In the past few months, HR professionals were in full ‘troubleshoot’ mode. It’s not surprising when businesses across all industries and sectors were impacted by COVID-19 one way or another. Although many top issues for HR remained the same as the beginning of this year, we’ve seen a reordering of priorities due to the global pandemic, with the ‘future of work’ as the number one priority for HR leaders according to a recent Gartner survey*. But when it comes to what happens next, HR leaders can’t be just ‘controllers’, but instead need to be ‘enablers’.

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There is no doubt that in some organisations, HR is perceived as the people who get in the way of things happening, as opposed to helping them along. So, what does the profession need to do to shrug off its gatekeeper image and help organisations adapt to the new realities of work?

Lead the mind shift

Both the workforce and the workplace are changing beyond recognition. The traditional 9-5 is no longer the only way. Flexible and remote working have become very widespread and will most likely stay in the long-term, as people are prioritising their work-life balance more. HR must open and continue discussions with senior managers about what impact these changes are having on the business, and the role HR really needs to play. Take time to understand the views and perspectives of others, then draw up a list of what you see to be the priorities, how you’d go about addressing them and start the debate.

Make use of evidence

You don’t need an advanced understanding of HR analytics to turn information to your advantage. Having tangible data that shows how much time is being lost to sickness, the time it takes to fill vacant roles, where the skill gaps are, or which bits of the business are struggling to retain staff, lets you talk in terms that business or finance managers will understand. The technology to support this is now widely available at reasonable prices and has become a lot easier and more straightforward to use.

Exploit new scientific understanding

The wealth of information available to us with just a quick search has given us new insights into how we can motivate people, how to keep them engaged and what makes them behave the way they do. Now is the time to find ways to integrate these new insights (like Onboarding Psychology) into your people policies and L&D activities.

Empower the line

Organisations can have the most forward-thinking people policies ever, but it’s how those policies are enacted on the front line that really matters. Do line managers know how to engage and motivate staff – and why that matters? Are they equipped to have constructive career conversations with their people? What information and support do they need to balance the needs of the business with the expectations of their teams? HR has a huge role to play in enabling line managers to get the best out of their people.


HR cannot deliver the agile, adaptive workforce organisations need by itself. The profession needs to work closely with colleagues in finance, IT, and marketing to develop the strategies that will add real value to the business. These professions have traditionally viewed each other with a certain amount of scepticism – and HR is not always respected by its peers – but it’s time to break down the boundaries and work collaboratively towards a common aim. Identify initiatives that you can work on together: a different approach to management training; improving the use of your HR systems; even something as simple as agreeing with finance on common definitions for reporting headcount.

HR needs to become the agent for transformation, and this is only possible by being proactive. HR leaders should look beyond the tactical day-to-day, and explore their strategic capabilities.

*Gartner HR Survey Finds 52% of Organizations’ Business Operations Are Continuing at a Reduced Level

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.