HR professionals and post-Covid19: Problems and prospects | Sunday Observer

HR professionals and post-Covid19: Problems and prospects

6 September, 2020

The satisfactory way of managing the Covid-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka echoed the execution excellence to the whole world.

The right people in the right places handing the right things paved the way for right results. The key overarching factor is people. Managing them in getting the best out of them is the prime role of people professionals. In such a context, it is worthwhile to reflect on the challenges faced by people professionals in the subtle balancing act of satisfying employee expectations and sustaining enterprise efforts. 


In an increasingly competitive world, people have become a cutting-edge factor. Is it just any people or right people? As the typical HR mantra says, the right person at the right job with the right targets in a right environment will produce right results within the right time. This will be more critical in post-Covid19 era where vision, understanding, confidence and agility (VUCA 2.0) form the foundation of the ‘new normal’ for people professionals. 

The ‘new normal’ is interpreted in multiple ways in multiple perspectives. As Forbes magazine recently described, “The Covid-19 coronavirus is becoming the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime”. “How we work, exercise, shop, learn, communicate, and of course, where we work, will be changed significantly”.   

In focus 

A people professional, also called a Human Resource (HR) professional can be viewed as a senior person engaged in Human Resources activities as an occupation. In other words, a manager with experience and qualifications, handling the responsibilities associated with the HR function of an organisation.

We often hear the rhetoric that every manager is an HR manager. There is a truth in it in the sense that every manager has a people management role to play. Yet, the reality is that a manager coming from a specific functional background might not have the ability to handle all the specific people management aspects. 

There has to be a consistent approach with a clear policy framework. The point here is that, when every manager plays a ‘people role’, the people professional’s role is becoming increasingly strategic. He/she has to act like an internal coach, guide, policy setter and an architect of strategy. They increasingly come to the forefront in adding value to their respective organisations. 


People professionals are increasingly exposed to bear the brunt of Covid19 impacting on employees. Ensuring the continuity of their employment is key on one hand. Engaging them to the fullest to have the required productivity is key on the other hand. Exposing them to the challenging realities yet in a caring manner has become a huge challenge. 

Covid19 have swiftly shifted us from mostly a ‘rowing’ world to much of a ‘rafting’ world. Why do I say so? Unlike in rowing, rafting is much riskier. It invites you to wear a life jacket and to be vigilant in passing through sharp stones with abundance of turbulence.

Instead of following a uniform set of instructions, you need to take on-the-spot decisions based on the situational realities. In essence, one needs to be fast, focused and flexible in a ‘rafting’ world.  

One key aspect for people professionals is to demonstrate the essence of empathy.

They should be regularly in touch with the employees in listening to them, guiding them and communicating with them in an understanding manner. This is crucial for survival.

It reminds me of what Andrew Carnegie said sometime ago. “Take my key people and leave my factory and it will be full of dust and cobwebs; demolish my factory and leave my key people, and they will build a better factory”.

It simply highlights the power of human spirit which needs to be preserved even in the midst of a severe pandemic. Such an endeavour needs strategically oriented people professionals with prompt actions.  

Tips for people professionals 

We can meaningfully adapt what Seijts and Crim, two researchers of organisational behaviour termed as ‘ten Cs for employee engagement’, in the context of the present pandemic disruption.   The key focus in each C can further be expanded into possible initiatives in post-Covid19 era. Let’s discuss the details with local realities in mind. 

1.    Connect

Leaders must show that they value employees. Recent letters addressed to employees by several corporate leaders in Sri Lanka is a case in point. This can be further enhanced by maintaining open channels so that employees can approach their superiors to discuss matters in a mutually beneficial manner. People professionals should be conscious of the fact that disconnect leads to disengagement, with dire consequences. 

2.    Career

Leaders should provide challenging and meaningful work with opportunities for career advancement.  It may involve re-skilling, up-skilling or multi-skilling as people professionals often advocate. It will be very challenging in the post-Covid19 where employee aspirations and employer reality might mismatch. New modes of learning with more technology involvement will be the order of the day. 

