Since early 2020, as organizations have had to navigate the pandemic, address heightened awareness of racial inequities, solve the remote/hybrid work puzzle, and sharpen their purpose statements, many of those responsibilities have landed squarely on the desks of CHROs. If the 2008 financial crisis was the crisis for chief financial officers to solve, this decade has started off as a time to lead for heads of HR. We asked three CHROs to share their insights on how to strengthen organizational resiliency.
Your Agility and Adaptability Are Rooted in Your Core Principles
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for building resiliency at a time when change is constant, but core principles can help organizations become more agile and adaptable and build workplaces that support employees’ ongoing needs.
Start with a Strong Culture and Strong Values
In this tumultuous time, companies must return to their core values, anchoring in a shared culture and cultivating a strong community where employees care for each other, can express what they need and are supported by their leaders.
HP has led with culture and purpose from its beginning. Founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard famously had an Open Door policy where any employee could walk into their boss’s office and share feedback. This reflected a culture grounded in fundamental trust and respect for employees, which, along with purpose and integrity, formed the core principles of the HP Way.
But even companies with strong legacy cultures must evolve. Last year, we refreshed the HP Way to make sure that our value—and the culture we create—will remain strong and relevant while helping us meet the challenges of our time. Now, we’re working to activate the HP Way through our actions, decisions and behaviors. This helps us focus—when our business is guided by shared values and cultural norms, we’re less likely to get distracted by disruptions. We can quickly assess our role, focus on what matters most and rise to meet the moment.
Combat Burnout with Rigorous Prioritization and Support
Employees are experiencing new levels of burnout in this disruptive era. According to HP’s recent workplace study, one in three employees said that burnout negatively affected them. Women are disproportionately impacted: during the pandemic, the gender gap in worker burnout widened, creating levels of stress that can derail even the highest-performing teams.
In an evolving environment, we must create a culture where employees feel empowered to drop less pressing items and focus on what’s most important. And we need to help them create boundaries so they can step away when necessary. Prioritization is an increasingly important muscle to build.
In my experience, it’s one of the hardest things for organizations and people to do. However, it’s feasible when employees feel safe asking questions about priorities. That’s why psychological safety is a key part of our culture refresh—just as it should be a part of any culture’s foundation. We’re working to provide managers with the support they need to build a psychologically safe workplace for their teams.
Prioritization is just a start as a remedy for burnout. The pandemic has also changed how we think about corporate wellness. Helping employees thrive is no longer about a swag bag, a tee shirt or an occasional day off. It’s about holistically addressing multiple dimensions of health and well-being—from physical and mental health to mindfulness and personal productivity. At HP, we just announced expansions of our wellness offerings. Insights into wellness may prove to be one of the most important and enduring legacies of the pandemic.
Upskill to Prepare for Future Transformation
Creating resilience is not just about reacting to global events. To prepare for the future, we must help our workforce learn new skills. The acceleration of digitalization has only increased the demand for an array of novel capabilities. Support for learning is another tool for building resilience.
Preparing our people for the future is a team sport. We’ve promoted company-wide upskilling for everyone through agile transformation trainings and courses delivered through Brain Candy, an internal digital learning platform. In Singapore, we launched a program with Nanyang Technological University and Singapore’s National Research Foundation to train the next generation in fields like 3D printing, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. And our People Organization works with HP’s Digital and Transformation Organization to boost change management capability to help teams across the business embrace change and digitalization with greater confidence. We continue to ask employees for feedback throughout the process, so we can learn and improve as we go.
In the face of digital transformation sweeping our economy, creating reskilling opportunities is not just about helping employees and companies enhance their competitiveness. It’s also about upholding our responsibility as corporate leaders to help mitigate the costs of technological transformation on communities and make sure the benefits of this transformation are more equitably shared. That’s why accelerating digital equity for 150 million people by 2030 is one of HP’s Sustainable Impact goals. We’re also a founding member of OneTen, a coalition that aims to upskill, hire and promote one million Black Americans over the next decade and have launched several initiatives with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to create new opportunities for students.
Listen—and Act on Lessons Learned
To be a truly resilient company, we must listen carefully to our employees. This is especially important in large, global organizations where employees have widely different needs and experiences. We solicit feedback from our employees regularly through multiple channels, including pulse surveys and listening sessions. Since the pandemic started, we’ve had more than 40 “Connect with Enrique” sessions coupled with quarterly all-employee meetings where our CEO, Enrique Lores, and our executive team connect with employees from across the globe to listen and answer their questions. When employees provide feedback, we do our best to respond and have feedback loops to ensure that employees know we’re following up.
While the current era has been challenging, we’ve also learned many lessons about resilience. Companies and their employees have navigated unprecedented challenges in creative and inspiring ways. Our insights allow us to build new ways of working together that will help us adapt to the pace of change. As we continue to enter uncharted territory, humility and the openness to possibility are essential to creating a workplace where everyone can thrive. And we can draw confidence from all that we have already accomplished. By learning through listening, anchoring in our values, setting clear priorities and reskilling our workforce, we can be better equipped to navigate an unpredictable future.
