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Cerius QBU – Focus on Human Capital: Holly Erlichman

Holly Erlichman

Every quarter, we’ll present insights from top executives from different backgrounds and functions. For Q2, we gathered insights from four business leaders— experts in executive leadership, nonprofit organizations, human capital, and technology—to help you prepare for the next quarter. Here are insights on human capital from Holly Erlichman.



As businesses advance into the Q2 and second half of 2021, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing business leaders? How are things evolving?

The last 12 months was not just about a global pandemic and shut down, but we faced major issues like inequality and racism, and a dramatic presidential election that has divided our country, our families, and our friends.

However, we learned we are resilient. The next 12 months will be some of the same, but at least now, we are getting accustomed to it. Our challenge. is to move from reacting to recovering and then thriving.

So, when I started to write about what I see as the biggest challenges facing business leaders today and how things are evolving, it got me thinking about what challenges leaders faced pre-Covid, 5, and 10 years prior. Common themes remain, but the approach to resolution is changing:  Human Capital, Technology, and Growth. Each individual organization will have to assess what works for them. It will not all be the same.

But before addressing the norm, from my perspective, one of the biggest challenges that exists today and, in the future, speed – speed with which leaders respond. They have to make big decisions that are now often based on less data and much uncertainty about the world. In order to survive and thrive, leaders have to take quick, calculated risks, and then change again as new shifts occur – which are completely unknown today.

We are not in any way out of the pandemic and ongoing changes should be expected. We may never have a “normal” and need to be prepared for new threats and as we learned, need business models prepared for just about anything.

Human Capital.

There is still a talent shortage that will grow as businesses begin to return to full operation. How you handled the crisis may impact your success to win the war on talent.

Did you offer workers support, especially those you had to lay off? If you didn’t treat your former employees well, you may have a hard time attracting new employees to your company.

Workers have many choices these days and these options will only be increasing. Smart leaders are taking is in reskilling current staff. Landing top talent may require reaching out to recruitment experts. Both of these options are often less expensive than the cost of turnover, leaving positions unfilled, or hiring the wrong person. 

Leaders need to purposefully address inequality and seek solutions for a more diverse and inclusive workforce. There are many new technologies out there to assist in this process and organizations are adding diversity offices that didn’t exist before. 

Leaders are also challenged with whether to return to a brick-and-mortar office, and now need to be planning for what happens as the world opens up again. Is a remote or hybrid approach right for their business in the long-term, and is it something all of their workers want?  There are definitely advantages, like not limiting talent to geography, and disadvantages, like figuring out how to: manage the employee experience and build a strong culture (which has been growing in importance even pre-Covid); manage, motivate, and train, especially young workers who are missing out on opportunities to learn through observation (essential to success and career growth); and address missing, ad hoc, face-to-face employee interaction that builds a sense of community and belonging. Working from home is not feasible for all.

Technology.

In order to support the change in workforce (i.e., working remotely and doing more with fewer people), technology and “tech stacks” are becoming a requirement in today’s world. The right technology is able to help meet business goals; it is out there, and more is coming. The companies that started digital transformation prior to the crisis, had an advantage when the lockdowns started, like moving workers home with very little disruption.

Technology needs to be viewed as an enabler and part of an overall strategy. It enables companies to increase productivity with fewer resources, and it impacts how you interact with your customers and changes in their buying patterns. We’ve seen automation of assembly lines and what Artificial Intelligence (AI) can do with such tools as Siri, a Smart Assistant. Leaders need to look more deeply at their businesses to determine where more automation can occur, so they can again, reskill and do more with fewer people.

Growth.

Just as you have been impacted by these changes, so have your customers. How you sell, what you sell, and to whom are all areas that need ongoing assessment through data and communications with customers. Have your products or services changed, or maybe you have a new value proposition? Look at it all. Update your materials, your messaging, and your sales and marketing processes.

For instance, It has become clear that video calls can be effective sales and delivery tools, so it likely that even once we return to a more normal state, business travel will not go back to what it was pre-Covid.

When assessing opportunities for growth, choose your targets wisely (is it a growing or shrinking industry?); consider quality over quantity; and it is cheaper to retain a customer than to obtain a new one, so communicate frequently and learn from them about their situation and how you can help.

What are a few best practices to help leaders overcome the current challenges? What do you see working well?

