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What’s the role of HR in uncertain times?

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We’re living in a new norm and uncertainty is the word. Eugenio Pirri, VP people and organisational development at Dorchester Collection, asks what this means for HR.

Back in 1964, when the civil rights movement was gaining speed, social injustice was high and significant change was on the horizon, a lone voice sang: “For the times they are a-changing”. Riding upon the unvoiced sentiment of the public, Bob Dylan created an anthem for change.

Step forward little over half a century and Dylan’s song could still be the anthem of our time. A wise man once quoted there are three things in life which are certain – taxes, death and change. Though whereas once change came with certainty; we’re living in a new norm and uncertainty is the word.

Because whether it’s Brexit, an act of terrorism, or social uprising; this is the nature of the world now. An increasingly complex and demanding world where unprecedented change can happen in a short second. Planned or unplanned, as often is the case in today’s volatile climate, we must ride, live and thrive in this new landscape.

HR: don’t forget the people element

As HR professionals, managing in uncertain times comes with an added responsibility. Not only do we need to be strong people leaders, staying calm and collected, uniting our leadership teams, preparing our employees for change, or reacting to unforeseen situations which have befallen us; we must too be people people.

This is HR 101. And despite repeated calls for a ‘new breed of HR’, where strategy, analytics and technology play centre stage, we must not forget the great characteristics of a people person. Now, more than ever before, we must balance being a transformational HR leader with human kindness, empathy and support, equally.

We are not just a connection to our employees in the workplace, but also to life in general.

Be visible & walk the floor

It is human nature to worry about change, regardless of the cause, and as a fundamental of great HR, it is our job to lend an ear, offer a pat on the back and provide reassurance. Even if we don’t know the answers ourselves. Now is the time to drop things and walk the floors. Stand with employees and ask them how they are feeling, where they’re at and how the family is.

And even when we may know things aren’t safe; we are the ones who can make people feel secure through the right tone, the right communications and the right body language.

Many times over the past 18 months, I’ve had to really go back to the basics of HR because large and small change has faced our business. I may be the gatekeeper of the rules and policies; but I’m also there for my people as individuals; as a person. I am both their cheerleader and supporter; helping them control what they can control. Keeping our values alive; what will keep us secure in uncertainty.

I often say that the most successful HR professional is one where there is a vast amount of confidence in them technically – they can create a strategic engagement plan, they are able to deliver a learning session, they can run the payroll if necessary – though more importantly they are a face to the workforce.

A face which is there when it matters, no matter how big or small.

Be that face.

Eugenio Pirri

By Eugenio Pirri

Eugenio Pirri is the vice president of people and organisational development at luxury hotel management company, Dorchester Collection. His first book, Be A People Leader: a sustainable framework for achieving your full potential (RRP £9.99), is available via Amazon and all good bookstores.

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