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The importance of the inner self for HR

As the wider implications of the Covid-19 pandemic emerge, there appears little doubt that there has been an unprecedented level of demand placed upon HR leaders in their immediate response to the crisis that will only intensify over the months ahead.

HR leaders have been required to act with urgency, courage and compassion in supporting their people, whilst simultaneously ensuring the short-term survival of their wider organisation. Yet these same leaders will remain centre stage as organisations seek to deliver the meaningful, long-term transformation required for them to thrive in the future.

The health, safety and wellbeing of employees will clearly remain top priority as organisations navigate their way through the many unknowns associated with the easing of lockdown and the threat of second waves of infection. Yet the economic toll of the crisis will require HR leaders to divide their attention between many other competing priorities; no more so than in their handling of restructuring, re-deployment and redundancies, as new ways of working and new business models emerge. 

Many more significant questions will be posed to HR and the solutions to each remain far from certain.

What will be the implications of increased remote working? What will be the role of the office? What new skills, behaviours and mindsets will be required and how will they will be sourced? How will colleagues re-engage, connect and be cared for? How can inclusion be built into recovery plans? What will be the long-term implications upon hierarchies, self-direction and decision-making? What will be the employee experience of the future? 

As organisations seek to reposition themselves against this backdrop of uncertainty and change, the pivotal role of HR leadership will be placed ever more sharply into focus.

The traditional role of HR has often been regarded as working within the sweet spot between the human needs of the workforce and the commercial needs of the organisation. This view has in many ways been exemplified during the crisis, with HR providing unprecedented levels of support for colleagues, teams and the wider business. 

This outer focus upon people, systems and structures will clearly remain integral to the recovery, yet those HR leaders who place their sole emphasis upon supporting others will unknowingly be providing a limited response that will undoubtedly come at the expense of themselves.

The challenges that lie ahead will bring more complexity and accelerate at an increasingly faster rate. At such times, when the stakes appear so high and the scale of responsibility so overwhelming, it can be ever more tempting to react from an automated and unconscious position of sheer survival. Yet now, more than ever, HR leaders will be required to attend to their inner self – their feelings, thoughts and motivations – and therefore respond from a more conscious state of purposeful engagement.

As the dust eventually begins to settle, the truly remarkable HR leaders to emerge will be those most able to connect to an elevated purpose when leading their people and organisations through the critical days, weeks and months ahead.

This crisis provides an unparalleled opportunity for HR leaders to step up and individually become a force of genuine and sustainable transformation within their organisations. This will require leaders with the capacity to learn from their personal experiences and respond with agility, creativity and fortitude. The catalyst of such transformation however can only be sourced from the inside out.

By Paul Cowley

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