Probably the most important best practice, is frequent and candid communication with staff, customers, and suppliers. People want to know what is happening and what leadership is thinking, even if it is “I don’t know”. We have all changed personally and professionally and are still very much in a turbulent time. Being honest about the state of the business is important. We need to respect people and believe they can handle it. Empower your teams to find their own ways of communicating with each other; there are teams that do virtual walks and others have “water cooler” times to stay in touch.

Additionally, there also needs to be a sense of empathy and caring from leadership. Check in with your people, not just on their work, but on their well-being. Simply, asking “How are you doing?” can be invaluable. This may be foreign to many leaders, but people respond better than ever to an empathetic leader.

If you see a change in productivity from a high valued employee, try to understand why. You can either lose her completely and forever, or you can understand her needs and shift her to a new role until situations change.

I heard from a former colleague as she was headed to surgery; a single mom of young kids, who had to quit her job because the stress and pressure the company put on her led to a life threateningly illness. She lost her childcare support (family deaths), but was trying her best to keep her kids attentive during video learning (the teacher reprimanded her in a group email about her distracting work calls) while juggle her demanding job, which was unsympathetic to her needs. Once she resigned, the owner continued to berate her, even going so far as to say she was ruining her career and being a terrible mother.

According to CBS News in February, the US workforce that normally is made up 50% of women, lost over 3 million women over the past year. This is not acceptable, and we can do better.

Are there any strategies you view to be ineffective?

Going back to how things were before the crisis will not work, but also assuming that the changes you made in your “reaction” mode are going to work during your recovery isn’t the answer. While recovery has started for some, we are still not over this crisis, sitting back, waiting to see what happens for too long, may leave you in a bad position or with a closed business in the end.

In the past, we did multi-year business plans, but if you are using a strategic roadmap you created pre-2020 and have not updated, you may not only be missing out on current opportunities, but you may be falling your competitors during and post a recovery period. With how quickly things are changing, you will want to consider monthly reviews and updates for the remainder of the year. It is time to set realistic goals, to watch them carefully, and to know when to adjust them.

Also, the idea of days filled with video meetings has worn us all down. Zoom fatigue is real. Meeting fatigue is real. Have shorter meetings with real agendas only when calls or emails don’t work. Important decisions should not be made via text or email. Leaders need to be respectful of boundaries and not expect their staff to be on call 24/7 just because they now have access at home.

What skillsets do leaders need to navigate through these challenges?

Normal leadership skillsets still remain, but old techniques don’t really work anymore. Leaders have an opportunity to embrace the changes, rather than attempting a return to business as usual. Leadership needs to be more about dialog and showing vulnerability and maintaining a connection and a sense of belonging within their teams even when they cannot be in the same room together.

From my perspective, these are the most important skillsets to navigate these challenges:

1. Agility, risk-taking, decisiveness, and able to execute quickly with fiscal discipline.

This does not mean a different strategy and direction every week. Not much gets done in those scenarios. We still have research and evaluation (but with less data), need problem-solving (often with new solutions based on past experiences), and accountability with measures (shifting based on results or new changes.) Be proactive. Do not wait for the next crisis to occur to push you into action on projects and changes you thought about for years.

2. Listening and communicating helps to strengthen teams as well as your customer and supplier relationships.

This is different than it was before. We all continue to be extremely busy, but being present and authentic in conversations is more important than ever. Be very intentional with your communication and check in regularly. Give people opportunities to share ideas and opinions; understand how they feel and what they may need. Leaders have the opportunity to help us all through this crisis. And, showing appreciation in as many different ways as you can is significant. Peer, customer, and supplier recognition programs are more effective than ever. 

3. Integrity, empathy, and patience.

People have changed and have been through a lot and continue to have hardships. Many personally feel burned by leaders and companies they had been loyal to for so many years. They need leaders and partners they can trust and depend on again.

4. Innovation and transformation do not just refer to technology, but also address people and processes.

Understand that going digital does not automatically give you a competitive advantage. You have an opportunity now to change (and to continue to proactively change) what and how your product is developed and delivered, as well as attract and retain better talent because of these changes. People do not want to become obsolete, so helping them to develop or reskill is an attraction to existing as well as new workers.


About Holly Erlichman

Holly Erlichman helps businesses build, scale and improve, with a concentration in talent acquisition
and human capital. With 25 years’ experience, Holly has held key positions with workforce management and staffing companies large and small, leading strategy, sales, marketing, implementation and operations. She leads with passion, authenticity and candor, and found her niche helping small and mid-sized companies and individuals get to the next level.

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