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Managing human resources through the pandemic

Why we should train more if we want to hit the ground running after Covid-19

by Andrew Perkins, global director - leadership and professional development at Kaplan Professional
Header kaplan foto


As we reignite our businesses, there’s one thing our people will remember about the last few weeks and months: how we treated them. We may have had to cut their pay and asked them to work remotely. Some may have had to exit the business completely.

All steps that were, and possibly will continue to be, commercially prudent; but how badly damaged is their trust and confidence in us? How bruised do they feel? How vulnerable are they to being tempted by our competitors?

In short, did we take the right steps to ensure the unwritten bond between employee and employer remained intact?

Over half a century ago, Chris Agyris coined the term ‘the psychological contract’ to describe the relationship between employee and organisation. Since then, a generation or two of HR professionals have pointed to its importance in terms of employee engagement, retention and performance.

In simple terms, the advice has been that if we hold up our end of the bargain as leaders and managers, we’ll have a happier, more productive and more resilient workforce. This was never more important than during a crisis like the one we are experiencing. People will not forget how they were treated by their employer.

The effect of the individual experiences of the last few months will be felt in all our businesses. We will have to remake the professional relationships that teamwork relies upon and that enable an organisation to function effectively—reactivating our people towards a new normal.

Performance = Motivation x Ability
We could be witnessing the greatest natural experiment in skills-fade and the evaporation of normal human interactions.

In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus formulated the concept of the forgetting curve. In simple terms, we lose the memory of learned knowledge unless that learned knowledge is consciously reviewed time and again. Many people returning from furlough will, at best, need to refresh their skills. More likely, they’ll need to relearn many of them.

Even among those who have continued to work, the experience of having your salary and benefits cut, your colleagues gone, interaction limited, damages the psychological contract. It is clear we risk inefficiency, incompetence, and, in some cases, barely concealed resentment.

Our best people are wanted, and they are mobile; losing them would damage our businesses and set back our plans to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. So how do we retain them?

Many businesses will not be in a  position to offer salary increases that would chain staff to their laptops. In any case, perhaps money alone is not the best salve. In terms of recognition for their  service, and as a gesture of their value to us and our care for them, which zloty delivers more value: a nominal pay rise, or a fantastic tailored, personalised, innovative learning programme that will benefit them and our business?

Rebuild social capital

Training does not only deliver skills and knowledge development; training develops interpersonal relationships, a common language, a common sense of understanding and group identity, shared norms and values of trust, co-operation, and reciprocity. As such, it is:

  •     A vehicle to bring about cultural assimilation: “how we do things around here”

  •     A channel to communicate the organisation’s priorities and ethos: “who we are and what we stand for”

  •     An employee brand experience created by a company to influence the feelings that an employee has about the organisation. Connecting and engaging at an emotional level helps create “converts,” and encourages brand awareness and organisational loyalty

  •     A means of encouraging staff engagement and retention

Learning is a means of aligning behind a common goal – in cases of crisis or setback, to realign and reignite the business.

There are many ways learning can be designed and delivered to do this, but there are a few principles that can be useful in thinking about how to leverage learning to develop social capital:

  •     Provide the opportunity to be a part of something new and exciting

  •     Position the development as help and support, not as testing and assessment

  •     Involve the learners in the design and development where you can

  •     Include the learner’s line manager in the learning process

  •     Make sure the learning is properly socialised and given overt senior-level advocacy

  •     Use coaches, mentors, and/or ‘buddies’ to provide personal and professional relationships that accelerate learning and support team working habits.

Oh, and they’ll also learn some new skills. So, take the opportunity now to invest in helping your people refresh what they know, relearn what they’ve forgotten, and reignite your business.

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