01 July 2021


Mark Judd, vice president, HCM Product Strategy, EMEA, at Workday, explains the CHRO’s role

Chief human resources officers (CHROs) have had a tough time. As the UK went into lockdown, they were forced to make rapid decisions about personnel, recruitment, redundancy, furlough and payroll to ensure their business survived. Now, as the dust settles and businesses get to grips with the challenges of 2021, HR teams must use change as a catalyst to transform the way they operate. At the centre of this sits agility, and the ability to pivot quickly in the face of uncertainty and unexpected market shifts.

Agility isn’t just a nice-to-have in a post-pandemic world, but a necessity. Workday’s Organisational Agility study (https://bit.ly/35rC7tq) (‘the study’) highlights that agile leaders are ten times more likely than laggards to react to market shifts with agility and speed. Adding to this, agility allows almost half (47%) of leaders to quickly reallocate their resources to meet changing needs — for example, collaborating with the finance team to adjust payroll and incentives to a changing staff component. It’s therefore vital that the CHRO embraces organisational agility and an agile culture to combat whatever uncertainty lies ahead.

The CHRO has an essential role in establishing an agile culture across the business. After all, an organisation cannot be agile if its people aren’t on board.

CHROs understand that if employees are engaged in the business, they will ultimately want to take a more active role in the organisation’s culture and adopt agile practices. But, while HR leaders and their teams recognise the importance of agility, taking measurable actions to address it is sometimes easier said than done.

In fact, according to the study a third (33%) of CHROs still don’t think their company’s strategy enables them to respond to market change. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has put a strain on business culture and operations as people struggle to connect via online portals, are rocked by employment downturns, as well as trying to access systems, data, and information remotely. Employees already dealing with disruption to the way they work are likely to be more sensitive to any operational friction than they would be ordinarily.

Forward-thinking retailers recognised early on that digitisation needed to be accelerated, particularly when it came to introducing a new payroll system. With so much uncertainty around, employees want and deserve clarity on their pay. John Lewis’s new system allowed the payroll team to deliver payslips on time for a workforce that was dispersed between furloughed workers, people working from home and frontline employees (https://bit.ly/3i3edKn). The project ultimately ended up reducing operational workload and pressures for managers by over 20%, halving running costs and increasing efficiency across the organisation. This took much needed pressure off an already stretched workforce, allowing the CHRO and HR team to make payroll and pension decisions changes quickly and seamlessly. With an agile culture at the centre.

But how do you start creating an agile culture? Driven by the CHRO, organisational agility needs to be baked into the heart of the business. As part of this, individuals and teams must be able to gain meaningful insights from data if they are to help future-proof revenue streams, quickly recruit and upskill following redundancies and protect pension investments amidst financial uncertainty. To do so, CHROs need to take control, create a bedrock of agility within the business and prioritise these key behaviours proven to be effective by Workday’s global organisational agility and digital growth survey (https://bit.ly/2TBplps):

Be responsive — Companies need the ability to plan continuously and in real-time to overcome uncertainty. This means organisations will have to implement real-time scenario planning.

Be adaptable — Enterprises must create flexible organisational structures and processes that enable both the business and leadership to pivot quickly in the face of change.

Be skilled — Companies have to plan for upskilling the majority of their workforce and increasing employee engagement. In fact, 50% of organisations are already planning to upskill their workforce by 2024 (https://bit.ly/3cKIr3i) to adapt to the changes in the working environment.

Be empowered — Businesses must empower decision-making at every level by equipping employees with the information and data they need to innovate and make independent, and yet informed decisions.

Take control — Organisations will need to be able to recognise failure and act on it. They should understand if something isn’t working, switch gears and try a different approach. Finding ways to measure performance and pivot to avoid risk are essential traits in keeping agile.

Whilst we hope that the disruption of the last fifteen months won’t be repeated anytime soon, businesses can’t rest on their laurels. CHROs need to really embrace the lessons of agility from the pandemic in the long-term. This begins and ends with culture. Those investing in the right agile behaviours and practices will bring hope and stability to the business. Creating opportunity from a year that we will all hope to forget. 


Featured in the July/August 2021 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.