For years, agility has been a business model HR leaders were advised to adopt. And in the last few months, it has been brought to life by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Agile [used to be] a theoretical concept; now, we have to be agile,” said industry analyst Josh Bersin this week on a webinar organized by the Bersin Academy and the HR Tech Conference, sponsored by ServiceNow. “That’s a leadership capability.”
Agility is one of several strategies top business leaders on the call suggested needs to be part of “The Big Reset”—the global business evolution prompted by the pandemic. For most organizations, that journey has involved four stages: react, respond, return and transform. But, Bersin noted, it’s not a finite process.
“In the words of Anthony Fauci, ‘We’re still in the first phase of this pandemic,’ ” Bersin said. “We don’t know when it’s going to end. And, when it ends, we don’t know when it’s going to return.”
With that in mind, the Bersin Academy plans to continue its Big Reset initiative for at least six months. The effort started this spring with academy faculty and global business leaders meeting virtually every week to explore the pressing issues businesses are facing and develop best practices from their responses. The members created working groups to address four primary areas: culture shifts, workforce transformations, leadership skills and strategies, and creating and executing return-to-the-workplace playbooks.
The need to be agile arose in many of these conversations, said working group members on Monday’s webinar.
“We cannot be prisoners of the process,” said Sachin Jain, global talent management director at PepsiCo. “This disruption helped us focus on the outcome and not worry about the process.”
In less than a week, he noted, the organization pulled together a four-step strategy to prioritize employee health and safety that involved transparent communication, wellbeing resources, helping the workforce adapt to new ways of working and continuous listening.
Now, the organization is turning its attention to how it can embed agility in its long-term business models.
“We’re constantly debating what are those factors that ensure we can be agile at this point in time and also how many of them can be replicated for the future,” Jain said.
Pivoting and adapting quickly was also a cornerstone of U.K. food retailer Sainsbury’s response to the pandemic. The organization was one of many that came together through the British Retail Consortium to explore impacts on customers and employees.
“This was bigger than each of our individual businesses; this was about us as an industry and how we were going to support the nation,” said Rupa Grahame, senior talent partner. “We didn’t have all the answers, but we just had to make decisions.”
Those decisions included rolling out contact-free options on the customer side and mass—virtual—hiring on the employee side, as retail demand soared.
Like retail, hospitality is another industry upended by the crisis. Paul Sanford, CEO of Wincome Hospitality, a luxury hotel brand, said the industry has been turned “upside-down,” with new people challenges presenting themselves daily.
Just last week, the company was gearing up to open two new properties in Orange County, Calif.—but, because of changing COVID-19 restrictions, had to notify all employees that the opening was delayed.
To grapple with the challenges, Wincome has started a property-investment program designed to help diversify talent, recast job tasks and meet the changing needs of the staff, who have also been encouraged to contact an employee hotline with questions about COVID-19 policies and procedures.
Wincome has aimed to be “nimble, fluid and creative” as it navigates pandemic-related decision-making. And, Sanford added, it has been driven by its values.
“We continue to focus on our core values, and it’s important everybody does that,” he said. “I think we have to have faith in humankind and mankind and just concentrate on empathy and kindness, and we’ll all come out of this ahead.”
That mindset has fueled significant attention on the crisis of employee wellbeing.
Dan Strode, group director of culture and strategy at Santander, said the bank has moved 115,000 employees to work-from-home arrangements since March—and quickly shifted its wellbeing program, Be Healthy, to align. Now known as Be Healthier at Home, the initiative includes free at-home workout sessions, financial resources, volunteering opportunities and an expanded mental wellness emphasis.
“We’ve really had to focus on resilience and psychological safety,” Strode said. The company has urged employees to practice mindfulness and digital disconnections—intentionally unplugging from work—a shift that has necessitated management training.
“We had worked to improve leadership by teaching new skills, and that’s really been a positive evolution for us,” he said.