In a first h&z HR BarCamp this week we had an exciting discussion with HR professionals from 7 companies on the question ‘HR, whats next? – What’s next for HR after Corona?

The HR BarCamp was not only h&z’s first symposium focusing on HR, it was also the premiere of the new h&z building: Directly opposite the Haus der Bayerischen Wirtschaft now stands the new home of the management consultancy h&z in Munich. The HR BarCamp was the first customer event in the brand-new Bar Centrale – of course in compliance with the strictest Corona hygiene regulations with a limited number of people and a lot of distance. Despite restrictions, it still featured intensive discussions by representatives from Siemens, Airbus, GEMA, Digital Charging Solutions, TDX, Atreus and Wirecard.

 

HR outgrowing itself in the crisis?

A small expert survey in August of this year generated a few initial findings and hypotheses, which Bernadette Becker, Christiane Niess and Alexander Gisdakis presented and discussed with the group.

In the Corona crisis, HR has taken on a new central role in crisis management in all companies and they are suddenly at the table of vital decisions – it’s all about the employees:  How do we protect them from infections? How do we organize home offices in the short term? How do we get government aid for short-time work? How do we support managers in virtual leadership?

Thomas Hierlemann (Airbus) emphasized how important it was that HR was always personally present in the company for the employees during the lock-down period. “We were the ones who were always approachable for the employees.”.

Annegret Jansen (Wirecard) reported on the double crisis in her company: In the middle of the Corona crisis, insolvency hit the company like a bomb. As a result, HR took on a completely new role in crisis management and became a central point of contact and an emotional anchor for the employees in the organization.

“We were the ones everyone turned to when hardly any managers were approachable anymore.”. Despite the tragic end, many HR employees rose above themselves in this particular Wirecard crisis and took on responsibility.

 

Lessons Learned for HR from the Crisis

We were able to draw a few lessons from the first few months of this crisis (which is not over yet!) and generalize them for HR:

  1. if it has to be done, it should be done very quickly and without complications. Necessary ‘hands-on’ decisions have brought HR closer to management in all the companies present.
  2. During the crisis, HR has also opened up new digital communication channels and new formats to bring employees together. Sylvia Stelzer (DCS): “We have developed and tried out many new ideas on how we can get closer to employees virtually and strengthen team spirit.
  3. In addition, the crisis also shows which functions in the company are key functions and, furthermore, which managers have revealed real leadership qualities. Dirk Haselhorst (GEMA): “We always knew that we had managers and leaders. Now we have seen who they are and what we really need them for”.

Annegret Jansen (Wirecard): “In many cases, it was not only the managers who showed leadership, confidence and drive, but ordinary employees from the teams suddenly showed what they were made of.”

Everyone agreed that an unplanned cultural change had begun in this crisis that can no longer be reversed.

 

Hypotheses on the future of HR after the Corona crisis

Alexander Gisdakis and Christiane Niess presented their vision and forecasts on the core topics for HR after the crisis in the form of hypotheses, which were reflected on in detail.

