How HR & Business Leaders Can Adapt in Uncertain Times

As 2020 continues as a year of uncertainty, how we adapt can make all the difference to the people we’re leading

Human Resources teams have always been faced with a difficult job, one involving a fine balance of supporting people and business needs. In times pre-COVID-19, the challenges ahead for HR included skills shortages, scarcity of talent and ensuring workforces were sufficiently trained for all that lay ahead in an increasingly digital and automated future of work. 

The digitized workplace, with its problems and opportunities appeared to be some way off. Allowing for sufficient advanced planning to upskill and adapt workforces to the new ways of working, inevitably coming down the track. However COVID-19 and the crisis that continues to unfold as a result, has removed any remaining preparation time whilst at the same time altering the rules of HR’s focus on priorities. 

As Human Resources leaders and business leaders, in addition to our teams, we have had little choice but adapt fast, whilst working tirelessly with pace and rigour, to keep up with the demands of change that 2020 has brought along with it. From taking active steps to help keep our employee’s safe, our workplaces COVID-19 secure, managing furlough rounds, redundancy processes, employee absences and switching in some cases to make a full adjustment to mass remote working. We’ve found ourselves leaping through hoops and stepping up to the challenges head on. 

The range of work we have faced to respond to COVID-19 hasn’t ended, as a result our focus has been split to tackle robust employee communications, re-writing of policies and procedures, drafting crisis communications and adjusting business continuity plans. The problems we have endured have been far reaching and those that we probably didn’t expect to face in our career lifetimes. And yet, we’re far from reaching the end of this ongoing challenge just yet. 

The uncertainty and unpredictability of the times we continue to find ourselves in, means that for Human Resources and organisations operating the world over, having the ability to adapt and to adapt quickly, will in all probability increase ten-fold. 

Here we explore how HR and Business leaders can adapt in these uncertain times and how they can do so without compromising on the quality of the service they give to their teams and their people.

Making a mindset shift

Complex problems, the kinds of problems that Human Resources and Business leaders currently find themselves tackling, requires a different kind of thinking to that which more complicated problems can present. 

The issue of understanding the difference between complex and complicated problems, is one that is beyond the realms of semantics, according to Rick Nason a finance professor at Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business. In his book, It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business (University of Toronto Press, May 2017), Nason makes a case for understanding the difference between complex and complicated decision making. 

The default mindset of leaders sets them up for failure.

Broken down, complicated problems require more linear thinking, as these types of problems can often be predicted or even avoided by having prior experience or expertise relating to the problem. This sort of problem is one that HR and business leaders encounter again and again, and often approach with more traditional approaches used in problem solving. 

Complex problems however, belong solely to the realms of the unknown. These are the sorts of problems that have been unforeseen, inexperienced in the past and therefore require a different sort of mindset and approach in order to resolve. 

Given that it’s this particular type of complex problem, that is now being experienced in the age of COVID-19. The sorts that are unforeseen, unknown and therefore lacking any go-to playbook, it’s understandable that as a result a different sort of mindset and approach is being demanded of HR and business leaders alike. 

Collaboration is key at every level in uncertain times

Human Resources and Business leaders must now ensure they’re collaborating with employees at every level of the organisation. In fact by focusing on collaboration rather than command and control, the shift in dynamic allows for stronger interpersonal relationships, which in turn helps to embrace a complexity mindset. 

Transitioning to the Future of Work and the Workplace Embracing Digital Culture, Tools, and Approaches
Transitioning to the Future of Work and the Workplace. Embracing Digital Culture, Tools, and Approaches

The collective intelligence of the organisation that is tapped into by engaging in this way, engenders far greater problem solving capability. The very nature of the complex problems being faced now, means that through building trust and brainstorming solutions with a wider employee base, will result in diversity of thought and unique solutions to problems being readily identified. 

Collective Intelligence is where group intelligence emerges from collaboration amongst individuals. The result is diversity of opinion, decentralized thinking and a good way in which to aggregate the results of the thoughts and outcomes. 

These days, the concept of collective intelligence is extremely popular — and, thanks to the Internet, companies turn to online communities to do everything from choose t-shirt designs to solve business problems

The collaborative approach must also extend beyond HR, Business leaders and their teams, to include collaboration and engagement between teams, diverse workers and departments.

The development of a complexity mindset enables HR and business leaders to operate with agility and adapt to constantly changing factors. By being balanced in approaches to complex problems it’s possible to manage the dilemma being faced by pursuing both short-term and long-term survival of the issue at hand simultaneously.

Moreover when it comes to handling complexity, it’s essential that data is acquired, analysed and managed effectively; data that is relevant to the current situations, that in its understanding will ultimately drive successful decision making. 

HR leaders who find themselves handling complex situations by using a complexity mindset, must also recognise that building trust is key to successfully getting through this current crisis. As a result developing trust by rewarding performance, offering individual growth opportunities and encouraging employee autonomy all foster a culture of transparency, which in turn helps to build trust within the organisation quickly.

Ensure your organisation has a strong value foundation

In uncertain times, it’s essential that HR and business leaders adapt to the challenges being presented by ensuring their organisation has a strong value foundation. In organisations where the company values have been defined and built upon at every step, in addition to their being brought into by the employee base. In the face of uncertainty, having a set of fundamental beliefs upon which the business and its employees behaviors are based upon, can lead to increased harmony. Even in the face of the most challenging of crises 

Values can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees

By using your organisational values as the foundation in response to crisis, whilst using this base level to drive decision making, HR has the potential to engender a positive work culture that results from a value and therefore mission-oriented foundation.

Organisations should take the time to define some core definitions to ensure people know what the company stands for and what it is that they are trying to accomplish. Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all that the company does and has set out to achieve. These values often reflect the vision of the organisational founders and should be the cornerstone that both people and business decision making are made from. 

Aspirational values are those that a company needs to succeed in the future don’t have in place currently. These values remain important however and help in the development and refinement of forward looking strategies. 

Combined, having both well defined and understood values allow for HR and the people employee base, to have a belief system that is strengthened by the foundations of which it’s built upon.

Bringing it all together

There is no denying how important the role that Human Resources and business leaders are playing at this crucial time of uncertainty and change. COVID-19 continues to bring with it seismic change that organisations must innovate beyond and consistently adapt to. The takeaways here are that a combined series of approaches in HR and business strategy are necessary if your organisation and crucially the people within it are set to thrive post this period of deep disruption. 

Activision Blizzard, a video game company based in Santa Monica, Calif., has moved 99 percent of its 10,000 employees to remote work

As HR and business leaders, it’s also crucial that you’re in a position to focus on making the key decisions that matter. One of the leading ways that you can do this, is by leveraging technology tools like those provided by Sage HR. With our award winning HR Management technology, we pride ourselves on providing solutions that will solve the HR challenges of people management and HR administration, enabling you to focus on the people side of building your business. 

If you’re a Sage HR customer already, then we are regularly releasing new tools and features for you to explore and make great use of. If you’re yet to sign up to our award winning software, then by signing up, you can take advantage of a free 14 day trial.

The Sage HR commitment to you is to help make adapting to the uncertain times we’re currently facing, that little bit easier. 


Sage HR

For companies where people are paramount to success, Sage HR  helps businesses overcome the complexities of managing their people, so they can focus on growing their business.

Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.