With everyone settling back into work after the New Year, now is a great time for HR to think about how they can support the business better by working more effectively in the months ahead. The start of a new year provides a good opportunity to set goals, review working practices, improve personal productivity and generally think about how you can take things up a level.

new year resolutions

It’s not always about making big, ground-breaking changes – and most businesses probably made more changes in the last year than they’d made over many of the previous years combined! But, with the hope that 2021 might start to see some sort of return to ‘normal’, a few small tweaks to the way you work and approach things might be all that’s needed to continue moving forward.

For those looking to make a fresh start or shake things up a bit, here are a few suggestions:

1. Don’t overpromise

If you over-promise, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Most HR people I come across are incredibly busy – and last year’s crises only exacerbated this.

The board wants the latest stats on headcount and retention, managers are emailing about disciplinary and grievance issues, policies need updating, there are video interviews to be conducted, inductions to be arranged, sickness absence to manage.

Everyone thinks HR has the magic wand that will solve all their issues. Trying to get to the end of the to-do list isn’t feasible – and trying to be all things, to all people, all the time, is only going to result in stress and exhaustion.

Take a step back and think about what your priorities are, what it’s realistic for you to achieve, and how you can set boundaries and manage other people’s expectations of what you can and should deliver.

2. Manage your time effectively

How well are you really managing your time? Is your day getting taken up by interruptions, distractions and minutiae that stop you getting to grips with really important issues?

There are some common traps we all fall into…

Letting your email rule your day is probably the biggest one. Turn off the notifications on your computer and your phone so that you are not tempted to stop what you’re doing every time a new message pings into your inbox. There are very few people who need to be constantly on the end of their email – and very few emails that need an instant response. Try having a couple of set periods during the day when you look at emails – and then close it down in between so that you can concentrate on making progress with the most important tasks and projects on your list.

Multi-tasking is another bad habit to get out of. Trying to do numerous things at once addles your brain. Just the simple practice of concentrating on one thing at a time can make an enormous difference to your productivity.

One other practice I’ve found particularly useful is ‘eating the frog’ (drawn from Brian Tracy’s book ‘Eat That Frog’). The basic premise is that you start the day by polishing off that task that’s hanging over your head and that you’re constantly putting off in favour of other, usually less important things. Once it’s out of the way, your time, energy and attention are then freed up for other more important stuff. Try it!

3. Listen more

It sounds simple – but it’s easy to get so bogged down in actioning the things on our ever-expanding lists, that we don’t pay enough attention to listening to what people in the business are saying.

Sometimes, just giving a manager or employee your full attention and really hearing what they are saying can stop a minor issue escalating into a crisis or a small disagreement turning into a dysfunctional dispute. It could also mean picking up on a nub of a great idea that could have a real impact on the way work is organised – or equally picking up on a signal that one of your most talented employees is starting to feel dissatisfied or unsettled and may be looking elsewhere.

Listen for meaning and to really understand what is not being said, as well as what is being openly expressed. This ability to hear people and engage will help you create new insights and new understanding.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff

If you haven’t already, make 2021 the year you embrace automation. Good HR management software can help release you from so much essential but time-consuming admin by automating core processes.

It will help you streamline the way you manage holidays and sickness absence and can bring consistency and transparency to performance management processes (and make it more likely that appraisals actually happen when they are meant to).

And systems with a self-service element give employees access to their own personal data so that the HR team doesn’t have to input changes of address or bank details.

HR systems will also give line managers easy access to information about their team, so they can spot skills gaps, have informed conversations with their people and plan how to resource projects and manage workflow.

Technology became more important than ever last year as many people turned to home working. These days good quality HR software is cost effective and within reach of businesses of all shapes and sizes. Compared to the benefits you will gain in terms of time and efficiency, an HR system is a small investment.