The Board’s Role in the Transformation of Work

The pandemic has had a lasting effect on people and the workplace. Seven in 10 business leaders expect the market will be embracing a hybrid work model 10 years out, up from 22% pre-pandemic. What is the board’s role in this transition?

The pandemic has transformed how, where, when and even why we work. It accelerated workplace redesign as offices closed, entire industries were upended and employees had to do their jobs remotely if the nature of their work permitted them to do so. It raised the bar for reinvigorating strategic conversations on vision, mission, purpose and values.

As COVID-19 shifts to an endemic state, don’t bet on a return to pre-pandemic norms. This is a one-way trip toward an uncertain future along a winding road of trial and error. With the Great Attrition, rising wages and artificial intelligence (AI) accelerating the velocity of change, unprecedented accommodations by employers will be necessary. Workers are empowered with options rarely seen before. Bottom line, the companies and boards that figure out how to best navigate the needs of their employees in performing their jobs will likely be winners in the future.

Vision by Protiviti has conducted global research with University of Oxford. The research results summarised at suggest that leaders are experiencing the winds of change in a technology-driven world. Their opportunity is to rethink the business by accelerating customer-facing product and workplace redesign and using data analytics to inform design decisions. Boards of directors should view the organisation’s talent strategy in coordination with the business strategy to ensure the two are integrated.

To that end, below are eight questions for directors to consider:

It is difficult to envision a time when the CHRO role has been more important to an organisation’s continued success than the present. To engender confidence, the CHRO must relate to the CEO and engage in strategic conversations.

Leading HR functions conduct quarterly assessments of human assets and compare these evaluations to the skills needed to execute the strategy. They evaluate talent inventories against longer-term objectives and develop strategies to address gaps.

According to a global poll, only 21% of employees are engaged at work. In other words, many employees are “quietly quitting” as they become less willing to embrace the “up the ladder” grind and are less than highly connected — mentally and emotionally — to their work, teams and organisations. With tightening talent markets worldwide, employers must compete for hearts and minds. As work choices are deeply personal, retention is more important now than ever. Integration of talent and business strategy requires new talent assessments, talent metrics, reskilling approaches and board reporting. It involves the deployment of innovative labor models and sourcing strategies. The widespread pursuit of digital capabilities in all industries has resulted in a scarcity of technological talent that will likely linger for years. Focusing on cognitive and critical-thinking skills rather than specific fields of study and experience may become more important, meaning that the types of people companies have historically recruited may not be their sole source of talent in the future.

Hybrid and work-from-anywhere models have blurred work and personal lives. Organisations differentiating their employee experience are addressing the well-being of their people more comprehensively. They offer flexible work arrangements and other benefits as well as company-supported and company-led employee networking groups that promote physical, mental, social and financial well-being. However, questions remain for directors to consider. For example, how are leaders communicating in a hybrid environment? How is performance recognised and rewarded without disadvantaging those who opt to work remotely? How are the organisation’s facilities, training programmes and other resources enabling employees to obtain the most value out of in-person interactions in terms of fulfilling their responsibilities and developing new capabilities and skills?

The traditional emphasis on preserving corporate culture should give way to building and enhancing it. A steward of organisational culture, the CHRO monitors the organisation to ensure managers remain fully aligned with the tone set at the top. In today’s environment in which there is ongoing debate around corporate purpose, this alignment remains a priority but is more difficult to sustain in a hybrid environment. Boards have significant responsibility to ensure that the corporate culture enables the strategy, is aligned with core values and functions as a magnet for talent. Directors should make it a priority to get to know the executive bench of aspiring leaders to gauge their quality and gain insights regarding the company’s culture.

Both generational imperatives and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are linked to talent acquisition and retention. A granular understanding of specific goals and aspirations of the various generational classifications is key to tailoring HR programmes. DEI initiatives should be tracked to ensure continued progress. Performance evaluations and reward systems should address the evolving hybrid work environment. Inclusiveness for and fairness to all are the goals. The environment framed by these and other workplace realities may require different metrics.

The emergence of collaborative and virtual technologies combined with the rapid evolution of DEI initiatives has increased the focus on nontraditional leadership competencies. Leading with empathy builds trust and loyalty among employees because it acknowledges value in the contributions and points of view of others. Highly effective in fostering employee empowerment, resilience and flexibility during the pandemic, these attributes are invaluable in an environment of disruptive change requiring responsiveness, agility and speed to market. They offer a foundation for training current and future leaders in managing a remote workforce. As for succession planning, high-performing HR executives are devising and testing knowledge-transfer processes and leadership development plans prior to losing senior leaders.

A survey focused on the role of trust in human capital management disclosed that, when considering a job, 60% of employees expect the CEO to speak out publicly about controversial social and political issues that they care about. Employees are choosing and leaving companies based on whether their personal values are aligned with the values of the organisation. This reality coupled with contentious political discourse and the power of social media are forcing executive teams to choose sides on issues affecting employees, customers, other stakeholders and the bottom line. CHROs play an important role in facilitating side-choosing decisions and subsequent actions — including internal communications.

The need to align talent strategy and business strategy is straightforward. But rapid technological advancements and the increasing frequency with which external disruptions and volatility force companies to pivot strategically suggest that the talent and skills needed to sustain the business are likely to change as well. That is why the above questions merit consideration in the boardroom.

For more about the board’s role in the transformation of work, read the article here

(Board Perspectives — Issue 156)

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