Unintended benefits of ‘sheltering’ due to COVID-19 is providing opportunities for reflection on work-life (past, present, and future), and the opportunity to re-evaluate career and personal goals.
2020 has been filled with life-changing experiences, from families, schools, work and society. We have had to look at the way we live and interact. We have been confronted with the challenges of devising ways to cope with the new normal. Family celebrations have had to be reimagined, and public health safety is now at the forefront when planning any gatherings.
In planning for the future (post-COVID-19), it is important to consider that unintended benefits of ‘sheltering’ have included opportunities for reflection on work-life (past, present, and future), and the opportunity to re-evaluate career and personal goals. It has brought to the forefront the significance and renewed our view of community interconnectivity, highlighting the greater context in which we live and work. It has brought society to the realisation that no segment operates independently of others. The lockdown has highlighted the common denominator for all: family – at the crucial time when all had to take shelter, everything fell back on family and the community. This reinforced the links among work, social, and family life on an unprecedented scale. Moving on from the first phase of the pandemic, everyone has been changed by the experience, and that will be reflected in the way we think about and approach work going forward.
Public administrators now have to iterate strategy implementation plans to ensure safety whilst ensuring that goals are achieved. In the work environment, the challenge for individuals and organisations will be to ensure that careers are relevant for the future. It begs the question, therefore, of how one develops and retrains relevance and career sustainability.
Simply put, a sustainable career refers to the ability of the individual to maintain long term relevance. Core to this is the ability to retain employability, performance, maintenance of physical and mental wellbeing as well as balancing professional and personal development. Practically, sustainable careers cover the entire lifetime of an individual’s career, consolidating the past, investing in the present, and creatively innovating for the future.
Considering the current public health crisis and the impacts on the socio-economic environment, organisations must give due attention to sustainable career development. This is because it is critical for the resilience of employees in an increasingly complex but unpredictable career environment. The quest for career relevance should not be the sole responsibility of the individual but must have input from all stakeholders – the organisation, government, and the labour market.
Building sustainable careers are critical for economic substantiality. Having a holistic approach to sustainable careers is important to ensure that influential factors associated with stakeholders positioned in multiple contexts are addressed. Organisations invested in retaining talent and fostering a sustainable culture can assist in this process by offering support and exploring options to keep employees engaged and growing over time.
The tendency is to approach sustainable careers from the individual perspective, considering the individual as the main career player. However, at the same time, each individual’s career is inherently connected with, influenced by, and has implications for other players and contexts. The challenge of sustainability encompasses more than individual career management. It requires the active involvement of all parties involved, such as family and peers, managers, employers, academia, and society.
It is beneficial for individuals to interact with their surrounding stakeholders when working towards achieving relevance and managing changing motivations and goals throughout their careers. This ensures the realisation and maintenance of job fit.
Human Resource Development can play an important role in helping individuals recover and sustain their careers post COVID-19. It may involve providing training to assist employees in developing additional skills or to reskill for new roles, as well as helping individuals with their future career plans, including explorations of realistic options that help build sustainable careers. The use of technology is a good starting point. Employee engagement and involvement in organisational planning provides the opportunity to assess and evaluate current skillsets and plan for career development to meet future needs.
A key aspect of building a sustainable post-COVID19 career, will be learning from this experience and applying that knowledge. HR has an opportunity at this moment to play a significant role in helping individuals and organisations find and support resilience, manage the shocks and uncertainty, replenish reduced resources, and build more sustainable career cultures.
The current healthcare crisis has brought with it a lot of uncertainty for organisations. Leaders have had to adapt to new ways of thinking and many are now managing a remote work-force. As Europe and other parts of the world cautiously reopen from the Covid-19 lockdown, implementation of changes in processes, activities, and interactions in workplaces are now front and center on the to-do list of managers and leaders within organisations. It is time to test run the strategies developed to cope with the new normal. While it may not always work out on the first trial run, it is important to ensure that one of the core elements of leadership – communication – is effectively used during these trying times. Thinking outside the box in terms of how to adapt to new changes is vital and new ideas and processes must be explored. Organisations must be creative and innovative in adapting to the new normal. Employees must be encouraged to be part of the planning process in order to keep them motivated and feeling more valued.
