When COVID-19 first hit, inspirational stories about employees and their employers going the extra mile quickly emerged—employees working around the clock to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment for frontline workers, organizations sharing their talent with other companies to get essential work done and employers ramping up benefits to meet the new challenges their workers were facing. All of those efforts demonstrated the power of organizational purpose, says Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread Research.
The pandemic, along with the social justice movement that gained considerable speed this past year, has “greatly heightened organizations’ understanding of the value of purpose,” says Garr, who defines purpose as a “clear vision of how the organization impacts all of its stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and communities.”
“As we move through this fall,” Garr adds, “we are seeing an opportunity for organizations to embed those purpose-aligned practices throughout their operating practices.”
Garr will explore this topic in-depth at the free, virtual HR Tech Conference this month, in her keynote session titled “Finding Your North Star: The Importance of Purpose (and Technology) During Disruption.”
As organizations deal with the ongoing and evolving disruptions of the pandemic and other challenges, technology can be an important partner for helping HR craft purpose-driven strategies.
“Technology is instrumental to how we understand and make decisions about people in organizations,” Garr says, “and so can have an incredibly important role in how organizations make purpose come to life.”
For instance, Garr is seeing many HR technology vendors focused on skills identification and mapping in order to support reskilling. That effort doesn’t have to solely be about optimizing for the future.
“It can also enable the organization to make decisions that align to its purpose,” Garr notes. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen that having a deep knowledge of skills has enabled organizations to redeploy talent to purpose-aligned activities, such as meeting unprecedented customer demand in the financial sector or making employees with certain skill sets available for cross-organizational efforts to develop ventilators.”
While the value of purpose and HR’s capacity in bringing it to fruition has become even more apparent throughout the crises of 2020, Garr doesn’t think the core responsibilities of HR within an organization have shifted too dramatically this year.
“HR’s role has long been about ensuring employees have a safe place to work, that the organization is responsive to their needs and that the people practices enable the business to meet its objectives,” she says. “The pandemic has forced HR to be more responsive and digital-minded than ever before as it responded to this incredible crisis. However, that focus on responsiveness and having a digital mindset has been a trend we’ve seen for the last five years or so.”
The pandemic accelerated that shift—moving those goals from the future to now.
And now, “the pandemic,” Garr says, “has given strong HR teams an opportunity to shine.”