The COVID-pandemic has forced businesses to rethink their strategies to adapt to the new norm. We spoke to a fellow of World HR Board, Shreerang Tarte, to get a deeper sense of how organizations are getting impacted. He shared tips on the best way forward and laid out steps that can be taken to ensure your people function is engaged, well-supported, and productive. Shreerang has proven experience in designing Talent Acquisition strategies, establishing industry-university connect programs, designing organization structure, compensation, and employee engagement strategies. An active speaker at various HR forums, Shreerang has also served as the President of South Asian HR Summit.
This interview has been edited for clarity and context.
DB: What’s on your mind right now?
ST: A lot of things! Its chaos actually! So many things are going on around us, and it’s not just the COVID situation. On a slightly subtle level, there are political, geo-political, and environmental issues all cropping up at the same time. However, on a broader scale, a larger solution, a vaccine that could help control the spread of this deadly disease is on my mind currently.
The challenges that we will experience in coming months due the economic slowdown and how the government brings the economic engine back on track would be interesting to see. The subject of mental health is also getting a lot of attention, and for good reason! We have lost most of the mediums through which we were able to interact personally, be it office spaces, bars, or even gyms, and still getting used to the virtual life. All of this happened so suddenly, overnight, that we didn’t get time to accept it. Look around us, we find so many restless souls, anxiously waiting to get back to the life they were enjoying before this lockdown.
However, with continued restrictions on the life we had pre-COVID, the mental health of people is getting affected. It may even compel or provoke a few to do something they wouldn’t have done in a normal situation.
From leading the life of complete freedom to a life of restrictions, inhibitions, and monitoring can be suffocating and suppressing. While there is no denying that the restrictions are a bitter pill to swallow, I hope now people realize and appreciate the importance of the freedom we enjoy in our life and act more responsible.
DB: What advice do you have for the organizations going through tough times right now?
ST: I believe each organization has a strong story to its birth and the journey after that. Organizations can look back at this journey and derive a stronger, more belief-oriented approach to the current, tough times. Each organization goes through a journey that is more like a sinusoidal wave. Whenever they find themselves on a downward slide, organizations adopt various strategies to bring themselves back up quickly, too. Luckily and fortunately, we are all together in this tough time. No organization is singled out, every firm is impacted in some way or the other. Moreover, this situation is not permanent. Slowly and gradually, we will come back to normalcy, whatever it may look like post the pandemic.
We have seen organizations quickly strategize, develop levels of action plans, and swiftly move into execution. Furthermore, technology has greatly helped this process! Understand your core objectives, taking into account the current market dynamics, economy, available resources, set realistic targets, and go about achieving them. Agile approaches with constant communication and monitoring is critical to succeed in such situations.
Taking care of your employees is the need of the hour. They are not only the lifeblood of your business; they would be the ones bringing you back on foot the moment the economy begins to recuperate. Laying off or terminating employees should be considered the last option. Rather, look for all other options that could keep them on roles and give them the confidence that they are safe. Investing in healthcare and healthcare-related activities should be a priority as well. Planning for disease management and disaster management should be part of the organization work culture. Also, considering that we will continue to work and operate in a virtual environment, it is important that organizations step up their efforts to invest in products and services that could enable seamless deliverables through a virtual platform.
DB: What should young HR leaders be doing in heir organizations right now?
ST: Firstly, interact with employees, set up a schedule to talk to them, understand their journey in these tough times, and seek the area(s) where they might need assistance. Small gestures and help could go a long way to build trust and connection with your employees. Employees may need an outlet to express their feelings and emotions. Even if these mediums are virtual in nature, these discussions could help the employees to get over their anxieties and work-related stress. This information could provide valuable insights about employees and guide HR leaders to prepare the plan of action for the next stage.
Secondly, HR leaders should consider the current situation as the new normal (at least until a vaccine is available) and plan for a new way to operate within the organization. This includes everything from hiring and onboarding to performance reviews, payroll, learning and development, R&R, and exit formalities. Every HR role and responsibility will, for a foreseeable future, require a virtual environment. So, identifying these virtual platforms, testing their efficiency and introducing them as part of your HR setup, and handling the change management should be priority. What we should be focusing on is how can we leverage ‘virtual’, so to speak, to ensure active employee participation and engagement, interactive sessions, and retain the office camaraderie. As HRs, we have a challenging task ahead of us, and it’s very exciting!
The third and equally important aspect is self-upskilling: choosing the areas of interest and progressing in those via formal or informal platforms, completing certification programs or online courses that enhances knowledge in HR, and preparing for the next part of the journey will help. Also, choosing an upskilling course that would fit in the current scenario, such as crisis management, HR analytics, psychological thinking, or risk management would be pertinent given the fact that an 'end' to this pandemic would be hard to predict. This would also keep their services relevant in the current times.
DB: What should young HR leaders not be doing right now?
ST: For starters, do not skip or ignore my advice above! On a brighter note, don’t let your guard down. Don’t get complacent. Understand that this situation shall pass. It’s more like driving through a fog, you can barely see what’s ahead, so the only two tricks up your sleeve are to be careful and attentive. It’s the same case here, if you are not preparing yourself for the future, you will get diverted and make mistakes.
Remember that this future we’re talking about is a sudden surprise, which forced us to adapt quickly. Before COVID, all of us planned our professional journey very differently. But with this unforeseen event, all our plans and priorities have been thwarted. So, acknowledge this fact and prepare accordingly. Lastly, do not use the pre-COVID HR template for the post-COVID situation.
DB: What’s the most important advice about leadership you have received?
ST: I consider myself very fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best leaders, mentors, and management gurus within and outside of this industry. Each of them had a significant role in shaping my professional journey. I have closely observed their leadership style and ethics, took inspiration from it, and applied it in my daily operations. Honestly, there’s never just one single or most important advice I received from these stalwarts—it's bytes of wisdom over time and each piece of advice is extremely beneficial! But, all along my journey, I’ve observed these leaders wanted me to be true to my profession, express my thoughts freely, contribute meaningfully to my fraternity, always have a sense of empathy and giving it back to the society, respect my team and lead from front, be a natural leader, and walk the talk. All of these and many more have contributed significantly not only to my career but shaping me as a better human being!