Can HR ever really influence the C-suite?

HR! Step out of your comfort zone and take charge for once

Can HR ever really influence the C-suite?

The pandemic has drastically changed people’s perspective on work and life. To be a successful leader in this uncertain world, HR must be adept at driving change amongst company leaders, said Alyssa Wang, HR director, Asia-Pacific at ADM. “People have started to reprioritise and what they cared about before may not be a top priority anymore,” Wang told HRD. “In order to cope with that, our leaders must have a mindset change as well.”

Read more: Why does the employee experience matter so much?

Employees’ priorities in the post-pandemic world

Plenty of studies conducted in our new era of work reflects Wang’s views on the employees’ changing priorities. A report by IBM Institute for Business Value found that above all, employees desired work-life balance (51%). This was followed by career advancement opportunities (43%), competitive compensation and benefits (41%) and ethics and values that aligned with them (41%). It’s clear that the work experience can no longer be transactional.

Unfortunately, the same report found that leaders haven’t been doing enough in supporting employees’ needs. Most employers received average or above-average marks for supporting the physical, mental, and financial well-being of employees. However fewer than one in five workers gave excellent marks in any area.

Additionally, employees felt underwhelmed in many other areas at work. Only about half of workers gave their employers high marks on delivering what is most important to them across the board. While 55% of employees scored their employers highly in ethics and values, fewer than half were happy with career development and advancement opportunities (48%), and compensation and benefits packages (47%).

Read more: How the COVID-19 crisis will redefine HR

Why leaders need a mindset change

The situation must change if leaders wanted to improve engagement levels and retention levels. Wang suggested a possible reason for the gap in employees’ needs. Before the pandemic, business leaders may have been more focused on “leading things” instead of leading people. This can refer to an excessive focus on getting results for the business bottom line without enough consideration for the employee and hard work that goes into those outcomes.

Having a wider overview of things and vast experience in managing both business results and employee experience, HR leaders have the upper hand and can guide execs through the vital mindset change. “[Business leaders] were sometimes less sensitive about what people were feeling, but the [crisis] has changed that,” Wang said. “What we have learned is that leaders need to be more observant of your staff. How do they feel? Are they happy or not? Are they engaged? In this difficult time, a good leader can provide hope and a clear purpose, and also explain the meaning [of changes].”

Read more: Are you an effective leader? Here's how to tell

The self-aware leader

All of this must start with ensuring leaders improve their sense of self-awareness – you need to understand your employees’ needs and wants and find out how you impact their experiences as a leader. “This crisis has taught us that we need to care more for people,” Wang said. “We need to better understand our employees’ real needs. To realise that you also have to understand yourself or what you really care about and what others really care about.”

The pandemic has given HR the opportunity to step up and ensure that everyone’s realised the massive changes happening in the world of work. “Whether you like it or not, this change has happened,” she said. “This has given HR a good opportunity to emphasise the people side of things.”

If you were hesitant to take the lead before, now is the time to move out of your comfort zone, explained Wang. “You need to dare to make decisions,” she said. “There are a lot of new things happening that you don’t have any references to, so you need to have the courage even to sell [an idea]. Don’t be afraid to be a leader and to dare to try.”

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