Now more than ever, business needs HR. If we didn’t know it prior to March 2020, we are acutely aware of it now. Seen as workplace “first responders,” HR professionals maintained, restored and revived workplaces all over the world to bring business back from the brink.
From the C-suite to the ground floor, organizations relied on HR like never before. According to a 2021 SHRM research report, Navigating COVID-19: Returning to the Workplace, 82 percent of HR professionals said leadership relied more on HR to help navigate new business situations or practices after the pandemic began. HR’s touch was felt in nearly every corner of business, as the cover package for this issue of HR Magazine illustrates. More than 3 in 5 of those same HR professionals also felt more involved in making strategic decisions for their organizations’ futures. Crisis brought business to HR’s door, but many wonder if that dynamic will continue when the crisis fades.
As Aristotle remarked, “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” As we emerge from the ravages of the pandemic, organizations are preparing to pivot toward the future. “The peace” is just as—if not more—worthy of our focus. Business will still have fundamental missions and objectives; however, the path to fulfill them looks quite different.
As HR professionals, you are poised to build the modern workplace. Skills, expertise, productivity, leadership and collaboration are all vital resources that shape business. As enterprises seek to acquire, engage, develop and promote talent, HR is uniquely suited to enable all of it. Strategic planning that fully leverages HR insights is more complete, but it calls for HR leaders knowing which insights are pertinent to executive leadership. If you listen, executives will describe their pain points. Increasingly, I am hearing CEOs cite access to human capital as being a greater barrier to growth than access to financial capital. As workers play the game of career musical chairs, identifying seats for the best talent determines how business will thrive in the modern economy. To that end, HR is charged with cultivating a corporate culture that uncovers, attracts and retains hidden talent.
How we engage talent is what elevates HR and business. Effective people managers are essential to workforce engagement and productivity. Having relevant feedback surveys and forums for employee response can create a clearer picture of workforce engagement. Metrics of worker retention and talent acquisition, along with feedback from exit interviews, empower managers to ultimately make better-informed operational decisions. As a partner to people managers, HR can also respond to the data by facilitating employee development through skills assessment and training.
To accelerate the revitalization of the workplace, HR must leverage its relationship with executive leadership. Understanding business at depth means understanding the dynamics within an industry that breed success. Awareness of how the current workforce is performing stems from monitoring performance on individual and corporate levels. Mastering the dynamics of your unique workforce reveals how it responds to change. That workforce assessment is integral to forecasting human capital needs as—not after—leadership formulates corporate strategic plans. When HR realizes its organizational value on multiple levels, business takes note.
HR’s role is not solely defined by how it protects business from liability and penalty; HR finds its meaning and full value in its ability to cultivate business performance and growth. HR is meant to drive enterprise forward; HR “organizes the peace.”
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Photograph by Cade Martin for HR Magazine.