Organisations must have in place coherent and realistic action plans. It is important to communicate how certain changes will impact on the performance of employees. Acknowledge the challenges and have in place a communication loop where all can participate and contribute. Managers must provide clear and updated information to their teams on the challenges posed to the organisation and the steps that are proposed to overcome them. They must ensure that everyone is clear on the lines of communication, from bottom up. The importance of joint thinking is key to successfully evolving to manage the new normal.
Flexibility and Empathy
Public health experts have been increasingly learning new details about the virus and setting out advice and guidelines based on new knowledge. Companies therefore must learn to adapt, reiterate and continually develop policies that ensure the health and wellbeing of employees while maintaining and possibly improving bottom lines. Regular updates are necessary to alleviate feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Employees have responsibilities outside of work so it is important to understand their stresses and worries at this time. In implementing new policies and strategies, leaders must be empathetic and personal, and recognise that family challenges have increased due to the impact of the coronavirus. Some people have sick loved ones, have not had time to mourn lost friends and relatives, and perhaps are struggling with the upheavals caused by the pandemic in their lives due to the loss of what we had all considered as “normal” before Covid 19.
Organisations cannot afford to be complacent at this time. Business continuity must be at the core of all decision making. They must now begin to look at their business plans and objectives, explore new opportunities, and discuss how available resources can be used to develop new revenue streams. On top of this, workplace practices should ensure limited risk and exposure to employees. Prepare and adapt to the new normal. Where possible, companies need to be open and honest about concerns and the potential challenges the organisation could face as a result of new policies. Whilst this can cause some worry, employees will be prepared and will be engaged in problem-solving. Regardless of the challenges posed by the new normal, leaders must continue to guide and empower their team towards a successful future.
Embracing and adapting to change is vital in today’s business world to thrive through disruption. Below are some positive outcomes for leaders and organisations that welcome and encourage change.
To adapt is to succeed. Leaders who embrace change instead of resisting it are those who will be ahead in the market. Taking risks is important for maintaining or creating competitive edge, particularly in this ever-changing world where technological applications are evolving rapidly and cannot be avoided.
While the level of change needed will differ from business to business and depend on industry sector, change is and always will be essential for continuous improvement and business continuity. This may require new skill sets or up-skilling of your current team. Either way, employees need to be up to date with new and improved procedures.
Rigid work environments and practices will not lead to success in today’s changing world. Employees must see change as necessary for growth. Having an adaptable work-force that is accustomed to finding different solutions when faced with dilemmas will encourage innovative behaviors and actions.
Helps Build Resilience
The stronger an organisation is at adapting to change, the quicker it can recover when a crisis or challenge strikes. Organisations and leaders that are capable of dealing with complex change situations and who embrace them with enthusiasm are more likely to have adaptable and resilient teams willing to take risks associated with the required change.
Certain changes whether big or small, may face resistance. If teams feel part of the consultation process and contribute to the development of the change strategy, they are more likely to accept and embrace the change process. This, along with upskilling and learning opportunities, will positively impact morale and engagement during the transition period.
The impact of change can be significant on organisational growth, from revenue to reputation to employee headcount. Organisations seen to be positively adapting to change and reaping the benefits, become more attractive to current and prospective employees, customers and clients.
Onboarding is a process that ensures the smooth transition and integration of an employee into a new role, organisation, and culture. Efficient onboarding does this quickly and painlessly for all stakeholders.
This process does not commence at the offer stage, onboarding must start at the onset of the recruitment process. Where there has been an identification of a gap in manpower, the onboarding process should begin.
As an Executive Search firm, what role does Onboarding play in the recruitment of senior executives?