Building Trust Through Organizational Resiliency
As the Chief Human Resource Officer for the newly merged TD SYNNEX, my responsibilities include bringing together the workforces of these two legacy businesses. And I know that trust lies at the core of our successful cultural integration.
For the past 22 years, Edelman has conducted their annual Trust Barometer survey to better understand the levels of trust that people place in businesses, the government, the media and each other. The 2022 report highlights that distrust has become “society’s default emotion, with nearly 60 percent inclined to distrust.” As companies play an ever-growing role in society overall, many are focused on providing a counterweight to those macro trends, and we are no exception—we are creating a culture that ensures our co-workers feel valued, respected, and that recognizes our company as a source of trust and confidence.
In addition to the lifetime of change we’ve all experienced in the last five years, many of our co-workers have experienced multiple disruptions, not limited to the recent merger amid a global pandemic.
Any one of these changes, let alone all of them, is a lot for a workforce to endure and could widen the trust gap between co-workers and their organization. As HR leaders and business executives, we have continued to prioritize and cultivate a culture through core leadership principles, which has helped our co-workers maintain resiliency through these challenging times.
Building Trust: Identifying Core Leadership Principles
From my experience, bridging the trust gap isn’t about earning trust, it’s about extending trust.
In order to extend trust to teams and other stakeholders, leaders need to create a safe environment for their teams and walk the walk. When a leader isn’t comfortable being vulnerable, transparent or honest, that can breed uncertainty, resentment and mistrust among team members.
It’s critical to establish the leadership traits necessary to create this culture and environment, so one of our top priorities this year has been to identify these within our newly combined organization, so our leaders have the tools to build trust and strengthen our culture. Those leadership principles include:
- Positivity: “Attitude is everything.” This is a statement that comes up frequently at my house between my husband, my daughter and me. Your attitude is one of the few things that you can control at any moment, so it’s all about being receptive to all possibilities in an optimistic manner.
- Empowerment: “Help others thrive.” Empowerment is about providing the right tools, processes and results to help others and enable business outcomes. There’s a fine line here to understand for your teams: If you empower someone who isn’t ready, the project will fail. If you don’t empower someone who is ready, they will disengage.
- Clarity: “Make the complex simple.” Being clear and transparent allows our leaders to simplify complexity while enabling teams to feel comfortable bringing up concerns.
- Partnership: “Success is paramount.” As a company, we expect everyone to put our stakeholders first, whether it’s another co-worker, a vendor, a customer, an end-user or a shareholder. Collaboration goes a long way when we’re always thinking about others before ourselves.
- Teamwork: “Connection builds trust.” In a much more virtual world, building strong cross-team, cross-functional, cross-geography connections brings our shared value of inclusion to life. This skill ensures you always have the right people in the right room at the right time, so everyone involved can feel confident in the business outcomes.
One of the most important things we do to extend trust is emphasizing well-being. Across the board, organizations need to not only prioritize mental well-being, but also social well-being, by providing the proper awareness, education and outlets that provide a safe space for any topic to be discussed and addressed.
The Resilient Organization: A Flexible, Responsive Workplace of the Future
All of us in the HR profession have faced overwhelming obstacles and made critical decisions in the last few years. Beyond the pandemic, we’ve collectively experienced the rise in political discord, heightened social injustice and the deafening stats related to the climate crisis—all of these challenges continue to affect our business and weigh heavily on us as individuals. While these challenges can erode trust, the antidote lies in a simple truth: Resilience builds trust.
Through these challenges, our teams are no longer asking, but demanding to work for an organization that goes beyond vocally supporting efforts around social injustice and sustainability to actively responding to crises in real-time. Having a core focus on community outreach and supporting philanthropic needs in our communities has become a prerequisite for the modern, resilient organization to build trust with their co-workers and their communities.
We support a variety of Business Resource Groups, or BRGs, as a part of our diversity, equity and inclusion program. These groups offer a platform for co-workers to grow and advance their careers, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, background or beliefs. We have also proudly unveiled our very first corporate citizenship program, which outlines our new corporate responsibility framework and sustainability goals, a great step in embedding environmental, social and governance action into our culture.
Another way we maintain resiliency is through flexibility as we, like many other companies, grapple with the complexities of implementing a return-to-office strategy. We know that the workplace of the future will center on smart work—where is the best place for each individual or team to do their most effective work? We have locations around the world open and available for our co-workers, while at the same time offering flexibility for the individuals that prefer to work remotely. Allowing teams to establish their optimal working environments is an effective way to extend trust, giving co-workers freedom of choice and comfort in their surroundings.
So, what does the path forward look like? The key pillars of building trust in your organization include empowering leaders with the traits and skills needed to build and retain successful teams; developing cultural resiliency, and building a flexible workplace of the future. These core ideas will guide us as we continue to evolve two merging cultures.
