By Dr. Susan Hetrick

In Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is represented by two characters – one represents, danger; the other represents, opportunity.

Even before the global pandemic, the current pace and change is different to anything humanity has ever experienced before. From mobile super-computing (blockchain, intelligent robots, machine learning), autonomous vehicles, genomic editing, and neuro-technological advancements, these are fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. The pandemic has accelerated digitization, the fourth Industrial Revolution, and has overturned long held assumptions about where, what, how and when work gets done.

This is a call for action for HR Leaders. Employment relationships need to be repurposed. People strategies need to be reinvented. Leadership needs to be reimagined. Corporate cultures need to be redesigned.


The pandemic has overturned many assumptions about where, what, when and how work gets done. With millions working from home, and productivity remaining constant, the old assumptions of ‘presenteeism’ and even the 40-hour week are ripe for change. A number of countries and organizations are actively exploring the 4-day week, which is reckoned to boost economic growth without diminished productivity.

Organizations are set to repurpose their mission. Already many are changing their mission statement from being the biggest or best in their industry to something that aligns to a social purpose such as aligning their products and services to enable better social, financial inclusion or mitigating climate change. This is an opportunity to align and engage purpose and values to achieving a greener, fairer and more equitable society for the future


The global pandemic exposed the interdependencies of supply chains, whilst simultaneously accelerating digital connectivity. With more than one-third of job roles predicted to disappear by 2030, it is not surprising that digital has become the mandate. A recent survey by KPMG found that three-quarters of CEOs agree that the pandemic has accelerated or sharply accelerate the creation of a seamless digital customer experience. Unsurprisingly a separate study of 1300 HR Executives found that the vast majority planned to upskill more than one-third of their workforce in digital capabilities in the next 2-3 years. Machine learning, gamification and A.I. technologies are reinventing the way we learn and develop expertise in real time.


Leadership needs to be reimagined. Too much of the practitioner literature on leadership typically describes a ‘man’ as a super hero. This leader is expected to share and ensure that everyone is aligned with their vision. Transformational leadership theorists argue that the leader must understand the need and goals of the followers, and shape their attitudes to a common unitary interest.

Yet many argue that this form of leadership is outdated. Pippa Malmgren, and her co-author, Chris Lewis, argue in their book The Leadership Lab: Understanding Leadership in the 21st Century (Kogan Page) that the skills and qualities of a leader in the 20th century are very different from the ones needed in the 21st century.  Leadership they argue requires a core skill or capability: imagination. The seismic economic, social and technological changes require leaders who can simultaneously drill down into the detail and be able to ‘look across’. The authors propose the needs for ‘situational fluency’ – defined as the ability to understand and think across many multidimensional spheres and silos of expertise. Essentially the ability for leaders to be able to ‘join the dots’. This approach will require far greater agility as leaders will need to constantly ‘imagine’ and prepare for many different outcomes.


Corporate cultures will be the key differentiator. Even before the pandemic we have witnessed billions of dollars wiped off the market value of organizations due to toxic cultures.  In the future, the way that talent will engage with any organization will be based on the alignment of the individual with the values of the company.  Increasingly HR Leaders are seen by their CEO’s as playing a vital role in establishing the right culture for the company. Yet culture is about ‘how we do things around here’. If that is the case how do we communicate our values, and way of doing things in the digital age. There is little doubt that understanding the culture, values and ways of doing things will be very different. Having a buddy, telling corporate stories, celebrating successes – all need to be redesigned.