People + Strategy Journal

Spring 2022

From the Guest Editor

The Great Resignation has been called the Great Reshuffle, the Great Evolution, the Great Upgrade, the Great Retention and more. This issue highlights best practices emerging in benefits, culture-forming, manager training and retention strategies.

By Roopa Unnikrishnan, Center10 Consulting

The Great Opportunity: How COVID-19 May Have Changed Us for Good

Roopa Unnikrishnan

Over the past several months, I’ve seen the Great Resignation also described as the Great Reshuffle, the Great Evolution, the Great Upgrade, the Great Retention and much more. All are appropriate, in different contexts. It’s clear that the past few years had accelerated critical shifts in the talent environment, shifts that were identified as early as 1997, when Steve Hankin coined the term “War for Talent.” In talking to HR leaders for this issue, we have heard many of them say, “The war for talent is over—the talent won.” 

The truth is more complex, of course. But underlying that statement are some fundamental shifts that have truly taken hold. The numbers reflect those changes—February 2022 statistics show that the U.S. has more than 10.9 million job openings—and we’re seeing that those who left those jobs are looking for better terms, schedules and benefits.

You’ll find in this issue insights from CHROs describing their response to the talent wringer they find themselves in. You’ll find best practices emerge in new benefits, culture-forming, manager training and retention strategies. You’ll also hear from leaders like Indra Nooyi, who talks about her experience at PepsiCo, where building a strong culture was one of her key priorities. To that end, she talks about shifting bonus structures to reflect the need for strong people management practices. She noted that the CHRO role has now been elevated to one of the most important positions in the company. 

In my career, I have had the opportunity to straddle strategy-focused and people-centered roles—from talent lead at Pfizer and HR lead role at Blackrock, to strategy lead roles at Harman and Vontier—as well as sharing organizational and innovation expertise with clients during my consulting years. From that vantage point, I believe it is time to challenge our conventional understanding of the “theory of the firm” built around the idea that organizations exist to reduce transaction costs. The digital revolution of the past two decades has rattled the foundations of that theory. Now COVID-19 has radically shifted those foundations. The firm is about purpose and promise.

How does a leader and CHRO engage around such large-scale change?

  • The Great Reset around leadership and management capabilities: Over the years, we have heard exceptional leaders talk about authentic leadership, servant leadership and the like. COVID-19 has forced all of us to become that exceptional leader. In other words, employees are looking to leaders and managers to step up their game—to make good management the norm, to see the company and leader walk the talk, to driving to a strong purpose and culture that affirms and develops employees within their virtual and hybrid worlds. People aren’t assets; they are talent with capabilities, hopes, aspirations and lives.
  • The Great Update around people practices: CHROs have begun to look across the talent management continuum to see how they can integrate their lessons and insights from the last two years—recruiting in new talent pools, establishing new policies at work to get beyond the 9-to-5 conventional view of work, and recognizing that an exit is not the final “divorce” from an employee. In addition, nearly all have redoubled their efforts around diversity and inclusion, moving from intention to impact, and thinking about diversity as a critical part of their retention strategy. 
  • The Great Personalization around generational expectations: Millennials are fast becoming the lion’s share of the working population, so it behooves companies to heed Dr. Wingard’s recommendation in his article that they proactively design the workplace to provide the flexibility, transparency, feedback and skill development that employees want and expect. As Gen Z enters the workplace, prioritizing their need for health and wellness programs will be key. In short, one size does not fit all organizations and HR leaders will need to quickly become data wonks to ensure they are meeting the needs and wants of their organizations. Underlying everything, however, is the expectation that companies will earn the respect of their people by contributing authentically to communities and practicing strong ESG principles.
  • The Great Opportunity around transformation: As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” For all the human tragedy and lives lost during the last two years, the best organizations have managed to evolve faster during the pandemic—whether around people development, remote work, robotics to support frontline workers or AI to improve supply-chain management. It’s also a time for us to review existing job descriptions and ensure that we haven’t built in obstacles to hiring the right talent for the right outcomes. As the Opportunity@Work team research shared in this issue shows, this may be the time to truly open up opportunities to diverse populations that bring tremendous experience to bear, even if that experience doesn’t come with a college degree. 

My fervent hope is that in 2030, when we look back at this time of tremendous change, we will see that it ushered in positive change for society, employees and organizations. We have learned to be productive and even excel under extremely trying times. We have embraced some changes and been thrust into others. I believe these changes are here to stay. I hope you do too.  

Roopa Unnikrishnan
Partner, Center10 Consulting
Author, The Career Catapult

PS: On a side note, we can’t talk about CHROs without pointing out that Unilever’s CHRO, India-born Leena Nair, is now CEO of Chanel, illustrating the importance of strong people experience for CEOs.