How To Quickly Pivot Your People Plan

/ Christine Andrukonis

Last week, we held a roundtable with HR leaders to discover the greatest challenges they are facing during the COVID-19 crisis. After support for employee health and wellness, one of their biggest concerns was the need to pivot their people plans. We weren’t surprised. After all, this crisis is making us rethink every phase of the employee life cycle. Here are a few things to be thinking about as you recalibrate your people strategy to accommodate the change and uncertainty we’re facing.

Adjust your talent acquisition plan.

Many companies are shifting their energy from talent acquisition to talent retention and development. Although the extent of this shift varies by industry, all HR teams will need to assess short- and long-term talent goals before they move forward with this part of their people plan. As an initial step, consider pausing non-essential hiring and focus your recruitment efforts on the critical skills needed for short-term crisis management, without forgetting about what you’ll need for long-term sustainability.

If you are redeploying displaced talent due to downsizing, ensure your current employees have the opportunity to apply for new internal positions as appropriate.

If your company is still hiring, you’ll need to approach the interviewing process with sensitivity. Candidates will be experiencing higher-than-normal levels of anxiety and uncertainty. Now more than ever, you’ll need to ensure that you’re making real, human connections, and sharing a glimpse into your company’s unique corporate culture by being an ambassador of your employer brand.

Shift your onboarding strategy.

In the middle of a pandemic, when policy, working norms, and business strategy are shifting by the minute, onboarding can feel like mastering the art of jumping on a fast-moving train. You’ll need to reassess your current onboarding process through a virtual lens, and you’ll need to shift it fast.

Make sure you can facilitate new hire training in a fully virtual way, and you may want to consider adding extra office hours or support communications to accommodate additional employee questions. You’ll also need to pay extra attention to employee mental health and wellness benefits during onboarding.

Get creative with your team-building efforts. Can’t take the new candidate out to lunch? Order takeout and have the meet-and-greet via video conference. Can’t create an in-person team outing? Try an online wine-and-cheese pairing class, a digital scavenger hunt or a themed happy hour. These gestures will go a long way toward bonding your teams during a turbulent time.

Rethink your performance management and feedback approach.

To keep your people on track and making progress toward their goals, you’ll need to provide managers the tools they need to remain connected to their teams, reassess budgets, and determine what individuals can achieve despite uncertainty about the future.

  • Invest in technology: Managers should be able to chat freely and frequently through video conferencing and messaging services. Work closely with your IT teams to make sure multiple communications channels are in place, and that these systems are secure and efficient.
  • Assess budgets: Although budgets may be tight right now, it’s time to get creative about how your HR dollars get allocated. Consider shifting a small portion of your recruitment budget into investments in corporate culture. For example, now is a great time to give managers some discretionary funding, so that they can boost employees’ spirits with gift cards for meal delivery or a meaningful gift.
  • Maintain cadence: Don’t neglect performance discussions. Especially during times of change, continuing a regular cadence of 1:1 feedback is critically important to show that leaders continue to be invested in their people’s professional growth and personal well-being. Maintaining dedicated time for performance discussions, regardless of whether they happen in person or virtually, and reinforcing the importance of personal development from all levels of the organization, will go a long way toward boosting a sense of “normalcy.”
  • Re-evaluate goals. Make sure managers take the time during 1:1 development discussions to talk about the goals the employee set at the beginning of the year. Even if the business direction is changing, and the end zone is still a little fuzzy, where can employees still make progress and keep the company – and themselves – moving forward?

Get hyper-focused on learning and development.

Learning, and of course, remote learning, is enjoying a renaissance these days. Here are some ideas for both formal and informal learning that can be achieved virtually.

  • Knowledge sharing: Employees are eager to hear about how different parts of the business are faring. Engage your company’s top leaders across all teams to host virtual sessions that are open to all employees. During the sessions, leaders can provide insights about their business unit’s activities and an outlook on the future.
  • E-Learning classes: Consider expanding online learning opportunities and offering them free for both current and furloughed/laid off employees. With reduced commute times and more time stuck at home, people will be grateful for the chance to learn and develop.
  • Mentoring programs: During an unsettling period, having a go-to person will ensure your employees feel heard and supported, while improving their effectiveness, too.
  • Mental and physical health support: Invest in online services that provide support for things like online coaching, counseling, healthy lifestyle choices and fitness apps.

Don’t forget about engagement.

This is the time for leaders to listen and understand how your employees are feeling and respond appropriately. This means addressing employees’ biggest pain points, sharing personal perspective, and reacting with compassion and humanity. Make sure leaders acknowledge the challenges we are all facing, thank your employees for their commitment and candor, and remind them that this too will pass.

Make sure you establish an appropriate cadence of two-way dialogue via executive town halls, leader chats, small team meetings, and one-on-one meetings with managers and their direct reports. It’s also essential to provide communication channels that are useful in a remote working environment, such as platforms like Slack. Find as many ways as you can to create community. For example, many companies are creating channels for dog owners, parents, singles, fitness enthusiasts, cooking lovers and other groups so employees have various areas to connect.  The best companies are making sure their leaders are highly visible and engaged on internal social media platforms as well as more formal channels.

Shifting your people plan will require effort, coordination, and sustained commitment on many fronts. But this is the time for HR to really shine. HR leaders and teams can provide structure, calm and strategic and tactical support to employees at every level, by approaching an uncertain future with a flexible, holistic, and human-inspired people plan.