen to our Humanising the Future of Work podcast series. In it I speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out.

Meet the author

Daniel Hind

Senior Manager

Daniel is an experienced HR transformation expert within our Human Capital Practice. He brings 20 years’ experience advising clients on their end to end HR transformations. He has a strong track record supporting HR leaders align their strategic intent to the Future of Work drivers and supporting them in the design of human-centred HR Operating Models.

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