The current wisdom suggests us to show employees the way forward in terms of career advancements and options, in motivating them to perform in exceeding expectations.  As one leading multinational claim, “We do not offer jobs, but careers, the careers that brand them for life”. In transitioning to a post-Covid19 economy, this might be more of a project-based or contract-based path with results-based remuneration. 

3.    Clarity

There could be a great deal of confusion created among an insecure workforce. People professionals must communicate, communicate and communicate, as the conventional wisdom tells us. A clear vision, inclusive of employee wellbeing should be shared and supported.

This includes building an awareness on strategic priorities among the employees, in ensuring that they are clear about why they are doing what they do. People professionals should ensure that employees are aware of the challenging side of the business that they are in, and also to avoid unrealistic expectations.  

4.    Convey

Leaders should clarify their expectations about employees and provide feedback on their functioning in the organisaton. Perform or perish should be the slogan in the post-Covid19 era. People professionals should develop productivity enhancement schemes which are transparent and equitable. 

This also involves ensuring proper conduct of the performance appraisals by training the managers as to how to give constructive feedback objectively. It will be very challenging to tolerate under-performers and as such being proactive in setting high expectation at the outset is what is required. 

5.    Congratulate

Leaders give recognition to others. Exceptional leaders do so a lot.  Appreciating of good performance of employees by reward and recognition, in a timely fashion is something essential.  Gone are the days of “employee of the year” or “employee of the quarter” or even “employee of the month”. What matters is giving due recognition to the “employee of the moment”. People professionals should develop cost-effective recognition schemes so that employees see they are being valued despite the economic challenges their organisaton is going through. 

6.    Contribute

Leaders should ensure that employees know how their contribution matters. This can be done by introducing a transparent mechanism of objective setting and then connecting individual objectives to broad organisatonal objectives. Tested and proven mechanisms such as Balanced Scorecard can be handy in this respect. People professionals need to reinvent the conventional systems so that irrespective of whether work at office or work from home, the contribution of an employee is traced, tracked and taken care of. 

7.    Control

Leaders need to set the boundaries with the buy-in of the   Employees. This involves setting the boundaries of activities with proper systems in place with the involvement of employees, so that they are a part of the decision-making process.

Modern day control is more viewed as a way of ensuring consistency through conformance, as opposed to coercive courses of action. Stringent controls on wastage is essential in cash-trapped conditions, where people professionals have to design and deliver learning initiatives to ensure proper controls are consciously being adhered to. 

 8.    Collaborate

As it was the case often, great leaders are team builders. They create an environment that fosters trust and collaboration. By doing so, they ensure that teamwork is given due prominence with associated mechanisms such as team-based rewards to strengthen it. Such teams can be either physical or virtual in the post-Covid19 era. People professionals should promote collaboration with the message that economic challenges should not hamper team spirit. 

9.    Credibility

Leaders should strive to maintain organisatonal reputation and demonstrate high ethical standards. They should demonstrate being ethical in decision making, so that employees will strengthen their admiration of the organisaton. Credibility can be compared to a glass tumbler. Once it is cracked, it is irreparable. This will be truly tested in a post-Covid19 era where people professionals have to tread carefully. Even in the case of layoffs as a last resort, doing it in the most humane manner might become a huge challenge. 

10.    Confidence

Good leaders help create confidence in a company by being exemplars of high-performance standards. It involves practising ‘walking the talk’ at all levels so that employees have better trust and confidence in their superiors. That has far reaching consequences, including better relationships and higher results. This is a key aspect in the post-Covid19 era where employees have to be given the assurance of survival through performance. Possible increment suppressions for senior executives already in some large conglomerated is a case in point. Yet, it will be more challenging in the SMEs that contributes to 52 percent to the Sri Lankan economy.

Way forward

The ten Cs discussed above should be appropriately blended with organisational priorities, with sound HR practices in place, especially in the post-Covid19 era. People professionals have an increasing strategic role to play in dealing with problems and prospects. The best way of summing up the above ten Cs is to link all of them to one ‘big C’. CARE. Employee-care is the surest way to ensure customer-care, in the past, present and future as well.