There was a consensus among those present that even if the pandemic were to abate quickly through vaccination, it would no longer be possible to swing back to the working world as it was before Corona.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. The pandemic has permanently changed value chains – entire industries will need years to recover (e.g., the aircraft industry).
  2. The threshold for home offices has finally been crossed. Companies, managers and employees have recognized the benefits. Companies like Siemens have even set concrete goals: 2-3 days of mobile work per week as a global standard. These standards will become established. This also means that politicians will have to rethink policies in the future, especially in tax and occupational safety laws. Most of the managers who had previously been critical of the home office have also overcome their personal gripes in the Corona crisis and have gained confidence in their own virtual leadership capabilities. However, Markus Kreysa and Thomas Hierlemann point out that this requires a very differentiated approach in manufacturing companies. This creates a new area of tension: Who is allowed to do home office and who has presence obligations qua function? And how can this be regulated sensibly and fairly in a company?
  3. Digital technologies related to virtual work have developed in leaps and bounds during the last few months of crisis, and the virtuoso use of online sessions has reached new standards everywhere. However, some employees are still showing signs of fatigue, and occasional face-to-face meetings in the office are generally experienced as beneficial and necessary.
  4. Many employees are already adapting their personal living conditions to the new virtual home office work forms. For example, by moving to the countryside or setting up a study. This, too, will further consolidate the trend toward more virtual work.
  5. It is also clear, however, that direct, personal ‘physical’ ties to the employer will no longer play as strong a role as in the past. Bonding activities are therefore necessary and new formats for bonding to an organization and to a team must be developed. This means that the time spent in the office should really be used for high-quality relationship work. This must first be learned and established. It requires thought-out formats and appropriately equipped premises. h&z has already implemented a number of practices in the new offices. At the same time, more attention needs to be paid to the question of how meaningful a task is. This is a challenge for HR and managers.
  6. Simultaneous restructuring and development of digitization competencies will become a field of tension for HR. How pronounced is the restructuring experience of young HR colleagues? What cultural dilemmas arise from this parallelism? How can these be resolved, and the culture developed in a targeted manner? – This will become another important field of action for HR.
  7. The digitalization of HR processes in the sense of automation and management/employee self-service applications, which has been underway for years, will also receive a further boost. This brings an old question back to the fore: What will be the role of HR when all administrative people processes in the company are digitized and in the hands of the supervisors?Marion Weidenhausen of Atreus already sees these trends in her own company: “We already use AI-supported search algorithms in matching programs for the placement of interim managers. I ask myself what the role of HR will be in the future, and the executives themselves even do this at some point.”

 

Core question: What is the Ur-Own of HR in the future?

Dirk Haselhorst from GEMA then formulated the actual core question of the evening like this:

“We have to think about what will be the most original thing about HR in the future.”

Everyone agreed that the development of employment conditions – in line with the digital world – and the support of organizations, managers and employees in the sense of change management will probably be the two most important tasks of HR in the coming years. Petra Pötschke reported on precisely these two project strands at Siemens AG: “Workforce and workplace transformation are the two most important projects in HR at Siemens at the moment.

Here spans a wide field of transformation work for HR: from creating the organizational prerequisites, to appropriate workflows and processes, to changing the leadership culture, attitudes and values in the company.

A small ‘deep drilling’ at the end of the discussion in the direction of competence management makes the scope of this role change of HR clear and makes all the andis-cut points of the evening tangible:

Two fundamental structural elements in HR work are job profiles and employment conditions. These are guardrails that in the past have standardized work in many companies on topics such as (core) working hours, task content, roles, necessary competencies and a ‘hard-wired’ connection with income systems, collective agreements or performance evaluations.

This rigid structure could now fall, forcing the underlying compliance instances such as labor law, collective bargaining structures, etc. to be reorganized – and by Corona, faster than anyone would have expected.

If, in the future, a customized workplace concept is to be created that is individually tailored to the needs of a task, adapted to personal requirements, and which clarifies questions such as presence, required performance, social networking in the team and company, familiarization, goals, performance-related compensation, or suitable leadership, all completely individually created for the person and the task, then it cannot be possible to keep the ‘classic’ standardized employment situations. Does a job allow virtual working from home? How much personal presence and networking is possible and necessary? How should goals, leadership and collaboration be organized? And on the other hand: What can an employee actually accomplish? In what circumstances does he/she live and work? Where does he/she need support?

Standardized (uniform) working hours, collectively agreed salaries, company agreements, workplace equipment, training, appraisal systems no longer help. Flexible models are needed in all these areas, and they have to be created first.

This is the task of HR.

Individual negotiation of such customized concepts between the needs of the company and those of the employees also belongs in professional hands. Most managers will probably be technically overburdened with this task.

Sylvia Stelzer (DCS): “As HR, we are simply the ones who always look at all issues in the company from a people perspective and design everything in such a way that there is optimal coverage of company and employee needs”.

This includes professional empathy for individual needs on the one hand and a deep understanding of the strategic needs of the company on the other. And the creation of the tailor-made framework conditions for this.

This is human resources work in the true and original sense – and at the same time an enormous challenge for labor legislation, works constitutions and collective bargaining partners in the coming years!

 

Alexander Gisdakis
CEO & Partner Breitenstein Consulting