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An Inconvenient Truth: HR Leadership in 2022

CEOs who have continued their quest for a "return to normal" environment during the COVID-19 pandemic created significant challenges for human resource (HR) leaders who had to develop new policies. Senior executives that resisted the need to change perpetuated a culture of ongoing denial.

Now, organizations must focus on equipping people managers, who are the stewards of sustainable performance, with the right skillsets to ensure they and their teams succeed in their preferred "hybrid working" environment, according to the latest research by Gartner.

To achieve these desired outcomes, Gartner recommends that organizations pursue new tactics to ensure managers are prepared to lead people in this new setting -- hoping that a hybrid work model is eventually manageable and successful. However, many troubling questions still remain.

Why not simply accept the 'remote working' phenomenon, and learn how to evolve away from a 'command and control' mindset that is indicative of legacy management practices from a bygone era?

Responding to New Workforce Realities

According to a Gartner survey of 75 HR leaders, 84 percent of respondents said it was more important for managers to develop soft skills, such as navigating difficult conversations, in a hybrid work setting.

"Organizations must invest in resources to support managers and equip them with the skills they need for this new way of managing," said Caitlin Duffy, research director at Gartner.

Gartner's research found that employees whose managers drive sustainable performance -- high individual performance, while contributing positively to others' performance without compromising their health -- are 17 percent more productive and 1.7 times more likely to stay at their organization than other employees.

Gartner's research has also found that 'Connector' managers boost sustainable performance by as much as 45 percent. The following are the three Gartner suggested tactics.

Equip Teams for Resilience

The shift to hybrid work has meant that teams are more geographically dispersed. To help managers foster resilience and collaboration among their teams, organizations must invest in tools and technologies that facilitate intentional collaboration -- both synchronously and asynchronously.

Organizations can support stronger intentional collaboration by empowering employees to develop new collaboration habits that work for them in today's environment, providing equal access to multiple worksite options, and calibrating virtual team norms with HR.

"HR leaders should also empower managers with the flexibility to reprioritize resources as circumstances change, ensure key outcomes are visible to direct reports and realign performance management goals with business priorities," Duffy said. "Gartner research shows managers who can effectively reprioritize resources and goals are 27 percent more likely to sustain their team's workforce health."

Invest in Human-Centric Managers

To support employees, HR leaders must help managers develop the skills they need to navigate difficult conversations that foster team cohesion, inclusion, and psychological safety.

This entails teaching managers to not only develop the skills to navigate vulnerable conversations with their direct reports, but also tailoring their approach to different employees to develop a deep understanding of their behaviors in context.

In addition, organizations must not overlook the well-being of managers. The Gartner survey found that 68 percent of HR leaders believe managers are overwhelmed. Yet, only 14 percent of organizations have redefined the manager role to reduce their responsibilities.

"Employers need to make space for well-being in managers' workloads by helping managers radically prioritize and giving them permission to focus on it," said Duffy. "When employers support employees -- in this case, managers -- with all aspects of their health during turbulent times, not only do they have better lives, but they perform at a higher level."

Pivot to Measuring Performance by Impact

With the onset of the pandemic, many organizations struggled to measure the productivity of their workforce in the new remote working setting. As a result, Gartner's research showed more than 1 in 4 organizations reported investing in new technology to passively 'monitor' their employees in 2020.

To create a high-performing workforce, organizations should foster a culture where employees feel seen, not surveilled. Specifically, to implement employee monitoring practices effectively, Gartner believes that HR leaders should do the following:

Articulate a clear objective for monitoring employees, and help leaders and managers develop a common understanding of when to use it. Choose metrics to measure the quality and impact of employees' work. Organizations should use metrics for employees' benefit, such as to gain context about their experiences and to identify work frictions.

Gartner also recommends that leaders explain the purpose behind tracking, including how it is intended to benefit them.

Outlook for Successful HR Leadership in 2022

Frankly, I'm at odds with one Gartner recommendation. Any manager that engages in a discussion about 'monitoring employees' will risk fuelling what's now referred to as the Great Resignation. The reality is anyone who's considered a high-performance employee will not tolerate any form of online monitoring. I see no way to put a positive spin on this employer practice.

Furthermore, HR policies that communicate an apparent lack of trust, or a reluctance to have managers focus more on business outcomes and less on employee activity tracking, are essentially a plan to fail.

I believe the rejection of obsolete management thinking, partly as a result of the pandemic disruption, will change many knowledge workers' expectations of their agreement with employers. In this regard, there is no return to normality.

The old 'command and control' way of thinking was misguided. Therefore, embrace the improved HR leadership mindset and proactively create a better future for all involved.

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