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04 February 2021

HR LEADERSHIP FORUM – January Highlights

Coulter Partners kicked off 2021 with the first HR Leadership Forum of the year. The Forum was set up in 2020 to bring together the HR community to discuss key topics and share experiences among peers.

As we look forward, we see reasons to be positive about the personal and business outcomes that the promise of vaccines brings in 2021. A recent McKinsey Institute report predicted that 2021 would be ‘a year of correction’ and in 2022 there would be less uncertainty and the ability to plan further ahead. The January forum was focused on two related areas:

  • How to make pandemic hires successful – For multiple reasons, those hired during the pandemic will not have had a full experience of working in the company culture.
  • How to use 2021 to hit the ground running in 2022 – If the McKinsey predictions are true, what are HR leaders planning for 2022? Very few people are expecting a wholesale return to the office or global travel approach, so what ‘normal’ will we return to?

The discussion covered:

Changes in talent behaviour

The group shared interesting observations on changes in talent behaviour as they looked to attract and onboard talent. Many HR leaders had taken the opportunity to reinvent hiring processes. The removal of barriers and assumptions had led to more flexible processes, often with more fluid interactions with candidates. Hiring was also buoyed by the global importance of Life Sciences making it an attractive sector and the purpose or mission behind many of the organisations present. A complexity that was shared was around job security in this current market. Although talent was mobile, some people had seen an increased concern about job security of both the candidate and their partners, who were sometimes working in a less robust industry.

Onboarding and Retention

The discussion moved to retention and the interventions to engage existing team members and help integrate new team members. Many organisations were deploying more ‘listening’ capability, through pulse surveys and informal employee meetings, like virtual coffee mornings and drop-in groups. An area this group will continue to track is the long-term engagement of new hires. A lot of thought and creativity has been put into thorough onboarding but at some point, someone becomes ‘just another employee’, and that may be the time when the engagement of pandemic hires may differ from that of people who have been face to face with their team and peers.

A year of normalisation ahead?

In summary, 2020 was a year of rapid transformation with significant disruption and stresses put on leaders across the business. When discussion turned to the outlook for 2021, the unanimous view was that this will be a year of creating a next normal, rather than a return to the recent past of 2019. The pandemic has allowed organisations to look at talent pools more globally. Relocating a senior leader is now no longer a prerequisite for hiring the next Chief Information/Scientific Officer.

Collaboration models

The group was starting to address the challenges of a hybrid organisation. This hybrid includes people who work virtually but can meet for specific interventions – something the group had started to experiment with. The biggest concern of remote working was the growth of silo thinking and a potential loss of innovation and ideas, which had typically been generated in group settings. This has implications on office space – everything from workforce planning to ensuring the culture is one of inclusion, specifically around those who are not in the office. Technology and collaboration tools were felt very useful to bridge this gap between workers, regardless of time and place. One significant consideration was how physical workplaces would have to change to make remote collaboration the norm, rather than the exception.

Management expectations

As reported in previous forums, organisations were having to articulate their purpose more than ever – to both current employees and potential hires – to ensure a level of engagement. The skills required of managers were therefore changing; they needed to balance the ability to deliver on outcomes with a return to ‘soft skills’ training, on which many organisations had not had as significant a focus in the past.

How do you drive loyalty and connectivity to an organisation when so many people are sitting at home in front of a screen? More on this at the February Forum…

Introducing CP:HR Pulse

The meeting wrapped up with the launch of the Coulter Partner HR Pulse survey. The survey is designed to support the HR community through 2021 and beyond, focusing on three key areas:

  • Sentiment & Environment
  • HR & Talent Focus
  • Organisation Changes

Coulter Partners would like to thank everyone who contributed to the lively and open discussion in January. The next HR Leadership Forum will be on Wednesday 24th February and will cover the topics of loyalty, connectivity, and purpose in a remote organisation.

About the Coulter Partners HR Forum

Each month, Coulter Partners hosts a virtual meeting, bringing together HR leaders from early-stage businesses to global pharmaceutical companies. The aim of the forum is to share practical ideas as a group of HR professionals, creating a rising tide to raise all boats.

Ian Coyne Executive Director, Global Information and Intelligence


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