Industry Update
Opinion Article23 October 2020

The Big Rethink Agenda: HR, Leadership and Crisis Management

The pandemic and its related challenges have forced human resources executives in the hotel industry to re-examine and retool strategies.

By Thomas Mielke, Managing Director at AETHOS Consulting Group

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Throughout the summer months, AETHOS has been inviting human resources executives to participate in one-on-one conversations as well as online roundtable discussions. The purpose has been to have an open and unbiased forum to be able to share concerns, ideas or challenges with impartial industry executives as it relates to talent management and leadership aspects within one's own organization.


Since the beginning of 2020, HR leaders have been expected to act fast and to have ready-made plans in place. The fact is, though, the sheer scale and impact of COVID-19 has dwarfed whatever contingency plans might have been in place and it has made many of the "Plan Bs" redundant. To steady the waters and to protect employees and customers alike, as well as the business and its shareholders, senior human resources executives, together with company leadership teams, have drawn up new agendas. Here are some of the top priorities.

Realigning HR and business strategies

Considering the current subdued business conditions, organizations are bracing for a long recovery. Consequently, having already cut costs, restructured departments and boosted efficiencies and productivity, firms are now refocusing attention on adjustments to core business models.

Leadership operates on the assumption that travel and demand patterns, as well as behaviors, have shifted for good—and so must HR departments. HR leaders are re-prioritizing effective and proactive crisis management, innovation and change management. Many also are looking to build stronger flexibility and adaptability into the HR system to future-proof against other crises, which begins with securing access to, or building up, a more fluid workforce.

Managing a more fluid workforce

Government mandates have led to remote working and limiting the size of the workforce (and its interactions with one another and customers). At the same time, companies have had to deal with enforced quarantine measures and travel restrictions. All this has resulted in significant strains on the system. It has forced companies to rethink traditional ways of collaborating.

These questions are keeping many HR executives up at night: How does one guarantee continued access to know-how, or key business relationships, if a large portion of the workforce is on furlough or no longer with the company? How does one collaborate effectively without being in the same room, or in the same time zone? How does one make sure employees have all the tools at their disposal if they have to work remotely?

Perhaps more importantly, additional questions arise around quality of decision-making and performance management. Not wanting to set up a control state which micromanages its employees, HR executives are exploring how they can best assess quality of work or productivity. By default, this included a reassessment of the available talent pool and the in-house skills gap.

Plugging the skills gap

Restructurings have been abundant, with many organizations using technology and assessment tools to assess who within their workforce is ready to advance, and who would bring the needed skills and abilities to drive and implement change and innovation.

Plugging the skills gap will be one of the crucial responsibilities of HR departments, and it is a challenge which depends on the department's own capabilities, but also on its resources. Unfortunately, many departments have been deprived of the necessary funds and even lack, for example, a properly integrated talent management system. Technology-upgrades have thus moved up in priority.

Upgrading systems and protocols

The popularity of technologies such as Zoom has demonstrated how organizations are trying to find ways of staying connected, keep business personal and collaborate more effectively. However, many companies have also looked at technology to continue, or fast-track, a leaner operation, to improve forecasting, or to better use customer data to tailor new products and services. Business leaders and HR executives also are looking at new systems to help protect their employees, guests and business partners.

New technologies often also raise questions around data security, as we have seen across many international markets where track-and-trace systems have been delayed because of such concerns. Building more IT into an organization's structure and workflow raises many questions which the HR department must answer, along with its counterparts. It begins with data security but spans all the way to assessing how new systems might impact workflows, and thus potentially the way the business engages and interacts with its customers, as well as the mental well-being of employees.

Protecting mental well-being

A technology overload can have counterproductive and even negative impacts on employees. Having to adapt very quickly to new systems or protocols can be overwhelming—particularly in an environment in which an employee is already working in isolation from colleagues. Organizations are also concerned about stress and the mental well-being of staff in general, many of whom have had to take on additional responsibilities. Stress and anxiety levels are reportedly very high. HR executives have thus ramped up and improved the way organizations communicate with their employee, placing a particular focus on ongoing communication.

Developing and implementing an HR strategy is a significant challenge for many organizations. Most are rising to the occasion, with the above initiatives helping to fine-tune and improve on existing structures and processes. Many HR executives have stressed that part is this agenda is a re-evaluation of governance.

Different strategies are being pursued across the globe. Some have sought a highly centralized strategy; others have decentralized decision-making power and let local governments/municipalities take the lead. The jury is still out as to whether or not there is one winning strategy, but HR executives are asking themselves: "Are there potential learnings for us from the different strategies being pursued by governments across the globe? During times of crisis or change, does a de-centralized structure trump a centralized one or vice-versa?"

*As First Published By HNN.

Thomas Mielke

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