The New HR: You Need to Build the Road Before You Create the Map

4 Minutes Read

I was talking with one of my HR colleagues who I’ve been doing business with for the past 20 years. We were swapping comparisons to today’s business climate to things in our professional careers, our lifetimes and then throughout modern history and then, the larger, philosophical world.  One idea that came up was that we’re staring at the table in a 3 card monte game and that we think we know where the card is but knowing we probably don’t. 

So the question now is what happens next? We are all hearing talk about reopening so what is going to happen when it does?  As we prepare for the grand reopening let’s talk about three new concepts based off long-lived practices many in human resources are trying to understand. 

Keep in mind that no matter what the concept of social distancing is, it’s here to stay.  It’s safe to say that:

  • Quick, interpersonal encounters are being radically transformed in the short-term and maybe longer
  • Traditional team building activities are not practical
  • Managers will need to be informed but lack the ability to easily engage and need to deal with that

Let me share with you some of what I’m hearing from my colleagues in human resources.

Quick interpersonal encounters--We all love the drop by and the brainstorming and feedback that comes from that.  We now have to prepare ourselves for a world where that doesn’t happen and, possibly, is prevented from happening from a change in policy.  We also need to imagine an environment where those cultural building efforts like chatting at the cube or at the water cooler are no longer viable.

I work regularly with many HR innovators.  These people are at the forefront of employee engagement and they are trying to figure out how you can have employee engagement in an environment where the employees can’t physically engage with one another. 

Traditional team building activities are not practical-- We’ve all become used to the team lunches, trips to activities designed to bring us together and even meeting in close quarters. Just about each activity one can do to build a stronger team is now considered extremely high-risk and likely to continue being so for the indefinite future.  

Human resources leaders know that this presents a new challenge that is less daunting than frightening.  Imagine losing all of the productivity software we were used to and going back to typewriters and hard bound ledgers.  That’s what many HR professionals see as happening. You’re going to have to think of some new activities in place of the usual ones.  

Maybe you should consider a variety of interactive opportunities for your teams? Say for example there could be an online trivia tournament or a course in how to bake cookies. Then you would balance that with a course on how to be a better project manager or something.  The point being you are able to build new activities but the HR team needs to think long and hard about what you need to do in order to keep employees motivated and engaged. 

Managers need to be informed but lack easy access and the ability to deal with information--Let me be clear about one thing, managers will always be able to track the performance of employees and engage them to ensure they feel they are part of something larger.  That’s always been the case and will always be the case. 

What is going to be more difficult is building that rapport so that the manager can fully understand the context involved when trying to engage employees based exclusively on data.  While many managers are fully engaged and able to see the trends before they become data, they will also struggle with the true cause behind the data before it becomes so. 

Information is, by its definition historical. Pre-coronavirus the manager was much better equipped to engage with employees by grabbing a sense of the vibe of the group and quickly responding.  Post coronavirus, the manager has to either wait for a problem to emerge and put out the fire, address a certain issue and hopefully prevent the fire or, double down on engagement and hope to prevent a fire in the first place. No option is truly pleasing. 

Fortunately, each of these struggles presents some new options

The key statement there is options.  The term options presents a number of choices which allow for analysis with a bit of risk taking. Some of the possible options are:

Double down on interpersonal interactions-Make sure to use Zoom/Skype or whatever you use to regularly interact with each member of your team and encourage them to do the same. Use instant messaging for some direct interaction and take a few moments for that cross/cubicle talk you may have done in the past.  

Be sure to NOT rely exclusively on email or telephone calls. They have tremendous value as productivity tools as we know but without a regular presence can have a negative effect.

Engage employees on a different, yet still personal level Have Zoom/Skype etc team gatherings for example. Circumstances may change down the road but one possible team building exercise is to have the team event like a lunch remotely and let everyone chat.  For example a team lunch paid for by the company, with certain restrictions in place could actually be a strong exercise.

Besides creating a strong sense of community, it’s a great way to please everyone.  Your team can have pizza, salad, Thai, sushi or ice cream all at one time.  Keep it fun and lively and enjoy the time to talk to someone outside your normal bubble.

Provide those regular updates that bring positive information to the team and ensure they understand how they are appreciated--It’s a given that right now your employees are in total shell shock.  Fear is rampant and they are feeling a new sense of personal and professional torment that was unthinkable not so long ago. 

Use this as an opportunity to double down with your team and keep them updated on what’s going on.  Continue to provide updates on the future and you will change their mindset about the present.  It’s a way to provide a positive reinforcement and make the individual not just feel about how they matter in the present, but understand how they matter going forward and make them believe they are a part of the larger team 

Final Thoughts and Takeaway

The human resources executives I interact with right now are moving ahead and coming up with some great ideas but are, much like you and me, really scratching their heads on what those next steps should be.  I tell them to not worry about the occasional stumble.  We are all trying new things, on the fly without knowing where exactly this will all end up. It’s up to you to create this new thing that takes the place of the old no matter what we can no longer do. To use an old expression you need to build the road before you can create the map and right now, we’re in the road building stage.        


Things to Consider When Building the Road

  • Learning happens everywhere 
  • Consider where and how your teams will learn.
    • invite guest speakers to team meetings
      • Subject matter expert
      • Customer learn how your group can help them
  • Positive feedback is even more important 
    • Things can be mis-interpreted in this age of working remotely. 
    • Highlight the impact team members have across colleagues and customers. Connect that to values.
    • Let employees share how they want to grow. They may share something you are looking to give them constructive feedback on
    • Consider ending each week with a gratitude list of how each employee made the week a decent one. Offers structure to closing out the week on a high note                                                                                      

Todd Horton