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2020 will be remembered as a year of dramatic shifts and unprecedented disruption. For HR leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic put an unexpected spotlight on the digital workplace and remote work, on crisis management and adaptive culture and on redefining the workforce experience.

As well-known management consultant Peter Drucker said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.”

What, then, does the new logic look like for business? How can organizations find the opportunity amid the crisis?

Heidi Spirgi, Cornerstone’s Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, recently joined Leapgen CEO and co-founder Jason Averbook to discuss these very issues surrounding our “next normal.” Several key points are highlighted below, but you can take a deeper dive into the full presentation by accessing the on-demand recording

Adaptability as a Critical Skill for 2020 (and Beyond)

Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the catalyst for change that anyone would have chosen. Many organizations have met the challenges admirably, from manufacturers pivoting to serve the public good to organizations making a concerted effort to protect their people and find innovative ways to keep the lights on. 

“[It] shows how fast businesses can pivot when they need to,” said Spirgi. Now the challenge will be whether we can hang on to this agility and adaptability in the period to come instead of reverting to what we already know and have done in the past. 

“Adaptability requires unlearning,” Averbook said. Yes, everyone will need to develop new skills and adapt to new realities, but there must also be a conscious effort to shed risk-averse processes and outdated mindsets. Spirgi cites the lack of focus on mindset as a key factor that holds organizations back as they create a digital business. 

HR leaders, for example, have been thrown into the core of the business during the response to COVID-19 to help determine how the business will operate going forward. This requires a significant mindset shift. “HR has to not think of itself as a vehicle of managing talent, but have its mission be to manage change within the business,” she said.  

In studying organizations that are simply surviving versus organizations that are thriving, a few key trends emerge. The former group tends to value expertise among employees—which can be measured by IQ (capacity for knowledge)—and not to place a strong focus on innovation. The thriving group is more likely to measure and value AQ, or adaptability quotient, which is linked to the capacity for change. Its workers are resilient and resourceful, curious and optimistic. 

If you are interested in measuring AQ across a team, a pulse survey can give you a great start. If your results show that your team doesn’t feel empowered to fail or take risks, it’s unlikely that your AQ is high. At an individual level, it’s up to managers to help cultivate AQ—and to model it themselves. This might include maintaining a beginner’s mindset and stripping away preconceived notions, even though you may be an expert at the subject at hand. Or modeling a willingness to take smart risks and taking the time for genuine human connection with the team. 

Accommodating Different Learner Styles 

There are also plenty of other skills beyond adaptability that employees will need to hone to advance their career and help their company succeed. And it’s in large part the employer’s responsibility to provide these skilling opportunities. Unfortunately, there is a gap between learner expectation and learner experience. The demand for frictionless learning, or learning in the flow of work, continues to grow. Learners want personalized, curated and highly contextualized experiences. But most organizations are pretty far from delivering this experience, Spirgi said. 

Getting there will require another mindset shift. 

“We think about learning in the context of work as required training,” Spirgi said. This is the box-checking type of learning—critical processes, compliance training and so on, all of which is very important and will never go away. “[But] that’s such a small percentage of the learning that needs to be experienced at work.” 

As learning moves from one-to-many to an experience that’s more employee-driven, organizations will need to learn more about their people—not just their job title and hire date, but a view of the whole person, including their experiences, aspirations and skills. Of course, employers successfully gathering data on their employees is dependent on one big thing: trust.

People Data and Privacy

“One of the big roadblocks to collecting rich and meaningful data… is that people don’t trust HR with their data,” Spirgi said. “They are deeply concerned that if they share information about their mood, aspirations, strengths, interests and well-being that it could be used against them if they’re honest and transparent.” 

There must be a line drawn between, for example, data used for performance reviews and compensation consideration versus data used to drive more intelligent coaching and decision-making. HR must be willing to make commitments to its workforce about how its data is being used.

What’s Next for HR? 

As Averbook puts it, we are standing at the intersection of opportunity and confusion. What happens next for HR? What happens next in learning? No one can legitimately know for sure. 

What we do know is that the pace of change was steadily accelerating even before the pandemic and has been kicked into hyperdrive in recent months. HR leaders have an unprecedented chance to step up and help their organizations adapt and flourish in this “next normal.” 

“This is the biggest opportunity of our careers,” said Averbook. 

To learn more about how you can make the most out of this opportunity, view the full session on demand