Three years ago, one of three questions received in HR was about the well-desired benefit of working from home at least a few days per month. Half-year later, as measures to prevent spreading the novel coronavirus, our employees were reluctant to the idea of long-term remote work. We now feel powerless in bringing them back to office; their way of life adjusted so smoothly to online activity that most people can no longer see themselves going each day to a dedicated workplace.

The geopolitical context initiated by the restrictions during COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 – 2021 and continued by the unexpected war at the EU borders in the beginning of 2022, boosted the (not so) Great Resignation in Europe, phenomenon expected to continue in 2023, and forever altered employee relations.

Organisations and employees are both affected and leaders’ responsibility to preserve high-performers is mandatory. That people leave bosses, not organisations – it is already a cliché. The art of managing people makes all the difference between top-companies and organisations failing to turn their mission and vision into a dream coming true.

The employee alone is able to motivate himself because its human nature triggers and coordinates the motivational processes from within. The role of the leader is to identify and specify how achieving the organisation’s objectives ensures and satisfies the employees’ own needs. Attention, appreciation and personalised behaviour towards people are essential for motivation and retention.

Nevertheless, the coexistence of several generations at work, as life expectancy increased significantly in the last decades, thanks to medical progress, complicates leaders’ mission. From those holding the power (60+ years old, with a strong will to stay involved in activities that fulfil their social needs), to Generation Z (born after the 90’s, in an already digitised and competitive world, most prone to creativity and innovation), each of them has different characteristics, expectations and ways of communication, sometimes difficult to harmonise.

Now is the time to consider our flexibility, organisational culture, leadership skills, assertiveness and values. It makes sense... so, what is the best course of action?

As per most business cases, there is no guaranteed success recipe. However, leading people in a VUCA world, and especially in the context presented above, should focus on three main directions:

1. Cultural transformation or Flexing leadership

Organisations and leaders should stop labelling people via classic processes like:

• Performance management, that compares human beings to some pre-set standards or, worse, with other human beings. Each individual is unique, with his own strengths and weaknesses. If one is not good at something, direct him to something else as soon as you realise it. A flexible leader has sufficient emotional maturity to realise what tasks would better suit each of his team-members or ease his access to other roles.

• Employee engagement surveys, where companies ask their staff to tick boxes or arrange some benefits in order of importance (allocated personal value). Later on, the management looks at some statistics of preferences per business areas, hierarchical levels, seniority or other breakdowns, without knowing what to make of them, exactly. The trend is for employees to want something they do not have, while the actions taken by organisations will never be enough to satisfy everyone.

• Moreover, there is no certain forecast on the period of world sanitary crisis and recession; organisations have to increase their productivity now, by:

• Attracting agile staff, able to make best decisions on spot.

• Improving collaboration between employees, private companies and governmental organisations.

• Investing in infrastructure and digitalisation, designing creative virtual environments to boost collaboration and ease decision-making.

2.HR as strategic business partner

Conventional HR, with its rigid set of rules and procedures (other than the ones imposed by law) disables the employees to reach their maximum potential and make their own decisions. By acting on imposed strict behaviours for too long, humans tend to become obedient and develop severe resistance to change, as opposite of initiative and creative thinking.

"As per most business cases, there is no guaranteed success recipe. However, leading people in a VUCA world, and especially in the context presented above, should focus on three main directions"

Social restrictions are not something that one wanted. At the same time, they created endless possibilities for business growth and HR role. Rather than waiting to go back to “normal”, we now have a unique opportunity to design our own, improved “normal 2.0”. In the long-run, organisations using remote staff, less supervised and empowered to establish their own pace for a suitable work-life balance, to voluntarily offer their skills for various projects and to take multiple roles will gain not only increased productivity and better quality of services, but also a high-performing team, dedicated and loyal to its employer.

Strategic HR should:

• Make sure to communicate and motivate your virtual teams as much and as often as possible, as well as to support first-line managers in this endeavour.

• Offer consultancy at all managerial levels, encouraging managers to pay more attention to people’s morale, to give praise (whenever case) and raise their spirit.

• Keep open, transparent communication channels. The messages should be coherent and take into consideration all options. In case of difficult decisions, prior consultation with informal leaders could make the difference between acceptance and conflicts at work.

3. Digitalisation

Whether at the office or remote, HR self-service applications proved efficient. They eliminate most of the repetitive processes and provide employees’ free access to their personal and employment data (e.g., dedicated HR person preparing statements – replaced with a standard report easily accessed by the employees upon their needs). For the company, the return on investment results in: simplified procedures, risk-avoidance of manual errors, creativity of the employees who were otherwise doing redundant work and increased motivation.

Final thoughts

Think of the transformation process as a feedback and feed forward, learning loop. You try something (anything is better than nothing), you assess the results (positive and negative), improve the positive aspects (maximise achievements) and try different ways to decrease the negative ones (minimise loses). Then you start over, the same – similar action, or a very new one.

The only failure is giving up before you start! What will YOU try first?