Our world is changing faster than ever

2020 has already been a year of unprecedented change, with the last four months demanding organisations to react and respond at a pace we have never seen before. However, those that will be most successful are those that can balance the need for short term resilience and agility with a planned and strategic response to building a ‘new reality’.

A huge amount of the change required comes down to people – from operational elements such as equipment, shift patterns and workforce plans through to the more intangible elements like culture, behaviours and capability. Given this need, there is no question that HR will have a key role to play in enabling the new reality, bridging a wide range of capabilities.

The emerging HR profile has five key competency dimensions

With the needs of the business changing so rapidly, we foresee five key competency dimensions HR will need to bring to the table to help drive the strategy and action needed to thrive in the new reality. 

HR as a Coach

Strong and empathetic leadership will be key to supporting teams through unprecedented levels of uncertainty and change, and inspiring the action needed to shift to a new reality. HR partners are ideally placed to observe leaders in action and help them to reflect on the impact of their behaviours and actions on others. HR will continue to play a critical role in coaching leaders as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, helping them to embody the empathic behaviours that we see as increasingly important in successful virtual leaders. 

HR as a Visionary

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only shifted our routines and ways of working, but also our wants, needs and expectations. There is a new employee value proposition emerging with wellbeing, flexibility and employee choice at the core. HR have a unique opportunity to radically redesign talent management foundations to attract, develop and retain a workforce with dramatically changing needs and desires. HR will play a key role as a visionary, helping to identify the areas of greatest need and using innovation techniques such as Design Thinking to overthrow historic ways of managing talent in favour of modernised and personalised journeys. Performance management in a virtual world and real-time, digitally led learning will be priority first stops. 

HR as a Workforce Shaper

Over the past few months, organisations have already faced the need to change shift patterns, workforce volumes and technology application in order to manage risk and adhere to government restrictions. HR are uniquely placed to assess the risk to business continuity and workforce safety posed by high risk roles, such as the inability to socially distance, and high-risk employees. This will support an ability to adapt and manage risk in the short term, with a longer-term focus on adapting and reshaping the workforce to be more resilient to future shocks. The Workforce Shaper will also play a key role in making sure the workforce strategy is aligned to the needs of the rapidly changing business and customer models that we see emerging– including a refocused automation strategy to support this.

HR as a Behavioural Scientist

Shaping the post-pandemic workplace relies on more than just HR and business leaders, with significant behavioural change required from every employee within the organisation. Crisis periods like this provide a ‘fresh start effect’ whereby our brains are more open to change, and organisations have a unique opportunity to shift behaviours and ways of working faster than ever. HR need to bring an understanding of behavioural science fundamentals, including the most significant biases that influence our automatic thinking system, to help design interventions which will make change happen and stick in an accelerated way. This is particularly important for driving behavioural change in relation to physical and mental wellbeing – a top priority for all in the current circumstances. 

HR as an Experience Designer

The final dimension for HR is an enabler for the rest – the Experience Designer. Taking a human-centred approach to designing the new normal is key, because we know that when the employee experience is right, the customer experience follows. With such high volumes of change, HR needs to take an insights-driven approach to prioritising which employee journeys to focus on re-designing in order to enable, engage and empower employees within the new world. Developing personas and mapping the emotional journeys of key groups will ensure that designs created address the greatest pain points of employees and align with their shifting expectations. Whilst speed is of the essence, experiences should still be tested and validated before rolling out wider to avoid significant losses or rework down the line. 

Preparing now is the key to success

Organisations who will thrive following the COVID-19 pandemic will be those that act fast, are flexible and agile, and show a willingness to change. HR are a key enabler to this and must act now in order to prepare for and begin driving the change. Re-setting expectations with HR teams is the first step of this journey, followed by supporting them with any new skills they need to fulfil their new roles. This is an exciting opportunity for HR to take a truly strategic seat at the table in designing and delivering on the new reality and should not be missed. 


Authored based on research by Virginia Smith, Caroline Cujic and Lucy Pringle, KPMG People Consulting.

Next steps

We kindly invite you to participate in this year’s HR pulse survey , our special edition research initiative in place of our annual Future of HR survey. This pulse survey builds on the 2019-2020 global research of over 1,300 HR executives with a special focus on exploring what the future holds as HR organisations contend the impacts of COVID-19. The pulse should take no longer than 5-10 minutes to complete. Join the survey and share your insights here.