Adapting to the “new normal” should not be the end goal for HR

end goal

Listening and taking action creates a culture of growth and positive transformation. It means you will not be caught off-guard by issues that have been brewing for some time and can prioritise addressing issues that matter, writes Steve Bennetts, EX Solutions & Strategy, Qualtrics.

While there has been a lot of talk about when things will go back to normal or when we’ll adapt to the new normal, those conversations are fundamentally missing the point. Right now, we have the opportunity to come back better, stronger, and more inclusive than ever.

This view is supported by the World Economic Forum, which stated in April 2020 “building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitised world and stay current in the latest technology will be essential for any business to remain competitive post COVID-19.”

Listening and taking action creates a culture of growth and positive transformation. It means you will not be caught off-guard by issues that have been brewing for some time and can prioritise addressing issues that matter.

And it’s a view echoed by the workforce in Australia, with more than half of workers (55 per cent) in the Qualtrics Work Different study expecting their industry will change for the better due to the changes being implemented in response to the pandemic.

There are early signs businesses in Australia and across the globe are moving in the right direction. The Qualtrics study found the majority of people in Australia say their employer’s response to the pandemic has been above average.

One of the key drivers that this can be attributed to is that during the pandemic leaders instinctively provided visibility and transparency within their organisations. They listened and communicated more frequently, and showed they cared about their people by taking actions that reflected their concerns and feedback.

Despite the strong start, businesses cannot afford to take their foot off the gas. There is more change ahead as people start to trickle back to the workplace. While restrictions will eventually lift, expectations have changed forever as a result of the pandemic.

To ensure businesses continue to move forward, it’s now a critical time for HR leaders to formalise the human-centred approach adopted with employees in the initial response to COVID-19.

The journey to a new better
The first – and most important – step to making the new normal the new better is listening to employees and taking action. It’s essential that leaders listen to their employees to understand what’s working and what’s not.

This point is echoed by Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Leader, who said “listening is incredibly important. Especially in a world of virtual and remote work. If you do not have the ability to listen, you cannot be a leader.”

Listening is also incredibly important to your workforce – especially during times of change. More than three quarters (78 per cent) of workers in the Qualtrics study think it’s very important their employers listen to their feedback during a crisis. However, only half of workers in Australia say their employer has listened and acted on feedback more so during the pandemic.

With situations changing at a rapid rate, organisations need to regularly listen and engage with their workforce – in some cases weekly or even daily – to determine what actions to take. For example, at Qualtrics we discovered early on in the pandemic our global workforce wanted more frequent communications at a time when we thought we were already over-communicating.

The four stages to the new better
Changing the way leaders listen to a workforce and act on their feedback in this new reality presents an opportunity for leaders to build a new better.

In our study, Qualtrics found just under half of employers (49 per cent) have not taken steps to act on feedback more than before the pandemic.

By using modern employee listening platforms, HR leaders can get access to real-time insights outlining employee needs and concerns which can help them determine what actions to take.

As businesses start to plan for the return to the office, four key stages that must be kept in mind are:

  • Stage 1: React – This is your immediate response to major change, when you’re listening more and taking action to address evolving situations
  • Stage 2: Explore – Many businesses are currently in this stage. At this time you are planning to reopen workplaces, meaning listening is critical to understanding what actions people want to see for them to feel safe
  • Stage 3: Reorient – Changes in behaviours begins to settle at this point. As things stabilise you need to understand what changes have remained and how to reposition offerings and messaging
  • Stage 4: Normalise – This is your new better, where you will need to realign operations to meet new expectations

Atlassian is one example of a business reaping the rewards for listening regularly to their employees. The company recently gave insight at Qualtrics’ Work Different Event on how it is working differently during the pandemic, discovering its familiarity with working remotely wasn’t an immediate advantage.

“We learnt quickly that our habits were baked in being part of an office. A lot of habits didn’t work in a remote fashion. [Now] we practice stuff, if it works, we do more of it. If it doesn’t, we roll it back,” said Dom Price, Work Futurist.

“If we design this on purpose, we can build environments that are more inclusive than ever before. You get access to a whole new talent base that has amazing ideas, amazing backgrounds, and amazing innovation – we’ve just not tapped into them yet.”

There is more change ahead as people start to trickle back to the workplace. While restrictions will eventually lift, expectations have changed forever as a result of the pandemic.

The new better
It’s one thing to listen, but to really drive positive change leaders need to take action. Think about it like a gym membership or subscription service – you might have it but you get the real rewards when you put it to use.

Listening and taking action creates a culture of growth and positive transformation. It means you will not be caught off-guard by issues that have been brewing for some time and can prioritise addressing issues that matter.

Employees value this behaviour and as we move to an increasingly permanent model of working across locations, it’s clear employees won’t want to see it disappear. Listening and acting is key to ensuring the new normal is the new better.

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