Micheál: “Onboarding is a vital aspect of the recruitment process not only for senior executives but really across all levels of recruitment. The purpose is primarily to develop and implement employee engagement even before they commence their employment with the new organisation. When a company seeks to bring in a new person for a leadership role, this process becomes much more important, you want an executive who believes in your organisation, is confident that s/he is making the right decision to move from current company to yours and that you welcome the opportunity to explore the vast experience that they bring with them in furtherance of your organisational goals.
At InterSearch Ireland, Onboarding is a vital part of the candidate experience. Our processes are geared towards ensuring that the candidate understands the role that is under consideration, the responsibilities, and requirements but most significantly, the organisation that we are presenting. As an executive search firm, we are not only looking to place leaders with our clients, but we understand the unique positions of our clients in their respective industries. Companies are competing for leaders and professionals in the same talent pool and it is important that we know what makes our clients the preferred choice for a prospective employee. Therefore, for us, onboarding begins before winning an assignment; we research the client organisation and industry to get an insight into what makes them different and how this will translate into a compelling factor for candidates to explore and indicate interest in opportunities within the company.”
Would you then say that the Executive Search firm, although has no input in client strategic plans, product or services, but in searching for the right leader, has to present the client attributes to prospective candidates?
Micheál: “I would not go as far as saying that we are advertisers on behalf of our clients, however, in collaboration with clients, we are able to understand their plans and where they expect prospective leaders to fit in and possibly how they are able to work towards the achievement of existing objectives or develop and implement new strategies. So, we do need a clear understanding of what the client is looking to achieve; short, medium- and long-term plans and what they aim to achieve within the industry.
This is key in our research and targeting of prospective candidates. Remember that these candidates are experienced leaders and they understand the industry, the gaps in processes, product and services in the market. They can identify aspects of a company’s strategy that meets their own personal and professional aspirations. This is really what we aim for at the initial stage of an assignment; to understand our client’s position, their goals and the roadmap that they have set to achieve set goals.”
How will you describe the relationship between the Client and InterSearch Ireland with regards to the onboarding process?
Micheál: “Based on our values and processes, our approach is one of collaboration. To do this, we maintain a proactive communication loop with the client. This ensures that all stakeholders are aware of the process, actions, and feedback. With clarity, open and frequency of feedback, the client is involved in the onboarding process because they do have the opportunity to direct the narrative especially in giving the candidate a first-hand impression of their organisation.
Another area of collaboration is in our analytical reporting. We assess and evaluate role requirements based on market trends. Factors such as salary and benefits, location/relocation, candidate’s unique circumstances- relocating family, schools, job opportunity for a spouse among others will determine a candidate’s willingness to move. Our relationship with the client organisation through HR or the hiring manager ensures that they have a clear understanding of the talent pool available to them. The client is also able to objectively asses the challenges that they face in attracting the desirable leader and sometimes, they work out arrangements to accommodate candidates’ concerns.
It is important to note that candidates are assessing the client based on their experience during the recruitment process. A long and extended process may be translated as an organisation that has a long and cumbersome decision-making culture. In my experience, responsiveness builds confidence and trust. At InterSearch Ireland, we have a good understanding of the client’s organisation and their expectations. This relationship ensures a great level of responsiveness from the hiring manager which in turn translates into candidate experience.”
How do you ensure that we get the Hiring Manager engaged in this process from our end? Since we have been retained, we are responsible for identifying and presenting candidates to our client. What is the role of the hiring manager at this stage?
Micheál: “As a retained search firm, we consider ourselves as partners with our clients. We are actively involved in the journey of finding the right leadership fit. We cannot do this by excluding the clients’ representatives. Communication and our interaction with the hiring manager help in creating clarity on both ends and feedback ensures that all stakeholders are in the loop at all times. Clients have been known to change certain requirements in the process of ongoing searches, identified new areas of opportunities and even expanded the scope of roles by either creating new ones or increasing teams based on feedback from ourselves. We can get factual data from candidates and this, in turn, helps clients to benchmark their activities against their competitors.
