HR Leadership: Sharing Experiences through COVID-19

By Kate Ludlow

Kate Ludlow

Consulting Team

Kate is one of four executive directors of the firm and works on both executive and board appointments in the commercial sector. She leads our Family Owned and Employee Owned Practices, which are a rapidly growing part of our business.  During her nine years with the firm she has twice been elected by all the partners of the firm as a Trustee; she has also worked overseas for a year with our partner firm in Vancouver.  Kate has a degree in Music from Cambridge University.

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Executive leaders are working hard to respond to uncertain timelines and arguably a lack of clear direction. Our most recent webinars with HR leaders have explored ways to navigate a gradual return to work, supporting employees as a new, and quite different, “normal” establishes itself. Collective learning from our conversations are highlighted below.


Reflect on the positives
Many organisations have been able to implement change at a rate that would have previously seemed impossible: Covid-19 has turned BAU on its head. Take a moment to note the positive changes that you must preserve and build on: whether they be new agile ways of working, technology, organisational capability, or culture and behaviours. We were struck that many organisations are reporting higher levels of employee engagement, and a greater connection between the workforce and its leaders. Those that worked hard to build and maintain strong internal communications processes (whether through weekly emails, virtual briefings etc) are feeling the benefits of a more integrated workforce.

Uncertainty requires agility and flexibility
All agree that it is impossible to define a precise timeline for strategy, and leaders are having to consider a wide range of scenarios, developing strategies and initiatives that can be reworked or evolved at short notice. Many are finding it helpful to keep strategic planning simple, focusing on the three key categories of Work, Workforce and Workplace.

Wellbeing and health and safety soar up the agenda
Leaders are increasingly recognising wellbeing and H&S as key performance indicators. Modelling from the top is a must, and an important tool to ensure teams are able to operate at their best. This is a marathon, not a sprint: for long-term success, organisations need their employees to emerge from this period in “match fit” condition. Some cited in particular the use of formal and informal coaching relationships, ensuring annual leave is being taken and encouraging switching off from technology as particularly important.

Leadership and organisational behaviours have never been so important
Many organisations have had to furlough employees, and are necessarily considering future operating models which may involve restructuring and redundancies. While this makes employee engagement complex to navigate, ensuring that employees at all levels in the organisation are supported and feel able to engage is key: a virtual operating environment calls for clear, regular and honest messaging from leadership.

Data remains king
Everyone’s personal and professional lives have collided in the last two months in an unprecedented, unforgettable way, and a range of personal and societal factors will continue to impact the needs of the workforce. Caring responsibilities, for example, will determine the rate at which many are able to return to the workplace. Developing a sense of your workforce’s ability, and importantly desire, to return to various environments will only help shape workable and realistic plans for the coming weeks and months.


Published 21 May 

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