There is a controversial point of view arising: HR should have done more to prepare companies for the advent of COVID-19.
“It’s not that HR should have known the pandemic was coming”, they explain. “But isn’t HR about developing new skills for the company?”
Case 1: A company’s Executive Chairman belatedly wakes up to the fact that the new lock-down restrictions are going to severely impact his company’s sales. He calls the head of HR: “Where can I take a crash course on leading a company through a sudden drop in revenue” When the HR Director balks, not knowing where to start, he spends two hours doing Google searches and finally pulls up an old webinar on YouTube…with no help from her.
Case 2: A company is receiving numerous complaints from remote, work-from-home staff. Managers are trying to use Zoom meetings up to 10 times per day to micro-manage their people who were only sent home two weeks ago. The executive team agrees: “No-one knows how to manage without looking over people’s shoulders.” In their meeting they turn to the HR VP – “What are you going to do about this?”
Case 3: “Someone in HR needs to tell Mr. Johnson how to wash his hands.” A complaint has come into the HR Department of the country’s biggest police station. The janitor has been washing his hands the old-fashioned way: occasionally, only taking 2 seconds and not using soap every time. The implication is obvious: if he doesn’t learn COVID-19 level hygiene, he could take down the whole station by allowing the virus to spread via the rest-rooms.
In each of these cases, the content of the learning is not the point. To paraphrase Dwight Eisenhower, “Skills mean nothing. Learning is everything.”
Instead, employees have not learned how to self-learn effectively. Now that COVID-19 has put them under pressure, yawning gaps in their knowledge and skills are evident to them and others. As a result, they are scrambling to teach themselves what they need. Unfortunately, they are struggling.
This is where the critics of HR have a point.
Over the past decade, HR departments have suffered severe budget cuts, so that training and development became a minimal pursuit. In the past, this wasn’t the case: HR used to coordinate 90% or more of the training which took place in companies.
Like good corporate soldiers, HR saluted and executed the new direction faithfully, perhaps believing that it was a temporary situation. But it’s been over a decade since the last recession started. Since then, some argue that:
HR has become reactive, delivering “only-if-absolutely-needed” development
Companies have not returned to investing in the development of their HR Departments
HR has therefore not grown to embrace the technologies needed to access the best content delivered by new channels and platforms
Up until the advent of COVID-19, these trends were developing imperceptibly, slowly. But now, the need for employee self-development is urgent and evident.
In each of the three cases shared above, the long term solution is not for HR to focus on becoming knowledgeable on specific skills. There’s no way to do that for emergencies like COVID-19 or whichever one comes next.
Instead, it must be about teaching people to re-skill themselves. The best approach is, not surprisingly, for HR to re-skill itself.
If you are an HR Professional, what would it be like to start 2022 with a whole new set of self-development tools at your fingertips?What would it be like to be able to re-skill yourself at will?
This is the possibility or vision we are creating here at CaribHRForum for the upcoming year. We want HR Professionals to spend the year putting on their own oxygen mask first, before that of others. In other words, let’s make 2020-21 a time of taking care of our own self-learning first.
The good news is that the webinar on Wednesday night, April 22nd, is our first step in that direction. It will be followed by the launch of three private coaching groups and then the CaribHRForum Virtual Summit 2020 in September.
While your company awaits a return to business as usual, should your leadership be thinking about revisiting its strategy? Does the current pandemic mean that you should start the process all over again?
To say that the coronavirus has disrupted business is an understatement.
Even if you are still operating at this time of lockdowns and curfews, you are probably doing so under duress. Nevertheless, you must look ahead.
At some point in the future, employees will have returned to their jobs, continuing to work in the old way. However, it would be a mistake to put your effort into “returning things to normal.” Chances are, there is a new normal and you should adjust to it, rather than seek to drag your business back to an obsolete state.
For example, take the case of an owner of a funeral parlour in New York City. As an essential service, the company has not closed down. In fact, like many morticians who are willing to deal with COVID casualties, the owner is overwhelmed by the volume of deceased persons being brought in.
While this could be treated as a windfall, the long-term question is “What does this mean for business?” In other words, is there an assumption that needs to be re-examined now that funerals are being conducted so quickly, in small groups, without a service, in large numbers?
Like this company, it might be time for your team to re-examine the assumptions behind its strategic plan. Here are three steps for engaging your executives and board members.
Part 1 – Enumerate the Disruptions Start by making a list of the most obvious changes. When the big-ticket items are out of the way, look for the ones that are harder to see but may be just as important.
One method is to begin with a single pronounced item but then ask “Why” to determine the reasons things have changed. Then repeat the process asking “Why?” five more times, until no more answers can be found. Leave room to add other big items as you continue, but pull them together into new strategic themes before the next step.
Part 2 – Tear-down the Old Plan Here, you are looking for concrete reasons why the current plan won’t work. Use the results of the prior exercise if needed, but in this phase you should be ruthless. Identify the assumptions (unstated or unimagined) which have been violated by the new normal.
