HR as the Custodian for People – Leading the Change in this New Era...


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Michael Esau

Global HR Advisor

Insight author headshot

Georgie Adkins

Solution Consultant


For hundreds of years – organisations have recruited people to work in their organisations to help them deliver on their strategy. In a variety of ways, they have given them the skills to do the job and they paid them for their efforts. As the pages of history will tell us and as the years have gone by – many questionable working practices have been improved and legislation introduced to protect the rights of workers. However – at the basic level, the perennial challenges of hiring people, training them and rewarding them has been happening for a long time. So what has really changed? We know how important people are in the success of an organisation? This isn’t and shouldn’t be a surprise should it?

Let’s dive into this in more detail and strip away any attempts to oversimplify something which is far more complex. Yes, the perennial challenge of having the right people in the right place with the right skills has existed for decades, but how that has been achieved has varied from organisation to organisation and the manifestation of the execution has felt very different from individual to individual and that is one of the key exam questions – ultimately what does this “feel like to the individual” – does it feel fair, does it feel inclusive, does it feel empowering, does the individual feel valued, does the individual feel appreciated, does the individual feel as if they can grow and does the individual feel accepted for who they are by leaders, colleagues, peers or indeed their customers.


Much has been written about the pandemic and the influence it has had on how we work and live, but for many the pandemic shined a great big light on issues that have existed for some time and not been properly addressed. Much has been written about what it means and whether we will return to normal. The desire for “normality” is often part of the problem – “normality” is often the denier of progress, an acceptor that things are different. What I think we have clearly learned in this period of time is that people have choice. Choice about who they work for, where they work and how they work. The lockdowns provided us all with a different view of the world, sharpened our perceptions, opened our eyes to different options and ultimately many people evaluated if their incumbent place of work answered affirmatively to the questions posed earlier in this article.

This is the new era. The perennial challenges remain the same, but solving them is very different today. Ultimately – this is where HR has a crucial role and part to play. Many challenges have existed for the last 50 years, so I think assumptions that people “get all of this and care about it” need to be put to one side. HR professionals understand the nuances of people and have their finger on the pulse in terms of the changing context in which we all operate. They know the “perception point” of employees today is formed much quicker and it’s the reason organisation are seeing high percentages of leavers in the first 9 months – people have choice, and they are not afraid to move.


HR as a pivotal leader in any organisation must set out the arguments. I hear you say “we have been doing that all along” – but the message needs to be repeated not only with senior leaders but also with the individual contributor. For the senior leaders – the argument must centre on the criticality of creating a culture and environment that has a commitment to diversity, being inclusive at the core, a commitment to creating an autonomous and empowering experience where individuals can take greater ownership of their data, profile, performance, development and career aspirations. For the individual – HR must clearly explain how that commitment will be delivered, what it will feel like and how it will benefit the individual – this convergence of the different stakeholder groups is absolutely crucial – a lack of commitment at the top effectively “makes or breaks” the perception of the individual – hence the perception point is formed much earlier.

As consumers we are now familiar with curating our own experiences outside of work, whether that is social or technological. Nobody tells us what to do. We now expect the same in the workplace. We believe that going forward three things will determine success for an individual:

  1. Culture – a totally inclusive and progressive culture that is open minded, flexible and agile.
  2. Climate – a culture that feels great, connected, engaged, recognised, rewarded and where great work and high performance is celebrated.
  3. Execution – the ability to get tasks done when I need to. Simple, easy, understandable with no challenges or difficulty.

This is what needs to be created. HR has such an important role to play in designing and curating the workplace experience and culture of the new era. It needs to be sensitive to the preferences and expectations of a multi-generational workforce.

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