Gary Mangiofico is executive professor of organizational theory and management at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. Views are the author's own.
During these unprecedented times, remote work has become ubiquitous, supply chains have shifted enormously and consumers' demand for typical products and services has been anything but customary. This rapid shift from "business as usual" presents a unique opportunity for human resource executives to gather important data that will help companies plan for the future and weather the economic, physical and emotional toll caused by COVID-19.
According to The Wall Street Journal, from the beginning of March to the beginning of April, U.S. daily output fell roughly 29%. Business models have changed overnight and, according to a post on Retail Insight Network, "while everyone is banking on a post-crisis bounce to retail spending after the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers will be emerging into a world that they view very differently. Shoppers will change what they buy, where and how they buy it, and how much they spend."
This change in business operations and consumer spending means that HR executives should gather data in real-time now in order to modify future operational and staffing needs. Data can also help inform internal changes at companies to boost morale or employee engagement that may have seemed unnecessary or insignificant before.
Deloitte Review's Humanizing Change noted "today's big-data environment puts more information at our fingertips than ever before. While most people identify big data with large-scale customer outreach programs, the information can be directed toward internal goals as well, in efforts often referred to as 'people analytics.' With people analytics, organizations can mine enterprise-wide data to understand employee perceptions and solicit real-time feedback."
Implementing the three steps below will ensure HR executives are positioned to turn current information gathering into future actionable practices that are based on rich data.
1. Collect and categorize data daily
With the evolving pandemic and circumstances changing daily, HR professionals should collect information daily and sort it into five categories that are most likely to be actionable:
High volume: How have high frequency tasks/activities changed?
High risk: What are high pressure points that need to be addressed immediately?
Inclined to be difficult: Are employees struggling with workload issues or unreliable WiFi? Or are there issues with project delivery or maintaining an adequate supply chain?
High probability of change: What are some areas that require immediate change?
Aspirations: What changes are employees asking for?
It's not necessary to have an immediate solution. What's important is immediate data collection so that when operations come back to the new normal HR professionals have sufficient information to analyze and can identify trends in the data that support making changes.
2. Focus on people analytics, not just business analytics
The format of data collection is less important than ensuring that employees at all levels of the organization have an opportunity to share their observations, recommendations and immediate needs. Data can be collected via surveys, one-on-one conversations, or virtual team meetings. It's also important to provide opportunities for employees to submit feedback anonymously such as setting up an anonymous email inbox, so the sender of the message is unknown.
3. Act with integrity and transparency
In order for employees to share honest feedback, they need to know that the person soliciting their feedback is genuine, non-judgmental and will not share the information inappropriately. "Misuse of data could compromise privacy or individual rights, prompt incorrect decisions or a misapplication of skills and, ultimately, drive a very consequential loss of employee trust in the organization, according to a report from Accenture.
Post crisis recall can be blurry, and not everyone will be able to come back evenly or equally, so it is important for HR executives to have a re-entry plan that accommodates that variance and potentially unique circumstances of employees. Additionally, HR executives should document observations and record data in real-time so organizations can better prioritize resources and emerge on sound footing after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collecting and categorizing data now will help identify operational gaps as well as ways to better support employees. Change management is often a steep hill to climb when business is booming, but these unprecedented times present a unique opportunity to collect rich data to inform — and back up — the need for changing future practices.