HR leaders explain how the lessons of the last few years have made their organisations more agile than ever before.
By Simon Kent
In the last few years, HR has been in high demand and on high alert. Workplace trials continue to emerge and the need for the department’s guidance is ever increasing. Off the heels of the pandemic and right into the middle of global conflict, inflation, a forthcoming recession, and a skills gap, HR’s job remains central.
This roundup of leaders took their challenges and turned them into successful lessons that helped push their agility and perseverance.
The pandemic was an unprecedented time that no leader had ever before faced. So, in order to make it through, things needed to be
done differently—processes were new, alternate work models were introduced, and more empathy and compassion had to be shown. Many leaders were taking it day by day to see which of their new methods were most effective and would help their workforce overcome the worst.
In Saudi Arabia, Alkhorayef Group helped to ensure that no part of the country went hungry. Nabil Mohammed Batawi, group CHRO of the organisation, says his company—which grew in agriculture and food supply—was part of the government-led initiative to help with food distribution during the pandemic. Simply, the initiative prioritised food need as a driving factor as to where it would be distributed. For example, if one part of the country had a surplus, it would be transferred to an area where stock was low, requiring delivery between organisations that normally would have considered themselves competitors. Support to hospitals was also prioritised with many workers offering services for free.
Leading Egypt-based real estate company Mountain View Group also leveraged its offerings to others. Rasha El Gamal, VP of HR and culture, says the organsation took its well-established values to deliver a happiness initiative that other companies could emulate.
Prior to the pandemic, Mountain View already had strong company values, ones that were defined and integrated into their business and systems. These values operated on many levels, ensuring employees had their basic needs met and that they felt connected to and appreciated by the company. However, El Gamal decided to take this a step further to install and promote happiness across the company and beyond. “When our people are happy, our customers are happy,” she says. “And ultimately our community is happy too.”
The business benefits of this approach have been undeniable. Staff turnover was cut in half, customer satisfaction rose by 48 points, and costs dropped by 50%. Mountain View has also won international awards and recognition for their efforts. And their latest campaign—encouraging people out of their COVID-generated ‘bubbles’—was led by professional footballer, Mohamed Salah.
With the happiness initiative having such success, it has shifted beyond the confines of Mountain View itself. El Gamal and her colleagues founded a management consultancy to spread the initiatives and practices that have supported and delivered happiness to their employees and to others. Delivering Happiness Egypt now works to help other companies achieve happiness among their workers and extend that to customers and the wider community.
One of the most common challenges in today’s workforce is retention. And any organisation that wants to put a stop to attrition will need to have a laser focus on engagement and well-being initiatives that work mutually to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. Studies show that engaged employees are more inclined to stay with their companies, and managers are responsible for ensuring their workers are happy, supported, and productive.
Recognising engagement to be particularly challenging at this time, Batawi created a virtual club for employees, a place where workers could meet and talk each day about issues outside of the business itself. This was a safe space where employees could sound off about the challenges they faced and support each other with advice or a listening ear.
Kutay Kavukcu, chief HR and communications officer, Turkey and regional hub office for Novo Nordisk, also cites engagement as a big challenge throughout the pandemic. As a pharmaceutical company, the chance for direct contact between employees and the business and their clients was severely impacted. This experience led the business to redesign their office in order to make it a more social space—where a variety of people could come together and connect in different ways.
Kavukcu also says his organisation’s diversity and inclusion work helped to ensure everyone felt welcomed and connected no matter where in the organisation they sat. Workshops were created to inform the business’ work in this respect, drawing employees from all levels and all parts of the company. Kavukcu says it’s important to take clear action especially when the business demands it. “When you see a challenge, you need to take responsibility,” he explains. “You have to understand the problem entirely and fight to get to the truth.”