For instance, if a candidate is at the offer stage and is counter-offered by the current employer, it is my experience that the recruitment process plays a vital part in his/her decision to reject the new offer. Candidate experience is key in this instance. If a candidate has been involved in the process up to the offer stage, it is an indication that they are looking at career progression, personal/family time, new challenges and so on. If these are possible with our client and the process has been well managed by ourselves and an engaged and responsive client, it is more than likely that the candidate will move on.
The hiring manager is in most cases the candidate’s first experience with the client organisation. If there is rapport built up, transparency in the process and crucially updates provided on the process, the candidate has an opportunity to assess the people within the company that s/he is looking to move to.
The Client HR department will take responsibility once the candidate commences employment, this is an internal process that we have no control of, however through our collaboration and interaction with HR and hiring managers, we can help candidates take the first step into a new opportunity.”
You talked about counteroffers from current employers; how do you manage that?
Micheál: “In most cases, counteroffers are to be expected. If we value candidates enough that they are sought after by our clients, it goes without saying that current employers will endeavour to retain them.
Normally, once an offer has been made, I consider this a critical period in the recruitment process and onboarding has to be intensified at this stage, in collaboration with the client. It is important to prepare the candidate psychologically for the possibility of a counteroffer. Some candidates do not expect or consider counter-offers at this stage and when it is presented to them, it becomes a dilemma.
There are mostly two types of candidates that we deal with at this stage, the first has made a conscious and definite decision to leave a current organisation. The key here is to ensure that they are confident that they are moving into the right organisation. The second type of candidate is looking for new challenges and will leave for the right opportunity within or outside of the current employer. Here, a current employer might seek to present a counteroffer if they sense some ambivalence in the candidate.
Sometimes we use role-plays to prepare candidates on handing in their notice and how to be clear in communicating the decision to leave to current employer. The role of the consultant is critical at this stage. S/he has to support the candidate because this can be a very emotionally challenging time.
The notice period is a delicate time and must be effectively managed by the hiring manager. It is important to keep the incoming employee in the loop at all times, there MUST be an open line of communication between the new employer and the employee. Reaching out frequently with credible subjects and possibly by different people in the organisation is one way to keep the new employee engaged. Providing relevant information on the role in preparation for commencement, an invitation to company events, launches and dinner are some of the actions that can be used to ease the employee into his/her new role. Therefore, keeping the offeree engaged is vital at this stage.”
How will you know that a placement has been successfully on-boarded in your client company?
Micheál: “Onboarding is a fact for all organisations, but it is also unique to prevailing circumstances; culture, strategy, organisational structure, and environment. It can be assessed around the process and ease of carrying out one’s responsibilities in a new company.
It may be the case that a new employee can effectively carry out the technical requirements of the role, but does not have the personality fit for the organisation. Behavioural competencies are key at the leadership level and this is oftentimes the area of greatest challenge for the new leader and the team. Personality and culture fit are important.
The size of the organisation will also determine the onboarding process after the commencement of employment. The bigger the company the more likely that this might be a lengthy process.
After commencement, we continue to engage with the hiring manager and the new employee to assess how the relationship is progressing. This allows us to evaluate the fit and areas of concern if any. I believe that if the onboarding is not progressing as should, either side can determine this within the guarantee/probationary period. After this period, there is a good indication that onboarding is progressing well.”
Working with a team of like-minded people may seem like the best thing that an organisation can aspire to achieve. The absence of friction, the ability for all team members to work in tandem, to understand and accept the norm, go with the flow, and generally not rock the boat ensuring smooth sailing.
