For years, thought leaders have been cautioning that senior-level human resources and learning and development jobs will change profoundly. Digital transformation has been reshaping the way large organisations function. As some processes become automated, new challenges and opportunities arise.
What nobody predicted until 2020 was just how rapid and sweeping this transformation would be. HR and L&D thought leaders expected their predictions to play out throughout the decade; instead, organisations and the way they manage people changed within a year.
Organisations had to digitise nearly all functions. Leaders had to rethink relationships within the organisation beyond spatial and temporal proximity. Everyone, from the C-suite on down, had to learn quickly at a time of heightened stress and uncertainty. Everyone had to be flexible.
It was an extraordinarily challenging, but also productive year for HR and L&D leaders. While they, like everyone else, were affected by the psychological weight of the pandemic, there were also opportunities for people leaders to make a difference and to shine with innovative decisions, quick-and-dirty solutions, and radical new visions of what the workplace could be like.
Now, the time has come to take stock of a unique year and review the lessons learnt. After substantial challenges, reflection and celebration are in order. Here are 5 ways looking back on 2020 can empower people in your organisation to move on with renewed energy and a refreshed capacity for risk-taking and leadership.
#1. Practise reflection to train leadership skills
The capacity for self-reflection is a core component of effective leadership, according to professor and award-winning author Margarita Mayo. A transformational leader is able to not just act quickly and efficiently in the moment, but to also look back on the experience and turn it into a learning opportunity. According to Margarita’s research, leaders who practise self-reflection are able to improve their organisations. She recommends that leaders collaborate closely with peers in order to develop this capacity.
Research by The European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) has similarly shown that reflection is a necessary precondition for leaders to be able to further themselves and their organisations. In a broad literature review of the studies on leadership over the past few decades, EFMD singled out reflection as one of 8 factors that leaders need to grow and improve. Furthermore, EFMD found that experiential learning is more valuable. Live exchange with peers, collaboration, and novel and exciting settings – like the interactive MERIT Summit and Awards 2021 – help leaders grow.
#2. Offer recognition to avoid burnout and boost engagement
Not just leaders, but entire teams, as well as all employees, have needed extra support and recognition over the past year. The power of gratitude to boost morale and alleviate negative experiences is well-known. Additionally, French philosopher and academic Idriss Aberkane recommends that organisations should create rituals that can foster a sense of meaning and belonging.
To address this need, MERIT is introducing the MERITS – a new awards programme designed to recognise the best initiatives in people leadership across the public and private sector and academia. The event is a chance to process the difficulties of an extraordinary year and to honour people’s contributions. Hardship breeds innovation and creativity, and that is worth celebrating. An award or nomination for your team could provide the recognition they deserve and extra motivation to move forward.
#3. Embrace innovation
As Dr. Margarita Mayo emphasises, most attempts at organisational transformation fail. But periods of crisis are also when new ideas and unconventional solutions become possible. With so much at risk, more innovative proposals may be given a chance. One quirky, inspiring example: at the 2020 graduation ceremony at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University (US), students “walked” the stage via remotely operated robots. The initiative made the news in 100 countries worldwide.
Can you think of similarly bold and unusual ideas at your organisation? Celebrate and reward them so that they can develop beyond the current crisis and a real innovation culture can take root.
#4. Learn from case studies in real time
An important benefit of reflection is that it opens up the potential for reciprocal exchange. When you share your challenges and successes, you also gain the opportunity to take part in discussions with peers about the ways they have dealt with the crisis.
Throughout 2020, there was not much time to consider every decision and evaluate every option. When supply chains broke down or the risks to people’s health became significant, leaders had to act fast, honouring their most fundamental values, rather than thinking through all the implications.
Now is the time to hear how other leaders did it, to compare notes, and to consider alternative paths forward. There was no blueprint for the pandemic –now, leaders can get together to create one.
#5. Find community and collaborators
Challenges bring people together. How has your work changed? How did you manage day to day? Learning and people leaders across industries would want to hear from you. Support networks can grow out of this crisis.
Meeting like-minded professionals at a safe live event would be especially meaningful after a year of isolation: in September 2020, the MERIT European Summit in Paris brought together around 30 HR and L&D leaders for an exclusive in-person event with heightened safety measures. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
“It was truly a delightful experience to be with everyone in person, have great conversations and listen to a diversity of speakers,” said Michael Banks, Principal Consultant at PeopleSmart. “It was a great experience to meet and learn from such talented like-minded people!” wrote Victoria Feldman, Senior Leadership Development Business Partner at Amazon and former Global Leadership Development Manager at Uber. Bernard Coulaty, a senior HR professional and author, echoed their sentiments: “It was high time to reconnect in person!”
Take the chance to talk with peers and to develop a wider international network so you are even better prepared for the next challenge.
By Ani Kodjabasheva