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More than half (52%) of 172 HR leaders surveyed said their organizations’ business operations are continuing at reduced levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a newly released survey by Gartner. Perhaps not surprisingly, optimizing costs is the business priority that has changed the most since January 2020 for 40% of 146 respondents, the survey found.

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“Many organizations have entered the recovery phase and are focused on stabilizing the business and restarting activity,” said Mark Whittle, vice president of advisory in Gartner’s HR practice, in a statement. “HR leaders will play a critical role during this period.”

Much of that role requires them to deal with the uncertainty around several key issues, Whittle said, including equipping leaders to manage remote teams over the long haul, preserving company culture with a more remote workforce, and engaging workers in a cost-constrained environment.

HR leaders are adjusting their priorities for the remainder of 2020 to address these issues and best support the business. In December 2019, the top five HR priorities for 2020 were: building critical skills and competencies, strengthening the current and future leadership bench, incorporating organizational design and change management, driving digital business transformation, and enhancing employee experience.

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A Gartner survey in May of 160 HR leaders found that while those top five priorities have not changed–the order and the lens through which organizations must view the priorities have. The future of work is number one, followed by: Critical skills and competency development; organizational design and change management; employee experience; and current and future leadership.

Where to go from here

To successfully navigate today’s new normal, Gartner said chief human resource officers (CHROs) and senior HR leaders must address each of these priorities:

1. Future of work

Leaders need to consider the predictions for what the future of work will look like and assess the likelihood of each trend impacting their organization.

“Business leaders are planning for entirely new scenarios,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice, in a statement. “For many, if not all organizations, the three-year strategic plan may be gone, and planning is occurring quarterly.”

Perhaps most importantly, Kropp added, “understanding the future of work is about understanding the permanent workplace shifts post-COVID.”

2. Critical skills and competency development

A recent Gartner survey of 113 learning and development leaders found that 71% reported that more than 40% of their workforce has had to use new skills because of changes to work due to COVID-19, Whittle said.

To adopt a more dynamic approach to managing shifting skills needs, Gartner is advising HR leaders to focus on three actions:

  • Identify areas of the organization with significant changes in priorities and related changes in skill needs. Then break roles and projects that need support into individual skills and outcomes.
  • Upskill a select cohort of motivated and influential employees to provide personalized learning support to colleagues.
  • Foster internal movement across the organization by engaging employees to gauge their skills, goals, and points of confusion around organizational skill needs.

3. Organizational design and change management

Gartner research shows that successful change management outcomes require a shift from top-down change led by senior leaders and communicated down to employees, to “open-source change,” meaning employees are involved in designing change processes.

In fact, when organizations use an open-source change strategy, the probability of change success increases by as much as 24 percentage points, the firm said.

To achieve an open-source change culture, HR needs to help managers and leaders create two-way dialogues that acknowledge the reality that change is difficult and then listen to employees’ reactions, Gartner recommended.

Adopting open-source change management can increase employee engagement by as much as 38 percentage points and intent to stay by as much as 46 percentage points, according to the firm.

4. Employee experience

The pandemic and fallout has changed the focus of employee experience to sustaining the performance and engagement of a hybrid workforce–some employees working fully remote or partially remote and others at the workplace.

To gauge employee experience during the disruption, HR must answer three questions:

  • Organizational trust: To what extent do our employees believe we really value people and are ensuring their well-being?
  • Commitment to coworkers: How are employees collaborating with and learning from team members?
  • The right capabilities: Are we helping employees get the skills and tools and resources they need to be successful in this disruption and new normal?

5. Current and future leadership

Organizations need resilient leaders more than ever. According to Gartner to foster resilience, HR needs to support leaders at the personal, team and institutional levels:

  • Personal: Identify leaders’ skills gaps and create leader-to-leader partnerships that give them opportunities to help each other by pairing those with complementary skills.
  • Team: In a remote work environment, employees are 3.5 times more likely to collaborate with five or more teams than when in the office. Leaders need to learn how to better lead during ambiguity, how to identify and secure needed resources for their teams, and how to better connect their teams and direct reports with others to develop skills and get more resources.
  • Institutional: HR needs to ensure performance management objectives reflect and reward leaders that efficiently connect teams to the right resources. Leaders must also be empowered and encouraged to dynamically adjust annual goals and review all workflows to align to the right priorities.

Complimentary research about how to lead organizations through the disruption of coronavirus can be found in Gartner’s coronavirus resource center.