The above scenario on the surface would be the ideal work environment. However, research has shown that organisations like this tend to be outperformed by those that have teams with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Research has time and again shown that organisations with diverse teams tend to outperform homogeneous teams. This is a no brainer in today’s business world. Homogeneous teams oftentimes tend to have a limited perspective on issues due to the fact that they mostly share similar identities and experiences. It is vital that companies enrich their employee pool with representatives of different genders, races, and nationalities, experiences, and background, in order to enhance joint intellectual potential. This will make for a knowledge-based organisation and ensure that decision making is based on facts resulting from critical analysis. Diverse teams open up the opportunity to challenge basic assumption, encourage joint up thinking and reduces bias within the team.
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace, in a global economy makes ‘business sense’. In a world where businesses are operating across borders, importing and exporting goods and services to places that most of their employees have never and may never visit, it is imperative that cultural diversity is a policy issue. Consideration must be given to gender, religion, sexual orientation, race and disability among others.
Boards and managements must be open to actively pursuing a diversity and inclusion agenda. Considering the simple fact that target markets and consumers are diverse, it is imperative that their experiences be represented at the decision-making table. There is no understanding your buyers, suppliers or end-users if you have not walked in their shoes!
7,615 firms participated in the London Annual Business Survey. This was conducted with the UK capital’s executives that asks a number of questions about their companies’ performance. Results revealed that businesses run by culturally diverse leadership teams were more likely to develop new products than those with homogenous leadership. Read more here:
Oftentimes, when we discuss diversity, the tendency is to focus on the benefits of having representation from different races, gender, religion and communities in our teams. This is in fact a vital foundation for inclusion. However, diversity goes beyond that; it is more about the “values, beliefs and thinking”. Our values and beliefs are primarily what differentiates us. They are based on our inherent make up, our environment and experiences. A simplistic view of diversity fails to recognise the fact that people belong to and identify with multiple groups. For instance, sexual orientation cuts across all groups of diversity; gender, race, ethnicity, age, and personality. How these multiple identities interact, and the importance each plays in an individual’s life, is important to their thought process. In today’s global economy, goods and services are becoming predominantly available to markets around the world, hence the need to take into consideration the values, beliefs and thought process of target markets.
Diversity as a core resource
To ensure competitive advantage, diversity of thought must be considered a core resource.
In recruiting leadership roles, it is vital that Hiring Managers are not just ticking boxes. It is imperative to explore the benefits of a diverse workforce. Diversity and inclusion should be measured against an analysis of the organisation’s strategy, current team composition, markets spread and projections and current market position in comparison to top competitors; comparing and measuring their diversity strategy against performance.
Hiring Managers must be able to argue the case for diversity of thought. They must not be closed- minded due to a fear of changing the status quo. To persuade management to be open to this agenda, facts and figures must be presented, benefits to the bottom line must be based on facts, and projections must show a positive outcome for the organisation. Highlighting to management the benefits of a properly implemented diversity and inclusion agenda will make for creativity and innovation, ensuring long term growth.
“It is important that management within companies vigorously develop and implement diversity policies and strategies that go beyond documentation and filling. Given the current socio-political and economic environment, companies in Ireland are increasingly looking to engage new partners and suppliers as well as targeting new markets; largely due to the uncertainty around Brexit. To be successful in this agenda, they must be open to diversity, not only as we know it but more so in thought diversity. This is a sure way of encouraging creativity and innovation ensuring that they avail of the vast opportunities that abound in the global economy.”
Small and medium enterprises need to start vigorously exploring the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce. It ensures that they create opportunities to differentiate themselves, create new and innovative products and services, and expand into new markets.
In a nutshell, diversity of thoughts and inclusions creates opportunity for business growth. Recognising that a diverse workplace includes people with different experiences at different levels, as well as different personalities, builds creativity and presents a range of perspectives that may be absent in a homogeneous workplace.
Finally, it is important that developing a diversity and inclusion policy is not the end game. This is a process that must be continuously monitored, reviewed and evaluated. It is vital that HR carry out regular analysis of the impact of their inclusive workforce. This will ensure that gaps and opportunities are identified and impacts are measurable.