Why your people are key to the post-pandemic recovery

The pandemic has been tough for many employees, new working environments, disrupting routines, changing roles and responsibilities, long term friends that have been made redundant and for many, being furloughed and not working for long periods, may have created worry and uncertainty with many colleagues. But your people are now your biggest opportunity and will be crucial to reviving the fortunes of the countries individual businesses, towns, cities and the economy as a whole. Therefore, an investment in your people (now more than ever), could be the smartest ‘post covid’ move you can make.

There’s much talk currently, amongst both large and small business owners, of the post-covid recovery plan. Strategy’s, agendas, objectives and detailed plans to get consumers back to our brands and spending again have been the talk of many a zoom calls up and down the country. And for many businesses, the PM’s announcement of the UK roadmap on the 22nd February has resulted in a flurry of activity for ‘return to work’ plans and how to welcome their customers with open arms when the doors are eventually allowed to reopen.

Whilst many have spent the last 6-9 months continually revaluating their operations, the focus is now on strategic priorities, learning from the lessons of responding to uncertainties and capturing the changes (and opportunities) of the last 12 months to move forward.

The effects of COVID-19 on the retail industry are profound and unprecedented. While retailers must work through operational and tactical considerations to re-open retail stores, it is also an opportunity to re-examine who you are as a business, considering:

  • Customer—How has your customer evolved during and after the crisis? What are their expectations, needs, behaviours, and priorities in this new environment?
  • Brand—What is the purpose of your business, and how can you best serve customers? Do you need to evolve your value proposition to stay relevant? If so, how?
  • Product—What are the key, best-selling products and high-interest categories your customers care about today? Is it the right time to consider new categories, new services, and new business models?
  • Store—What is the impact on the store channel, its role, and the corresponding operations? How do you keep your customers and associates safe, while playing a new role in customers’ lives?
  • Digital – How do you enable customer-centric engagement across all shopping touchpoints. How do you leverage technology that augments the customers' preferred way to shop?

 (source: Deloitte)

However, what’s missing from that list above is People

It’s been no surprise that HR functions have been at the core of managing change in the past 12 months. In fact, upon speaking to my colleagues and friends who work in and around HR, it safe to say it’s been the toughest year on record for many. And now, as leadership teams begin to mobilise the operational plans, how do we ensure that employee engagement stays high on the agenda to ensure customer engagement stays ‘high’ on the high street?

Recent surveys have told us, that on the whole, most companies did a good job of addressing their employees’ physical and emotional needs during the working from home and lockdown periods, ensuring they met the basic needs of safety, stability and security. However, as we approach the next phase, those needs are evolving and the need for a sophisticated return-to-work strategy that focuses on employee wellbeing, managing stress as well as motivation, listening and encouraging innovation from your teams and overall employee engagement are all things that should be high on the people agenda. 

So how should HR functions be adapting and realigning their people strategy and how does this link to the North’s post covid recovery strategy?

Developing a human-centric people strategy that has relationships at its heart and the ability to evolve consistently to support the corporate strategy, enables improved employee wellbeing and business performance.

In the majority of client conversations, https://events.cipd.co.uk/events/ we have had recently, I’m often surprised to hear that HR teams feel they haven’t done enough to develop their post covid strategy, in line with the business strategy, and then communicate, engage and inspire their colleagues across the business so that they fully understand that the people are the intrinsic part of getting customers back through the doors.  

66% of HR functions develop people strategic plans that are not linked to the organisation’s corporate strategy.

Businesses have an opportunity to improve the employee experience during the return-to-work phase. The good news is, we have the tools to achieve that. Advancements in employee listening platforms, pulse surveys, two-way communication channels mean that leaders can now address employee experience in a data-driven and targeted way. By using the data to drill down on which groups of employees need more and varied types of support, they can also tailor their communication styles and actions that create feelings of wellbeing and build relationships across the workforce.

In a recent survey, 87% of highly engaged employees said they are less likely to leave the company they are work for compared to their counterparts.

 However, the fundamental key to success is that leaders and managers are responsible and accountable for the employee needs to help them thrive during the return.

Employees will be looking to the leadership teams and line managers for both strategic direction and emotional support (after all the most important relationship you have at work is with your boss), whilst customers will be looking to businesses’ front-line employees to deliver a safe, engaging and enjoyable return to the high-street.

In summary, having a ‘leader led’ approach to employee engagement (it’s not just an HR thing) will be your quickest win to mobilising your workforce and ensuring your returning customers continue to come back as the retail and wider economy reopens and your employees feel safe, inspired and engaged. 

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