A New HR for a New Wales

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Steve McNally, HR&People Editor of Business News Wales, spoke with Lesley Richards, Head of CIPD Wales, asking ‘what does this New HR look like?’ …

2020 has brought a new era for HR and nowhere more so than here in Wales. In a country with a clear vision to spread inclusive growth, the Welsh economy needs to be powered by people-centric practices that can meet the requirements of employers and employees in a diverse range of sectors – from sunrise enterprises in Fintech, Insurtech, Medtech and the wider SME community, to larger private sector companies and the public and third sector organisations that still make up such a large part of the Principality’s employer population. A new era asks new questions that need new answers. How does HR in Wales rise to this ‘people challenge’ at a time of great uncertainty? How do human resource teams manage the rapid change, structure the accelerated digitalisation – and shape the inevitable culture shifts?

“What is the future of work itself?”

“The most obvious challenge is comprehending the future of work itself” affirms Lesley. “What does that look like? Many working environments have simply changed forever and it’s clear that for many people we’re moving to greater remote working, demanding far more collaboration and an engaged workforce that understands both its day-to-day role and also the strategic purpose of where the organisation is heading. That puts a huge emphasis on empathetic leadership, a supportive management style – and a culture built on more productive working relationships. HR is there to help facilitate and develop all of that, not just through L&D but also as a support mechanism, a glue within the organisation.”

“HR is the glue for a new way of working”

What innovations has Lesley already seen put in place during the past four months? “Lessons have been learned and innovations made very quickly. Sometimes that meant a wholesale transformation, such as PerkinsElmer in Pontyclun working with Public Health Wales to create a COVID-19 testing laboratory from scratch in just a few weeks. Elsewhere it’s been a whole series of small changes taken very rapidly to realise a much bigger picture, such as at Rototherm in Port Talbot, where they re-engineered a whole factory and workforce to move from being a thermostat manufacturer to become the UK’s leading producer of PPE. For many firms, bringing that type of agility and creativity will mean the difference between prospering and struggling. It’s a level of change that demands a new way of doing things, from the Executive Board to Apprentice level; and HR is core to helping develop these new skillsets and mindsets.”

“In many ways our time has come”

What role does Lesley see for HR in this new world? “In many ways our time has come” says the Head of CIPD in Wales. “Managing people can be difficult and businesses have never leaned on their HR departments and organisation more than in the last few months. HR now has the remit to repurpose and reimagine itself, being the transformative business partner trusted to innovate and take the lead. We’re central to the listening strategy, making sure that the employee voice is heard. We’re at the heart of helping companies manage five generations in the workplace – and making sure that everyone is included. We’re facing a decade of huge change, not just with Covid, but through The BlackLivesMatter Movement, the coming of AI and dealing with the effects of climate change. HR has a part to play in them all.”

“Sharing best practice – and sharing our humanity”

For Lesley, ‘Good HR’ still means putting people at the heart of policies and practices. “As we accelerate through this incredible period of change, let’s remember that this is ultimately all about people. If there was a right time to refocus our attention on the ‘people’ that make up our workforces, it is now. This is a wakeup call for businesses across the country to put people’s health, well-being, families and financial security first. “The CIPD in Wales can play a valuable part in helping drive this change. Organisations of all sizes and in all sectors will benefit from sharing experiences and best practice, enabling those in similar industries and sectors to learn from each other. We’ve developed a series of sector specific round tables for exactly this purpose, enabling HR professionals to work together in creating a safe return to the workplace for everyone – and building sustainable organisations for the future. Let’s keep working together, sharing what works best – and sharing our humanity.”