The mix of post-holiday blues and continuing COVID-19 challenges might make coming back to work extremely difficult for some. Not to mention the cold, dark, sluggish feeling (along with the temporary memory loss of what we do for work) we usually get around this time of year.

But while it might not be the best start, it’s time to get back on track and rev yourself up for what’s to come in the year ahead.

new year success plan

So, what are the key actions that will help HR professionals lay the groundwork for a successful 2021?

1. Start anew

We know that 2020 was full of tribulations, frustrations and irritations. You had to make several pivots as the business kept up with changing regulations, help your workforce adapt to different working situations, recognise the pressing social issues that affect your workplace (e.g. diversity and inclusion), and potentially cope with your own and your staff’s poor mental, physical or financial wellbeing.

If you feel that you could’ve done better or made too many mistakes, it’s important to recognise the struggles you faced and commend yourself on how well you pushed through – the New Year is a good time to put it all behind you and move forward. To tackle the ongoing challenges that lie ahead, take what you’ve learnt from your experiences in the past year, and start anew with a fresh perspective.

2. Revisit the strategy

During your first week back, your inbox may already be overflowing. Before you know it, you’re immersed in meetings and engaged in the ongoing battle to keep up with emails and phone calls. But before the day-to-day minutiae take over, stop for a minute. Take some time to revisit your HR strategies and make sure they’re still fit for purpose. You might have had to make last-minute changes to adapt to the ever-evolving situations last year. Check in with your management team to make sure your priorities are still aligned. Ask direct questions, for example:

  • Are any new initiatives planned that will impact our workforce in the next 6, 12, 18 months?
  • What preparations do we need to make in case of an extended lockdown?
  • What skillsets are we going to need to acquire or develop?
  • Have you identified the key players in your team?
  • Are any of them at risk, and if so, do we have the right succession plans in place?

Remind managers of their obligations. Make sure you focus on what’s important to the whole business, and ensure it’s not being hijacked by other people’s agendas.

3. Re-energise yourself – and the team

Use the first week back at work to jot down a few of the things you’d really like to happen in 2021 – and why they’d make a difference to the whole organisation. New HR systems, for example, could reduce the time that everyone spends on day-to-day HR administration, while simultaneously delivering better insights to managers. With a clear view of what you can achieve, you’ll find it easier to stay motivated and share your enthusiasm with the rest of the business.

Don’t forget that the first week back at work can be challenging for your colleagues as well. If you’re having to hype yourself up for work, chances are, others may be struggling to get their energy and enthusiasm back, too. If you have a team, it’s a good idea to get the team together as early as possible in the new year to revisit priorities, set new targets and objectives, and make sure everyone has the information and resources they need to do the job properly. Even if you don’t have a formal performance management process, talking on a one-to-one basis with direct reports can be helpful at this time of year. It’s a good opportunity to chat about aspirations, plan any development that may be needed, and ensure everyone is clear about expectations.

4. Get out on the front line

When you’re under pressure with an endless stream of demands from the business, it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening on the front line. Make time in January to reach out and talk to people from all areas of the organisation. If you can get a real handle on the challenges line managers are facing, you will be able to help them resource and manage their teams more effectively. If you can find out what employees are thinking and feeling, you will be able to nip problems in the bud and will be better placed to devise strategies to improve motivation and engagement.

5. Develop a wider outward focus

It might seem difficult at first when COVID-19 dominates most conversations, but remember to make time for yourself and see what else is happening in the outside world. Read up on the latest trends within your own industry sector, and in the wider corporate world, so you can help your business plan ahead. Take an active part in your professional HR networks and local business networking groups to help you benchmark.

With many organisations and industry thought leaders hosting online courses and events, keeping up with the latest thinking becomes easier. If you can, it’s also worth watching a webinar or listening to a podcast that has nothing directly to do with HR – you will be amazed at what you can learn from other industries and specialisms, and how transferable some of the ideas you pick up will be.


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.