At this moment, you need to bring your team to a consensus point of view regarding the plan’s gaps, seeking to go as deep as possible into long-term changes. For example, have your customers come to expect a higher standard that you never predicted? Has a new technology been introduced that you simply can no longer ignore? Have you fallen behind a nimble competitor?
Part 3 Assess the Plan’s Viability In this final step, you decide whether or not the current plan needs to be changed and to what degree.
In some cases, your plan may have anticipated the disruptions which are underway as a result of COVID-19. For example, perhaps you contemplated that within five years you would be delivering service to customers remotely using a tool like Zoom or WhatsApp.
Now, you realize, you need to do so immediately just to keep up.
Or, you may have learned that the time horizon on your old plan was too short – a common occurrence. The changes that you see happening in the next year are so dramatic, they render your plan obsolete. A brand new, long-term destination is needed.
However you assess your current strategy, the final step is to conduct a joint activity to bring it up to date. This may mean starting from ground zero.
If you believe you can escape this kind of re-examination or leave it up to the CEO or Chair to do it alone, think again. Consider that this global disruption might be the single most impactful event in your lifetime.
The fact is, some assumptions in your industry have been unfrozen. Consequently, your firm has the chance to stick a wedge into a sliver of opportunity and turn it into a crack that will never be closed. If you move quickly, you can be the first (and only) company to capitalize.
The only difference is that these things usually happen slowly, over a decade or more. Now, for a change, they are happening with lightning speed.
If you own a company, should you encourage your children to one day take an ownership position? Or should they pursue a more lucrative career overseas? We Jamaicans need to challenge our habit of exporting the next generation.
“My son is a pediatrician in New York.”
There are few things that give a Jamaican parent more pride than the apparent success of their child in a foreign country. He may be miserable, divorced and barely making ends meet in a cold corner of the South Bronx, but these dull facts are disregarded in the telling of the tale.
His parents could even own a profitable business in a small town, the sole supplier of an essential good or service. Their life may be comfortable. They live well below their means as they navigate a world they understand. When the son complains about his life, they tell him to stay put – things are far worse back home.
But are they?
I lived on both sides of the equation: 21 years in the USA, returning 15 years ago. I met scores of overseas Jamaicans trapped in jobs or neighborhoods they hated. They longed to return to what they knew, but couldn’t. Few re-migrate from Canada, the UK or America even after the environment becomes hostile.
In the meantime, their parent-owners did no succession planning. Eventually, these founders passed away, forcing their children to come back to pick up the pieces. There are countless versions of the above scenario. It’s a sad accumulation of small, seemingly disconnected decisions that result in a huge loss of inter-generational wealth. Here are three new thoughts that might help.
1. Don’t under-estimate what you have here
In error, we Jamaicans often think we are “special” – facing problems that no-one in the rest of the world has. For example, someone who struggled to start their own business believes that if they had only been born in America, they would have had an easier path to success. As such, they encourage their children to migrate to a life with fewer obstacles.
Unfortunately, they don’t realize the advantage they already have. Their company has figured out how to succeed and is now a big and growing fish in a small pond. This advantage is hard to comprehend when viewed from home, but the global research is clear: most wealthy families pass on material advantages from one generation to the next. I know too many Jamaican families who ignore this fact, encouraging the next generation to abandon the massive lead their forefathers created. Sometimes it’s due to shame – a belief that what is Jamaican (or Black) cannot be good.
Fortunately, this opinion is changing but there are local families destroying value by reflexively pushing their children to study and live overseas, no matter what.
2. Don’t over-estimate the challenge of starting over
I have spoken to a few Jamaicans before they migrate, and the overwhelming impression I have is that they equate a move to another country with one to a place like Montego Bay.
In other words, they naively believe it won’t be that hard to transition. Part of the problem are the falsehoods returning Jamaicans tell. With newly acquired accents, clothes and pictures of cars, they defend their decision to migrate by exaggerating life in their new country. I did it too.
The false impression it leaves is that migrating from Jamaica is an accomplishment. In fact, it’s more a case of “swapping brown dog for monkey”. To whit: most of us know several dogs, but have never seen a single monkey.
The truth? When I lived in the US, most Jamaicans I met wished they could return, a majority that Trump and COVID-19 have probably increased.
Why? While there are exceptions to the rule, most migrants who left family businesses behind struggle to achieve the quality of life their parents had back home. Living abroad is hard. And it’s new. Research shows that the combination delays business success and in the case of a family-owned enterprise, permanently disrupts the transfer of wealth.
3. Starting Too Late
If there is any truth to the two mistakes described above, the best time to start correcting them is as soon as you, a company owner, have children. While they shouldn’t be promised an easy ride, it’s a good idea to teach them to love and cherish the business they could inherit. One day, their appreciation may pay off if they choose to stay home to keep the chain alive. While you must not force them, their decision to continue what you began can do more than make you proud. It can build a solid foundation that serves generations to come.