Strategy Amidst A Pandemic

Strategy Amidst A Pandemic

Talent strategy has now emerged as one of the top three agenda of senior leadership across every organisation from essential services to brick and mortar businesses.


The unprecedented changes wrought upon the corporate sector in the last few months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its after-effects is pushing the limits of organisations’ resilience. An organisation and its external business environment influence each other, and any change in the business environment invokes a response from the organisation. Therefore, it is imperative to analyse the external environment as the response of an organisation modifies according to the external stimulus, impacting organisational people imperatives.


The talent function builds the underlying fabric of what is undeniably the most critical resource to organisational success = people. Talent strategy has now become one of the top three agenda of senior leadership across every organisation from essential services to brick and mortar businesses. With the dual agenda of cost optimisation and safety, no other resource is being talked about as much.

Resource availability


Organisations today are dealing with challenges on multiple fronts, primarily Resource availability. Given the looming uncertainty, it has become essential to have a set of critical roles and activities ready with possible succession plans. And in order to ensure business continuity, providing sufficient backup and training someone through shadowing or double hatting have almost become mandatory. Short term workforce plans are being drawn up to facilitate redeployment of pools of people to address unplanned needs or sudden changes in business requirements basis change in plans.


From a Capability Perspective, skills are gaining centre-stage. The kind of adaptability and resilience the situation has called for has stretched the best of resources, and only the crème de la crème would be able to survive the mounting pressures.



Work-life balance challenges coupled with increased hours at work and home, doing things that would otherwise have been done by others, has widened the talent gaps and pushed organisations to reconsider job roles.



Resource reallocation basis skills has become the most important contribution that the Talent Management function could deliver.


In such a scenario, business goals and objectives have gone through a 360degree turnaround, and it has become necessary to ensure that employees are made aware of revised work plans for the immediate and near future, along with clear communication about measurement yardsticks. It is important to remember that most people have been pushed into new roles or asked to work on new objectives without much time to train or upskill, and this needs to be factored in while considering their performance. Further, there is an increased emphasis on dashboards and the tools that make these goals visible, and everyone is aligned to achieving the same. There is also an increased focus on reviews and monitoring.


Collective and individual productivity


Collective and individual productivity has garnered the attention of the senior leadership, and companies are struggling with ways to identify, address, and measure resistance when working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the dilemmas faced by the senior leadership is a way of tracking productivity, and ensuring work is delivered without being overly intrusive and dealing with personal challenges faced by employees in an empathetic manner. Trot, teamwork, and resilience are traits that are becoming critical to delivery, and organisations are grappling with ways to ensure that these are augmented and reinforced using virtual delivery mechanisms, especially in the light of pay cuts and loss of bonus, which are likely to create widespread disengagement and a sense of anxiety.


One of the interesting positive fallouts of the crisis is the opportunity present to the people function to identify “New Leaders” who emerge through the situational crisis – a move away from traditional succession planning! These are people who are stretching themselves, and are creating a visible impact on the ground. Words like crossfunctional projects, volunteering, and gigs, which never integrated into mainstream Talent Management strategy are now at the heart of deliberations and consume senior leadership bandwidth. Can we fill gaps which will get created because of attrition / superannuation with these potential young leaders?


Organisations are also learning new ways of retaining exceptional talent and keeping them motivated. Communication, challenges, and non–monetary reward systems have become the centre point of discussions around workforce strategy. In some cases, Job/Role Re-alignment has been undertaken to move people to roles that are beyond their original role; or in cases where the role itself cannot add value in this situation, the role has been morphed. The incredible turnaround made by People managers and Leadership on these initiatives signifies how central talent strategy has become.


Jobs/Projects/Functions that have become redundant are being relooked to come up with a manpower optimisation strategy. There is significant work happening on which of these jobs/roles are likely to become permanent and those that will revert to prepandemic state. Their role adjustments are becoming an integral part of the Leadership Development or Job Rotation/ Shadowing strategy.


Career enhancement


Organisations are not looking at Career Enhancements in terms of role changes, horizontal expansion more than Progression. This has impacted the process of Internal Job Postings and altered the way Annual Talent reviews are conducted. There is an emphasis on a talent marketplace as a lattice of loosely tied-up roles and jobs with an underlying skill gap requirement which lends fluidity to the talent pool and builds up employee skills.


The recent changes in labour laws, as well as government announcements, have led to changes on the Policy/Regulatory front. Concepts such as Work hours, leave, and attendance need to be revisited. Medical facilities and insurance schemes are being re-examined, and benefits are being extended beyond the regular direct pay premise to more intangible benefits such as being part of a larger community, access to helplines, counsellors, mental and emotional wellness initiatives, and home delivered assistance for personal chores. Organisations are examining which of these changes would be made permanent, and which would remain temporary. Compliance with regulatory processes and adherence to things like the code of conduct are also important agenda items for leadership.


Leadership has gone through a fundamental shift in the times that we live in. There has been shift from compliance to autonomy, certainty to fluidity, and regimentation to acceptance. This has also required organisations to relook their leadership priorities and build up training/tips to manage and lead teams in these times of crisis. There is also a new focus on ensuring that there are enough mechanisms to ensure that leaders are aligned to current requirements and adaptable enough for sudden changes in the near future.


Risk and Mitigation have probably gained the most traction in these times. Succession planning, which always seemed like a pen and paper exercise, and had ‘far away in the future’ implications have now become real action items with most organisations identifying ready now successors, looking at critical roles and identifying areas of strength and development, having contingency plans for talent to be able to quickly step into roles. Organisations are also examining risks w.r.t talent management if this pandemic becomes worse and people are affected. Crisis mitigation plans are being drawn up. At the same time, remote worker cybersecurity has gained emphasis and is an item of focus.


The current situation presents us with an opportunity to transition from singular to circular economy, and balance the trade-off between short-term financial results and long – term sustainability. It also raises fundamental issues round the impact on global talent mobility, business continuity, and wellbeing and safety. Organisations are shifting to focus on networks and community and the virtual workplace of the future will demand a new landscape with new roils, and continuous upskilling. At the core of this is an integrated strategy with communication round the leadership imperative, aligned with the situation with a feeling of empathy and compassion for the unprecedented stereos and anxieties that employees are going through. There is potential for a new “humanocracy” of talent in the near future.




Kalpana Bansal is Head - Competency Assessment and Development, Reliance Industries Ltd. She comes with an experience of more than 20 years and has worked in organisations such as Tata Unisys, Star TV, IMRB, Mudra Communication and Watson Wyatt (I) Pvt. Ltd and the RPG Group. Kalpana has an MBA and has completed her Executive Masters in Consulting & Coaching for Change from Said Business School, Oxford University.


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