Skip to main content

Harnessing our Humanness: Navigating Short-Term Change with the Future in Mind

News Industry News

Not all change is future-focused.

As HR professionals, we often find ourselves as the architects of workforce transformation. Sometimes this change aligns with visionary strategies, skill development, inspiring leadership, and enhanced cultures. And other times, the changes we orchestrate prioritise short-term needs, disassociated from a broader and more compelling vision.

It can feel challenging balancing our professional duties with personal values as we navigate the quick-and-dirty, let alone feel inspired to do some of our best mahi during these times. However, it is at these exact times that our input is most necessary, impactful, and valuable. 

We must be wary of falling into the trap of embracing the comfort (and discomfort) of simply being the technical go-to on change. 

In so many ways, change is a process. And by default, we often become the place that exercises the change decisions of others. However, change is and must be so much more than a process if we, as HR professionals, are truly in the business of delivering on our aspiration of building skilled, adaptive workforces and future-fit organisations. 

While the changes that many of us are embarking on presently in our organisations may not feel like a step closer to this aspiration, they need not be a step away from it either. It is our responsibility to use our unique position within our organisations to shape and deliver change today, with the present and future in mind.

Afterall we are humans, in the business of humans. Like Finance is in the business of Finance, our impact as HR professionals is to keep our eyes on the people and to influence and promote actions, decisions and advice that elevates humanness and harnesses humans at all times. Organisations will continue to exist and function after change. How well they function comes down to how well we do our job.

Lessons from Covid

COVID-19 taught us invaluable lessons about navigating fast-paced change with humanness. It also taught us how quickly the future of work becomes our here-and-now. 
Specifically, we gained valuable insight into the transformative impact of prioritising people during crises, and the importance of leading with high levels of communication, compassion, and connectivity. The research that emerged from this time showed us that a human-led approach built beneficial foundations for the longer term, including strengthened relationships and commitment within our organisations despite the disruption.

Furthermore, through COVID-19 we also learned the fragility of diversity, equity, and inclusion when decisions and changes are made at pace. Our takeaway was the importance of taking active measures to protect it to build agile, sustainable, and future-fit organisations.

Now, as we navigate significant, fast-paced change in response to a new government and a cost-of-living crisis, HR professionals stand at the forefront of guiding our organisations once more through more uncertain and challenging times. 

It is critical that we leverage these learnings and insights to ensure that our organisations harness humanness to effectively navigate changes today and emerge resiliently in the future. 

We must target the following three fundamental areas to focus on the people in the process:

1. Dig deep on culture and values

People outlive processes, and so do their memories. And memories are more strongly formed around how we feel, over the actual events we experience.

The current socio-political landscape has left many of us grappling with uncertainty and anxieties about the future, both in our professional and personal capacities, particularly our tangata whenua. 

These changes are challenging for the people who must decide and enact, as well as those who receive and live the outcomes of these decisions. Compassion is everything. 

When we enter into big, quick changes, we can risk becoming hyper-focused on the doing, and we forget what we stand for. This is, however, the greatest test of our organisational culture and values that we invest deeply in creating during the good times. We must not let these become empty slogans and lose vital trust and credibility gained. 

Our call to action is to shine a light on culture and values - the things we say really matter - during the challenging conversations and decisions our leaders make during change, so that our ‘what’ still reflects our ‘how’. 

2. Get real on diversity, equity, and inclusion 

COVID-19 gave us the data on the impact of fast decision-making and change on vulnerable populations and our hard fought for gains in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Left to its own devices, fast change did damage - In the short term with job losses, and by association in the longer term with the dent to individual and community well-being, wealth, and societal equity.

As a multicultural country, our approach to our workforce must always transcend changing political parties, views, and policies. Our approach must also transcend single change processes. As HR professionals we are accountable for highlighting the impact of decisions on people - all people, especially our most vulnerable - in decision making. This includes remaining true to our commitment to upholding our obligations under Te Tiriti, alongside general principles of equity and fairness. 

We must act now in tough times, in a way that is consistent with our commitments in good times. 

Our call to action is to actively advocate for change decisions, designs and approaches that protect and advance business and equity outcomes together, to ensure that we are contributing to building a better future workforce and Aotearoa.

3. Build for skills and agility

Executives consistently identify workforce skill gaps as one of their greatest areas of concern, and yet few report actively taking action on this. 

So, let’s not forget about progressing action on this during change.

During quick changes, we typically cut the things we quickly relegate to the pile of nice-to-haves… The learning and development budget, professional memberships and the investments we make to facilitate face-to-face connection. We do this with cost in mind, and little real discussion about the importance of these to addressing real, ongoing workforce development needs.

Change decisions are hard, there is no denying this. And it is easier to cut costs than people. The opportunity here is to think and discuss these trade-offs for what they are; not just a cost, but an investment in humans at work and the ability to deliver on future business outcomes. 

All change presents an opportunity. Today’s change provides us with a burning platform to signal and advance mahi now that better positions our workforce and organisations for the future. Some of our best work comes from innovative oily rag projects that begin with pilots and end in quiet shifts for the better.

An obvious place to begin is how we think about human skills, rather than just generic job titles, to get savvy about identifying real gaps and plugging them. The reality is that no two people filling the same role have the same skills. We need to get good at understanding, connecting and leveraging our skills across our businesses to do better with less. 

Our future as it currently presents is skills-based, digitally enabled, and led by culturally intelligent leaders. You do not need to fully adopt a skill-based approach to benefit from exposing, sharing and leveraging skills across your business, now. 

Our call to action here is to be the strategic voice in the conversation and to ask smart questions that keep our organisations focused on future skill requirements of the business as they make choices about change today. The real cost is the difference between thriving and surviving.

It’s easy enough to say…

None of this is easy. Nothing worth doing is. 

All change leaves a wake. Our priority is not solely the change, but the wake itself - anticipating, minimising and alleviating it. We are entering a period of not-so-sexy HR practice. It’s instead about a return to the fundamentals of people at work; walking the talk, putting people first, and making informed decisions.

Our profession is a unique and influential space where change capability, humanness, and strategy come together. Let’s not forget this when we are presenting our revised people budgets and giving our advice on what to do now and where to go next.


Danni Ermilova Williams
Impact coach | Business change consultant | Change creator 
[email protected]


Related News

HRNZ Member Voice Survey – HR Trends 2022

This year HRNZ’s Academic Branch carried out its annual survey - Member Voice –…

Read More

Immigration Update - A tough road ahead

With the pending go-live of the new Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) system,…

Read More