Learning & Development, Recruiting

Mastering the HR Pivot During an Economic Slowdown

Over the last several years, HR teams spent a lot of time battling over talent. Work-from-home trends expanded the marketplace of potential employers for many workers, helping to drive a Great Resignation that stressed HR’s ability to attract the talent their organizations needed to operate effectively. And don’t forget that even the company faithful were clamoring for more flexible working arrangements. Nothing was simple.

The silver lining of today’s more challenging environment is that some of those symptoms of heady economic times are starting to dissipate. Workers aren’t quitting at the levels they were at the beginning of 2022, and the ones who remain are starting to show up consistently in the office again. A post-pandemic normalization is occurring.

Where exactly the economy and business environment will land once the effects of the pandemic are fully sorted out remains to be seen; let the economists and prognosticators proffer their best guesses. But that shouldn’t stop the HR function from adapting its priorities to this new environment. Some of these HR pivots are subtle, while others are not; in every case, however, it’s important to adapt to this environment and stay ahead of the curve. Here are four tactics to navigate the months ahead:

Pivot to Talent Management

Remember those career development initiatives that were put on hold last year? It may be time to dust them off. When talent isn’t fleeing, there’s more organizational capacity to focus on maximizing the people you have and retaining top-notch employees. Helping employees understand what it takes to succeed at your company is critical to providing a positive work environment. A recent study found that employees who have a positive work experience have 16 times the engagement level of those with a negative experience and are significantly more likely to stay at a company.

HR leaders can put themselves in the talent management driver’s seat by upgrading their employee retention programs to include a road map for success at the company. This road map should clearly define the skills, business experience, and leadership acumen people will need to position themselves for advancement. Ideally, pay ranges should also be provided for different job levels so people know what they’re working toward.

You don’t want employees to stay because they don’t have other options; you want them to stay because they see a future to learn and grow their career. Now you have the space to create raving fans of your organization.  

Invest in Better Data to Improve Decision Making

Decision-making takes on elevated importance in resource-constrained business environments, and high-quality data can give HR leaders a critical confidence boost when making a decision or providing counsel to other leaders within the organization. Although data is increasingly recognized as a key driver of successful HR practices, many leaders still don’t have the right data-sourcing resources in place for their businesses. Gartner recently found that 36% of HR leaders say their sourcing strategies and data programs are insufficient.

Pulse surveys are one example of an effective tool HR leaders can use to track sentiment. As the name suggests, they are short, and feedback is provided quickly. They offer invaluable insights about employee opinions across a range of issues, from productivity to hybrid work environments, leadership effectiveness, preferred management style, and even external factors such as the economy and inflation. 

When HR leaders understand employee sentiment, they are empowered to implement more effective approaches for employee engagement and directly address their concerns and needs. The more data points you have—and the quicker you can get them—the better, more informed decisions you’ll be able to make.

Enhance Leadership Programs

It’s one thing to offer employees a road map for success and advancement—and that applies to nearly every person—but emerging leaders need special attention in order to cultivate the skills necessary to help lead a company. When a recession causes priorities to shift, reenergizing the leadership development process should be prioritized. Moreover, providing top performers with an enhanced skill set will enable them to manage their responsibilities for the company more effectively through uncertain times. The HR function should also design programs that provide up-and-coming leaders with exposure to all parts of the business and provide structured mentoring and sponsorship opportunities that drive professional growth opportunities and visibility, ensuring top talent is retained.

Formal leadership programs have been “best practice” for many companies for a long time, but uptake still lags in many organizations. Increasingly, however, top performers expect this kind of formal program—and the not-so-subtle assumption that it will lead to future leadership opportunities—in order to feel supported by their company. Without these types of programs, companies could leave themselves open to poachers. It’s better to invest in an ounce of prevention than to go looking for a cure when star talent picks up and leaves. 

Get in the Right Frame of Mind

Finally, remind your team (and yourself) that the company’s goals haven’t changed. Whether the job market and economy are stable or rocky, the role of HR is just as important as ever. Economic headwinds or a shift in employee habits may change your day-to-day tactics, but the objective remains the same: Provide your organization with the right people and resources it needs to succeed. HR leaders can accomplish this by prioritizing their own team so they are equipped to create the kind of workplace where all employees are empowered to bring their best selves to work.

Andréa Carter is CHRO and SEVP at Global Payments.

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