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Getting Things Done Without HR Headcount

Jen Dewar
May 15, 2020 10:45:16 AM

Many companies had big plans for 2020. Businesses were doing well, headcount was growing, and HR teams were implementing programs to address challenges stemming from a tight labor market. 

Then COVID-19 required that many businesses shut their doors. Hiring freezes were implemented, reductions in force were made, and HR priorities shifted. Health and wellness, managing remote work, and protecting employees’ jobs became top HR issues overnight. 

HR teams everywhere are struggling to navigate these new challenges, particularly as HR headcount is impacted by hiring freezes and layoffs. How do you support everyone in a more complex environment, without the headcount you had counted on?

Geek out on your HR tech stack

The right technology can help HR teams accomplish more with a leaner team. Invest some time in getting to know your solutions a bit better so you can get the most out of them. Pay particular attention to integrations and automations that can reduce your administrative burden and free up your time for more strategic initiatives. For instance, integrating your compensation management software with your equity management system means you can combine and analyze your data without exports and VLOOKUPs.

Also consider whether it makes sense to cancel, replace, or consolidate anything in your HR tech stack. This may mean making hard decisions about solutions with low adoption rates, those that don’t integrate with the rest of your stack, or outdated systems that would have been too disruptive to change when things were “normal.” What worked for you then may not work for you now. This is the time to re-evaluate those systems.

Use the Pareto principle to focus your efforts

The Pareto principle states that 80 percent of your effects come from 20 percent of your causes. Use this to focus your efforts and simplify your responsibilities. Consider, for instance, all the things that contribute to a positive employee experience. Employee recognition and growth opportunities make far more of an impact than gym reimbursements and company SWAG. When your HR headcount slows, consider cutting less impactful programs—especially if they will result in time or cost savings. Just make sure to clearly communicate any changes with employees, so they understand why they’re being made. Employees respond best when they understand the context about why a change is happening.

You may even be able to simplify HR processes. For example, rather than running a full market survey for your next salary band update, look at trend data and get feedback from your recruiters. Salary survey data companies tend to lag the market, and will likely be representative of a more competitive talent landscape. The extra work of including them in your next cycle may not be worth it if you’re strapped for time—plus you can always plan to do a full market survey the next time around.

Finally, you may want to consider the 20 percent of your employees who are responsible for 80 percent of your business results. Make a plan to retain your top performers, even if that means showing them a little extra love during an equity-only cycle. This is the sort of contribution that can help HR be seen as more of a strategic partner than as a cost center.

Empower managers to step up

Managers can be instrumental in retaining employees, selling expense reductions among their teams, and collecting feedback to incorporate into your people programs. Empower them to step up when your HR headcount slows so you can ensure employees are being supported. 

For instance, do some training around employee recognition so managers understand why it’s important, and how to create a culture of recognition on their teams. Share important company announcements with managers first, and offer them scripts to help them answer employee questions. Enable them to run career pathing exercises so they can have meaningful conversations with their reports about career advancement opportunities. Make these processes repeatable whenever possible so you can roll them out to other managers as needed.

Accelerate reskilling to fill in the gaps

The sudden shift in the world of work has changed many employee’s job responsibilities. While you may not be able to backfill your open HR positions, you may be able to reskill others in your company to fill in. For example, your office manager could have more bandwidth to help with benefits administration, or the person in charge of event marketing could help with planning virtual employee meetings and activities. Your Finance team might get more involved with compensation.

Work with managers to determine which employees have the bandwidth, skills, and desire to help with HR projects—or even with projects in other departments. You may also find that some employees are interested in permanent internal transfers, which may be mutually beneficial to employees and the company. Make sure your managers are empowered to create appropriate employee development plans to ensure success.

Final thoughts on adapting to your HR headcount

You may not have the headcount you planned to have right now, or you may anticipate a lower headcount in the future. Prioritize the things that matter the most, and set measurable goals. Work closely alongside company leaders—especially your Finance team—and your managers, so you can show your value as a strategic partner. You know better than anyone else that we will get back to a competitive talent landscape eventually—and you offer an important perspective as a people leader. Guide your team to make decisions that help your company come out the other side as an employer of choice.

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