By Ayman Kattan

The central axiom governing business decision-making around the world right now is probably “The pandemic has changed things.” While somewhat understated, it captures the many twists and turns corporations have had to navigate to keep their operations afloat. Now that enterprise stakeholders are starting to envision a world without pandemic restrictions, if not entirely free of COVID itself, they will see a world of hybrid work — one of an expectant workforce searching for the next innovation in employee experience.

Talent retention has now become too important to restrict strategy to a calculation of bare minimums. Organisations that want to compete and succeed will go beyond the minimums. They will no longer consider HR a back-office function. HR leaders are, in the 2020s, the champions of the business — arbiters of immense value who convince vital human resources to become part of the corporate tale.

But it is one thing to be shoved onto the battlefield; it is quite another to emerge victorious. To do so, here are three challenges the HR leader must overcome in 2022.

1. Attracting talent

Let’s start with the obvious. The expectations of workers have shifted as a direct result of the pandemic. Before COVID, candidate acceptance rates were high. If it beat local market rates, a company was almost guaranteed to have its pick of talent. Alternatively, companies could try differentiating themselves by building narratives that the workplace was a fun place to be, or that the company itself was “going places”.

Today, in the search for the best talent, organisations everywhere compete with companies everywhere else. Candidates are the ones peering through the shop window, challenging would-be employers to impress them. It is a global market in which the hunt for strong talent often begins with a hunt for a strong recruiter. The goal now is to convince a desirable candidate that the employer can offer an unbeatable working experience that will include excellent health benefits, flexibility in terms of location and timings, compliance with all local regulations, job security, perks and more.

This global market is already facilitated by Employer of Record (EOR) organisations. EORs assume the legal and administrative functions of recruiter, employer, and paymaster, while the company for which the worker adds value avoids the weeds of local regulations and process. EORs have become the ideal way for smaller businesses to grow. Since the Employer of Record handles all admin and compliance issues, the “experience employer” can concentrate on dazzling candidates. Once they recruit the talent they need, employers can focus on building a cohesive global workforce, leaving the day-to-day workforce admin to the EOR.

But in coming to terms with the experience economy, HR leaders should not forget the importance of salary. An open global market means an unwillingness by candidates to compromise on remuneration. This is especially true of candidates for job functions such as engineering, recruitment, and product management, who by virtue of being especially suitable for remote work, are even more likely to be targeted by organisations from across the globe. Top achievers must be appropriately rewarded to ensure their buy-in and long-term loyalty. Engagement can be assured through inclusion — by offering a stake in the company, for example. In a competitive world, a company needs every employee to be pulling for its success.

2. Retaining talent

Regardless of the geographical spread of the workforce, leaders should strive to create a cohesive culture. This goal, at least, is nothing new. But pandemic realities have created a remote workforce that in subsequent years may become hybrid — some team members at home, some at the office, and others splitting their time between the two. When everybody is in one place, designing a schedule of morale-boosting meetings and activities is straightforward, but in our new hybrid reality, leaders must go back to the drawing board. They must build a new culture from the bottom up, consulting employees in its design.

Employee-led culture includes the concept of “bringing your whole self to work”. While this will certainly create initial comfort, it also has the potential for conflict. Good leaders must understand key motivators within their employees and create subgroups that hold the same interests, such as music, sport, or video games. Employees that explore common interests together are more likely to gel effectively in a problem-solving scenario.

3. Evaluating talent

As expected, the old ways of monitoring performance are also gone. Performance management methods and their metrics have evolved to support the creation of trusting, productive work environments in remote setups. Motivation has replaced intimidation as the predominant productivity methodology. Measurement of output has replaced measurement of input. Continual feedback has replaced periodic appraisals. Empathy has replaced policy.

Performance feedback sessions should be designed (as with culture) by the employee. Gen-Zers and millennials are traditionally resistant to authoritarian environments, so telling them what to do can be counterproductive. Instead, a coaching approach should be used in which the manager ensures the employee’s objectives align with those of the business. The GROW (goals, reality, options, and way forward) model is useful for establishing accountability while encouraging a task-oriented work ethic.

Today’s metrics are evolving to support GROW by giving employers the means to discover what trends lead to low performance. While the HR function is still perfecting this art, today’s digital tools are already providing the data, tracking time spent on tasks, and activity on messaging networks such as Slack or Teams. For example, if monitoring data shows someone taking more leave than normal, and withdrawing from communication with colleagues or customers, this could be a flag for action.

Change is good

Shifts like the significant ones we are now seeing have always been challenging. But survivors are always the ones that see the landscape and act early rather than having to chase the pack when others have moved first. Will 2022 be another year of “wait and see” for your organisation, or the year when you act?