The Key Takeaway From Senior HR Leaders in Our COVID-19 Roundtables

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Over the past four weeks, on behalf of McLean & Company, I have had the pleasure of leading several industry roundtables with senior HR leaders. Over 60 organizations from throughout North America have participated so far and we have many more scheduled over the next few weeks. It has been very interesting and enjoyable to lead these exchanges, and I would like to share my key takeaways.

To get straight to the point – HR is fully in the spotlight right now. Organizations are dependent on their HR leaders for strategies to manage the workforce, whether it is redeploying, retraining for a pivot in the business delivery, laying off, or transitioning to work from home. Moreover, the stress employees are feeling from both the workplace and their personal circumstances is expected to be addressed by HR through leading the provision of mental health services and support. But who is helping HR? HR leaders need support too! That’s why we decided to host the roundtables: so senior HR leaders could share their fears, their challenges, and their successes with their industry peers and ultimately come away knowing that none of them are alone – they are there for each other. While dealing with a pandemic is not the way HR ever expected to be able to shine, together with their HR peers they can embrace the challenge and really make a difference to their employees and their organizations.

When these sessions first began, most HR leaders were overwhelmed with understanding the situation, evaluating the impact to the workforce, and trying to make decisions. Some were thrust into leading business continuity planning (BCP) meetings without having been involved in their organization’s BCP planning before the pandemic. The HR roundtable conversations were cathartic in many ways, allowing participants to vent frustrations, share their fears, and ask for help.

As time went on the HR roundtable conversations started to shift. Daily BCP meetings became weekly, and the pandemic response became the new normal. Developing strategies for workforce management, whether it be working from home or continuing onsite as an essential service, presented challenges not previously encountered. For one thing, mental health has become a bigger concern as the pandemic continues. There are many different factors contributing to the rising stress and anxiety levels. They include:

  • Managing young children who would otherwise be in school or at daycare.
  • Loneliness from not interacting with fellow employees, particularly for those that live alone.
  • Financial worry from having to take a pay cut or being laid off – for the employee, their partner, or both.
  • Lacking digital/technological literacy to manage working from home effectively.
  • Working onsite in an essential service.
  • Traveling to work via public transit.
  • Coworkers falling ill from COVID-19.

These examples from our roundtable discussions are only a sampling of the many stressors employees are facing and looking to HR to help them with. Now there are states and provinces starting to reopen, and planning for that will be the next focus.

What could possibly be the key takeaway from all of this? The one constant that gets raised in every roundtable is the importance of communication. I once worked for a CEO who told me that “80% of business problems are caused by poor communication, and 80% of business problems can be solved by excellent communication.” We cannot control the cause of the situation we are in right now, but by having a strong focus on communication we can help our organizations, our employees, our customers, and ourselves.

Engaging communication principles remain the same whether your employees are working from home or continue to be onsite. Our research has shown that the 3i’s of McLean & Company’s 3i Model – Inform, Interact, and Involve – are the most important components of being an engaging manager. Use the model to guide your communication and to train your managers, because they are having to communicate with their teams more than ever.

Inform your employees honestly and directly. Do not hide negative information and do help navigate ambiguity. When communicating virtually use your video – be the first to turn on your camera. Do not force others if they aren’t comfortable – in a group setting more people will eventually start sharing.

Interact regularly with your employees. In our roundtables many HR leaders have said what a positive impact it has made when the CEO speaks to the employees either virtually or in person. Showing vulnerability, humility, and appealing to what is personally important to the employees builds trust and makes people feel a part of the solution and successes.

Involve your employees by soliciting feedback. Ask questions that drive conversation, such as:

  • What have you learned about yourself during this crisis?
  • As a team, what are we doing better now that you would like to continue?
  • What are you most proud of (or grateful for)?
  • What’s on your mind? What else?

Have them create groups or committees that can drive engagement and interaction. Make sure the groups use the 3i Model to guide their actions. Include employees on layoff or furlough to maintain their connection to the organization.

HR leaders must keep communication front and center as we navigate through this unprecedented crisis. Keep the conversations going and through them cultivate hope as you determine what will be your next practices and your new normal. Create a vision of the future that is achievable after this crisis is over.

At McLean & Company we continue to publish research and tools to assist our members in managing this crisis through our COVID-19 Resource Center. There are a number of resources to help guide and support communication, such as: The Essential Nine-Step Guide to Building & Communicating Your CHRO Strategy for COVID 19, Crisis Communication Guide For HR, and Leverage Leadership Best Practices to Manage Employee Engagement Through COVID-19.

Interested in joining an upcoming roundtable or want information on McLean & Company’s products and services, including the Executive Counselor product offering? Please contact Brad Markis:

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