The entire workplace is currently going through one of the biggest periods of change in recent history. Companies are having to make quick pivots and decisions, professionals are adapting to new ways of working and communicating, and both of these groups are looking to the Human Resources function to help lead the way through.

As a leader within HR, it has never been more important to understand how to first navigate periods of change, then make it through to the other side in a better place than where you started.

Leaders within human resources can tackle the challenge in several different ways. Alexis Pham, CHRO of One Mount Group in Vietnam gave us seven key areas that HR leaders should focus on to adapt and thrive in the new normal.

Related: A culture of employee recognition contributes to talent retention and business success

The importance of adaptation

Above all, those who can adapt, change with the times, and move forward quickly will be the ones who will make it through first. “Companies and HR leaders need to not only survive but thrive. They should think long term -- reimagining consumer journeys, upskilling the workforce, and ensuring their organisations are increasingly resilient and can keep up with the new normal.” Pham says.

While COVID-19 has been challenging, it’s important to look at where the opportunities lie. In some cases, the changes that COVID has forced were adjustments that needed to happen anyway. Companies have been able to push their digitalisation agenda much faster, meaning they have started to operate more effectively, and on a shorter timeline than they would have otherwise.

“If we leave the negative and focus on the positive, COVID will help rethink the workforce and open us up to new possibilities that weren’t there before. It can be a bleak picture in the news and in the moment, but if we do it right, we are well-positioned for a better new normal post-COVID.” Pham says.

Here are seven strategies for HR leaders to navigate change:

1. Focus on disruptive thinking

Rather than traditional, incremental thinking, HR leaders need to be disruptive in their ideas, leadership and initiatives. The world has changed, and will continue to evolve at a much faster pace than before. Leaders should focus on what disruptive thinking will allow your organisation to gain the advantage. A key question to ask is: if we keep doing the same things next year, will we survive? HR’s focus should be to identify, nurture and retain more disruptive leaders within the organisation.

2. Attract and retain top talent

Your employee value proposition (EVP) is a company’s greatest asset in attracting the type of innovative talent needed to bring you into the future. HR leaders must evaluate the current talent pool and ensure it is sufficient to fuel the scale up of the company’s digital and analytics capabilities.

Just as many professionals are rethinking their purpose and value at their current jobs, HR leaders must challenge themselves to seek out the heart and soul of the company - and find attractive ways to convey the EVP to the talent needed for the next stage of operations.

3. Apply agile working in HR where it matters

Being agile in the future of work is not just a talking point - it’s essential for survival. HR leaders must familiarise themselves with agile ways of working - what it is, how it works, how it is structured and what new talent will be needed to spread this agility throughout the company.

It is HR’s responsibility to support the company in a successful transformation into agile working: driving the right mindset, organisational structure, talent, and capabilities. Pham says, “People are no longer doing one fixed job, but working in groups and tribes, so the concept of performance management and rewards has to be rethought. Changes to traditional work practices and organisation structural design are key.”

What can an HR leader do if they’re in an organisation that is not particularly agile? Challenge the entire way of thinking and approaching the issues at hand. Now is the right time to do it, as companies are already in a period of reevaluating processes and decisions for the year.

4. Be data-driven

Stay one step ahead by using AI and machine learning to model, predict and guide the planning and execution of People Strategy. It will become essential for HR leaders to learn to use analytics to make better people decisions and have strong, data-supported recommendations for the business, protecting the interests of valuable employees.

“Use analytics in HR to have data-backed conversations with the business. That way, you can protect the interests of the employee and the people.” Pham suggests.

5. Support organisational resilience

HR must be an active voice and hand in helping the organisation improve resilience throughout all functions. HR professionals must understand what makes the organisation tick, how to prevail through ups and downs, and always come out stronger. This can apply to financials, people, capabilities, organisational reputation, credibility, and corporate social responsibility.

6. Maintain employee engagement and productivity

HR leaders have a responsibility to focus on employee engagement and productivity, even more so during challenging times. The focus should be on enacting policy to increase productivity, communication, and transparency. As COVID forces people to search out their purpose, it also allows companies to analyse how they are serving their customers and employees - and improving their lives.

7. Focus on upskilling the workforce

Upskilling the workforce is essential as companies adopt automation to replace lower-value jobs. Upskilling allows people to stay within the workforce, but move up the value chain and learn how to manage new technology - not be replaced by it.

Now is an ideal time to invest in upskilling, so companies can look at virtual learning and development programs and digital platforms to utilise. Doing this will also improve employee retention and engagement, as people see growth opportunities and their value beyond their current role.

Resilience to keep going

Now, more than ever, companies and professionals must be resilient, open to change, and willing to do what it takes to thrive in the workplace. When we are all able to be resilient enough to keep going through tough times, we can look at the new normal as the catalyst for positive change in the workplace.

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Read more:
3 ways to be agile during business disruption—fast
How HR needs to evolve to support the future of work
The importance of good communication in the workplace

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