The impact of the crisis on the HR function | Video interview with François Serizay – HR Director of large industrial groups

Written interview summarized | Covid-19 crisis and HR function

What has been the impact of covid-19 on the HR function?

Being totally out of covid, we all hope, we will assume that covid is behind us. The impact seems obvious to me; the world of work has been subjected for almost two years to a double movement of remote work: telecommuting and short-time work.

We are back to “normal” but is “normal” normal? In other words, is this the normal we experienced two years ago? And I believe that the challenge that is offered to companies is this, having returned to what we knew two years ago; and my answer is no; we are at the threshold of a world of work that is, or will be, resolutely different; whether in its vertical orientation, that is to say, the hierarchical relationship that will certainly be transformed; laterally, because I think there is a strong need for much more pronounced relationships and exchanges than we had before this crisis, and in terms of union relations, obviously there will be new modes of negotiation.

And besides, the unions that have been very much affected by this crisis have shown their capacity to envisage other modes of negotiation, they have proved it with agreements that have been carried out in an atypical way, and this augurs a mode of labor relations between social partners that will also be impacted, undoubtedly transformed, that is the wish we can make.

Does it still seem possible to return to a pre-covid mode of operation and would we want to?

With that in mind, can we go back to the way things were? We are going to have to go back in some way. But are the conditions for this return the same? Personally, I don’t think so, because the experience of teleworking and all that it has induced, has created new habits and especially new expectations. There has been a strong development of anxiety among employees; that is, the covid crisis has justifiably caused some anxiety with new ways of working. And indeed, it was often found that individual reactions were very difficult and that teleworking generated a form of anxiety. The return should be the opposite: if the covid crisis has caused anxiety in some people, the “return” should instead create an additional feeling of caring, belonging, empathy.

One of the characteristics of the work world that we have known before covid, not in all companies, is this lack of caring and empathy. I think that the new brand of these new ways of relating to work will, on the contrary, be marked by more benevolence, more empathy. This doesn’t mean that everyone will have the right to do what they want, of course, but it does mean that there will be room for significantly different forms of relationships, and this seems to me to be a very strong expectation of working communities: benevolence and empathy that will lead to efficiency.

We will have to try to combine economic efficiency with a certain human and social efficiency. Is this what I would call a new social contract? I am referring to what we experienced in the Enlightenment with Rousseau; I will say a little because I believe that the need to establish new rules is emerging. I like this notion of contract because there is a real need for it and not in the sense of a work contract of course; but it seems important to me to develop a new social contract. This is my credo, my message and my personal conviction.

What recommendations do you have for HRDs for the future?

The recommendations are not only for HRDs, but there are recommendations for both management and HRDs. As far as management is concerned, the main recommendation is to draw up perspectives, to show a course that is not exclusively economic. The companies that have weathered this covid crisis well have set a course and shown solidarity. They were able to display a mission that was not exclusively economic but also social, of solidarity, and there have been absolutely wonderful examples of companies that have discovered or updated new forms of work relations. And I think that’s an extremely important point for companies in the context of management.

For HRDs in particular, I believe that HRDs, while retaining their usual roles which have not changed significantly, must also help management to formalize a path, a vision, support management in implementing this vision and therefore adapt the traditional tools they use to this new environment. As an example to illustrate my point, we can take performance evaluation. Should performance evaluation be done in the same way as it has been for the last ten/twenty years? I don’t think so. I think the very notion of performance needs to be defined a little differently and the measurement of performance needs to be defined a little differently. It would be good to know if we are talking about individual performance, because we all have to perform individually, but beyond all that there is a collective performance; which brings us back to this notion of community, of success together. And to do this, we need a direction, a vision and tools that are consistent with this vision.

What are the new recruitment methods and what is their impact on companies?

As far as recruitment is concerned, as a key process for companies and not only for the HR function, the crisis has had an impact. One of the first impacts is that, obviously, recruiting has been more difficult in the midst of the crisis of covid, but above all, companies have faced considerable waves of resignations, especially in the United States where it has reached incredible proportions and continues to do so; and who says wave of resignations says wave of recruitment. The challenges of recruiting seem to me to have been significantly impacted both by covid and by the consequences of covid. I would like to come back to something that I think has had a huge impact, and that is what Franck Riboud, at the time head of Danone, called “the war for talent”. And I think that this notion of “war for talent” has taken on a much more acute meaning now with the waves of resignations that have led to a considerable increase in the number of one-man start-ups in France.

So there is a scarcity of talent that has been increased by the crisis and that implies new approaches to recruiting, and this is what I call the war for talent. And to win this war for talent on the business side, on the one hand, much more agility is needed in recruitment, since traditional recruitment was a power struggle and the forces were not always equal because the company alone made the final decision. But nowadays it is no longer the company that leads the game, it is the talent.

Also, the company must have things to say and what it has to say is based on its values. Every company has an explicit or tacit value system and these must be put forward. The company must sell itself and the best way to do so in our current era is to display a proposal that makes the candidate want to adhere to this value system, with one condition: authenticity!

Does it all imply anything? Yes, of course, because the tools have also changed. 80% of the positions to be filled currently escape the traditional network. This means that there is a whole underground economy but of quality and recruitment channels that are predominant. A company that limits itself to traditional channels, it becomes much more difficult for it. What has changed things are the Internet and Social Networks, and therefore a company that would voluntarily or involuntarily deprive itself of these new channels would not have the same performance in terms of recruitment. Co-optation, for example, when done carefully, allows the development of a corporate culture, a solidarity, a link. And I think it’s absolutely necessary for recruiters to think about what makes it possible in their daily practice to create a connection while ensuring the quality of their recruitment. But the quality is there, there is a plethora of quality; so what can be done to attract that quality? In my opinion, this is the challenge for companies in terms of recruitment.

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