Editor’s note: This is a guest blog from the Fosway Group.

One of the biggest criticisms I have about traditional employee engagement is that it has spent too much time chasing ghosts. By that I mean employee engagement programmes waste time gathering information about where people were and how they felt at a moment in time, rather than powering how they feel going forward.

Latency: the delay between employees providing feedback and organisations responding has often been too long. Employee engagement has felt like a long-distance phone conversation, complete with a 20-second delay. It moved slowly because organisations moved slowly.

The challenges of 2021 will mean HR needs to evolve fast

Now, though, the turbulence every business feels as a result of COVID-19 is profound, making work unpredictable and more fluid. The world of work is accelerating, with boundaries shifting amidst remote work and on-off lockdowns.

In a recent Reuters poll of 500 economists, only 10% thought that the economic crisis will be resolved in less than a year. According to a recent LinkedIn poll, 48% of HR leaders say they’re harnessing the crisis to reimagine their talent philosophy and programs. And rethinking employee engagement has to be one of the most important things HR can do to enable their people to springboard successfully into 2021. Making employee engagement relevant to the new world of work will be a crucial part of a complete rethink of talent management. 

Making HR fit for the future means adopting a fresh set of principles that changes employee engagement forever

We have long talked about re-envisioning HR so that it is fit for the future. This means some profound changes. In some ways this model is a self-assessment tool for HR teams to judge how they need to evolve. And COVID-19 has made each of these more pertinent with each passing day.

Agile Thinking – a mentality of responding to challenges in days, not weeks. This approach delivers incremental value from the start, and iterates its solutions and services with a rapid mindset to address genuine needs. In engagement, that means thinking about powering a richer and more continuous relationship between leaders and teams. No more waiting for annual surveys, or even quarterly insights. To be agile, the cadence and focus need to be more iterative and rapid if they are to truly fuel better connections and engagement.

Intelligent and Data Driven – a deep understanding that decision making needs insight and intelligence. Data matters, not just in the form of numbers and results, but the semantic intelligence we can gather from building understanding and responding to what people tell us in their own words. If you do not have data about how your people feel, you have no basis for your HR strategies. It’s like an airplane flying blind, which is not a recipe for success.  

Real Relationship Focus – a belief that the primary purpose of HR is to drive personal connection and develop sustainable, positive relationships, harnessing individual insights to drive relationships across teams. This matters more than ever because workplace connections have begun to suffer in the virtual-work environment. And we also know that psychological safety is key for high-performing remote teams. We must focus on the quality of our relationships to build team resilience, connectedness, capability and purpose to help them thrive.

An UBER  Customer Centric Experience – a willingness to cast out old-school thinking about HR and focus on putting the employee front and center. It is outstanding not only in its fresh thinking, but also in its focus on delivering delight and a frictionless experience (by which we mean easy, intuitive, smart and supported by augmenting intelligence). The challenge for engagement here is to think about rapidly turning the calls to action that surface in employee listening into ownership and action. In order for those insights to feed the HR conversation, leaders need to respond in hours and days, not weeks and months.

Energises Your Workforce –  provides a consistently positive reaction. This is often the result of starting your projects with employee experience and design thinking at their heart. By focusing on the context, situation, and moments of anxiety that sap individual and team energy, HR can proactively support personal growth and individual employability. This effort also builds an organisation’s reputation as a great place to work and develop careers.

Enables Radical Cost Efficiency – a desire to constantly re-evaluate operational processes, identify wasteful practices, and innovate to ensure value. Where necessary, processes should be stopped when they no longer fit for purpose. Innovation is key. For engagement, the challenge might be that employee listening may be seen as a luxury. But the business case for employee engagement—understanding what is optimising work and what is energising work using data, insights and feedback—is now more important than ever.

Delivers Exceptional Value – a value-add mindset that seeks to deliver transformational results to priority projects and organisational initiatives. By using business measures and KPIs, HR can prove the impact and contribution to measurable changes in personal, team and organisational performance and capability. An organisation’s measures of success are also a lens for understanding the quality of its approach to employee engagement. It might have profound implications, such as raising the game from simply talking about engagement to really embracing a culture of delivering people success. For many that is a radical shift. Others are already embracing that thinking, with amazing results. 

Powering relationships is what really matters

It is this shift in thinking from employee engagement to people success that is really pivotal here. This isn’t about which system an organisation uses, but the intelligence and heart HR brings to its relationships with people. It is a shift that helps us move from a place of employee listening to genuine conversations about what it means for people to really love working at their organisation.

Listening is good, but to be genuinely heard is what matters. That is the basis of a trusted relationship that will enable teams to perform. It is also the foundation of flexible organisations, ones that can respond and move together. 

And if we are to build organisations that succeed in 2021, it will be the organisations that power their business through intelligence, trust and relationship that are the ones that will stand together and thrive.  It is the root of great teamwork, and great teamwork is what ultimately is going to carry us through this storm. So, we all need to be focused now on people success.

Connect with David Perring on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Glint’s People Success Platform.