Six Ways to Imprint Resilience into Your Culture
Personal and organizational resiliency have an enormous impact on business results, and have quickly become our new business imperative. Let’s start with a couple of definitions.
Adaptability is the capacity to make change to meet demands and needs of a particular situation. During the pandemic, employees adapted to the need to work from home. While employees and organizations were not expecting to work from home, and some employees may not have been equipped with a designated workplace, they made it work. Adaptability was sending employees to work from home while we waited for COVID-19 to go away. It was learning to communicate in new ways. It was managing new workplace challenges.
Resiliency is the ability to adapt and to transform into something better. It is finding learning in adversity and developing new strategies for coming back stronger. It is a response to personal and professional setbacks that provide a lesson. It is the old story of receiving lemons, turning them into lemonade and turning that modest lemonade into a market-ready product with profit and fanatic fan following. That is resiliency.
Resiliency is a higher-level skill. Individuals with a resilient mindset recover from hardship more quickly and assume responsibilities with renewed enthusiasm and energy. During the pandemic, they found meaning in hardships, reflected on their circumstance and made visible plans for changing outcomes. Resilient organizations outperform adaptive organizations by experiencing lower turnover and higher employee engagement.
So what can be done to create more resilient organizations or individuals? Here are six ways to imprint resilience into your culture:
- Re-commit and re-communicate trust. We have seen many employees leave their employers this year, in part because trust was missing with their immediate supervisor, the organization more broadly, or both. Many employees have told me that their personal resilience was not enough to persevere in a work environment where they did not trust leaders. Creating trust begins with keeping employee commitments. If, for example, you decided that employees would work from home, but are now asking them to return, it is important to explain why and how the earlier policy decision has changed. If circumstances and the leaders’ stance has changed, we as HR leaders need to ensure that both we and the other team leaders we advise are transparent and share the shift in perspective. As leaders, we must commit to transparency in decision-making, to being inclusive in our decisions, and to seeking employee input.
- Re-examine organizational values. Beyond shareholder value, why does the organization exist, and what do we stand for? Employees tell me they are seeking something to believe in. As you consider your values, think about how this can be part of your employee value proposition. What are you doing to make the world better? Companies benefit when employees can support the organizational values. While your company will have a unique perspective on this, organizational values provide inspiration and resiliency to employees.
- Grow and support intellectual curiosity, which is foundational to resiliency. Take time with employees to discuss important questions that make your organization stronger. I have found that discussing perspective with employees is a wonderful way to solve problems. Encourage employees to think deeply and be curious. In place of accepting status quo, ask them to think critically about how to overcome problems and see things differently. Engage employees in conversations and ask them to support an opposite position, just for the sake of intellectual exploration. Take time to explore ideas that are unusual. Give employees the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss innovative ideas. Use team meeting time to bring ideas to the table. Create an environment where big, crazy, unfettered ideas are valued. These can serve as the humble beginning for great ideas.
- Require humility from your leaders. You as a leader are not expected or required to know everything. Rather, your role as a leader is to be a guide and coach and to create leaders, develop trust, foster intellectual curiosity and to develop everyone to their potential. I have found that by saying “I don’t know, what do you think?” I create a culture of trust and inclusion. I also learned that as I demonstrate vulnerability, I encouraged my team to be vulnerable too. And the benefit to all of us it that we no longer had to guess what someone does or does not know. The team will tell you what they need for success, and they will share concerns before you ask.
- Characterize mistakes as learning opportunities. Discuss mistakes, poor decisions and failures openly. When you create conditions of psychological safety and encourage employees to talk about mistakes, you create healthier organizations. Use project-review meetings as an opportunity for leaders throughout the organization to describe mistakes they have made and what they have learned from them. That demonstrates that mistakes happen and that they are accepted as just that—opportunities for learning. And employees learn strategies to avoid the same type of mistake in the future. It creates psychological safety AND trains simultaneously.
- Last, develop others. The most resilient organizations plan for and develop the next generation of leaders. Employees continually tell me that learning new skills is a must-have in their job. Some want to become leaders, others want to broaden their knowledge and look at lateral positions within the organization, and others want additional degrees. Make training accessible. Offer a combination of on-demand, web-based training along with classroom and live video training. Give employees time to train and develop. Create organizational expectation that employees are career navigators and are responsible for charting their career paths, utilizing training resources available to them and participating in the program according to their career goals. If you don’t have a mentoring program, or a system for identifying high potential talent, invest in one. Mentoring programs provide mentees with exposure to the leadership team and opportunities to collaborate with leaders outside their reporting structure while providing mentors with opportunities to sharpen their skills. All of these can be part of an overall plan to develop talent, provide a pipeline of future leaders, and create opportunities for learning.
If you incorporate these ideas into your culture and focus on creating resiliency within your organization, you may find that the next big business disrupters are much less impactful to your employees and your business.