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COVID-19: The Role of HR Analytics in the Crisis

By Ravin Jesuthasan, Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson [NASDAQ:WLTW]

Ravin Jesuthasan, Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson [NASDAQ:WLTW]

Ravin Jesuthasan is a recognized global thought leader, futurist, and author on the future of work, automation, and human capital. At Willis Towers Watson, he serves as the Managing Director leading much of the company’s future work solutions. Mr. Jesuthasan has authored over 150 articles, including 14 for the Harvard Business Review, and three books. He sits on the World Economic Forum’s Steering Committee on Work and Employment and has led numerous large-scale, global restructuring and transformation engagements for companies around the world. He has been with the firm for 26 years and is a chartered financial analyst bringing much needed analytical rigor to the work he does with companies on human capital.

What is the impact of Covid-19 on HR practices and the future workforce?

The COVID 19 pandemic has unveiled how important it is for companies to focus on their workforces. Many companies put their people first and protected their most vulnerable employees, making them their highest priority. We recently worked with The World Economic Forum to publish a white paper on accounting for human capital. It details why human capital metrics are critical at this time. And proposes a set of principles for shifting how we think about the workforce, along with some new metrics. Underpinning this is the broader issue of HR shifting its mandate from being a steward of employment to being a steward of work. Progressive HR functions are shifting beyond their legacy to reinvent themselves to bring differentiated insights and capabilities that enable their organizations to achieve the optimal combinations of talent and technology while shaping the new employee experience.

“Having HR act as a steward of work, working alongside business leaders to deliver the insight and capabilities needed to balance the needs of different stakeholders is critical

This means a whole new set of metrics related to the various work options available to the organization; what work should be done by employees in jobs versus alliance partners versus AI and robotics or gig workers? And how do we ensure that the workforce is being upskilled and re-skilled to keep up with the continuous evolution of work?

In the light of your experience what are the trends and challenges you’ve witnessed happening in the HR analytics space?

For many organizations, there is a growing realization that measurement needs to reflect how they are meeting the needs of all stakeholders. So having HR work with business leaders to deliver the insight to make informed decisions is critical. Using these insights to rethink the employee experience, reinvent work, and re-envision rewards will be essential.

These insights are particularly essential as companies develop innovative responses to the pandemic. For examples, many companies have started to collaborate through talent exchanges. This is where a company with a surplus of talent shares its talent with companies that have a shortage of like skills. Another area is remote work. It’s fascinating because we’ve been talking about flexible working for more than 50 years. And overnight, we went from, two percent of all work being done remotely on a full time basis in the United States to close to 45 percent of all work being done remotely on a full-time basis. And so many HR functions have taken the lead in helping companies respond to the crisis by ensuring people have laptops and are trained to operate in a more digital and remote world among other things. But many are also asking the question of what a remote-first culture should look like going forward and how they can preserve or enhance productivity and employee centricity.

Progressive HR leaders are seeing the opportunity to create a culture where the organization meets people where they are: who they are, how they want to work, where they want to work and when they want to work. Strategic choices like these require robust analytics and deep insight into the impact on the business, employees and other stakeholders.

What does the future hold for the HR analytics landscape?

Many organizations may need to rethink their business models and pursue what we’ve been calling a sustainable reset as a result of this pandemic. As businesses pivot from their traditional focus on growth and efficiency to instead emphasize resilience, agility and flexibility to withstand future shocks, they will need new and fundamentally different metrics to guide their decisions. For example, do we have the agility to pivot our talent from one part of the business to another in the face of another “black swan event”? Do we have the metrics that give us genuine insight into the skills of the workforce and how they align to changing business needs?

What single piece of advice might you impart to your colleagues to excel in this space?

I think there is a need for each of us to power a journey of perpetual reinvention. We know that advances in technology and the changing world around us are perpetually rendering us obsolete. We should have the flexibility to see opportunities, keep acquiring new skills, and continually develop ourselves so we can stay relevant in a world of discontinuities and significant change.

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