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3 Ways to Leverage HR Strategy to Achieve an Agile Workplace

3 Ways to Leverage HR Strategy to Achieve an Agile Workplace

If there is anything the last recession has taught us it is that nothing is guaranteed. Workplaces needed to reduce workforces and slow down hiring in order to remain viable while facing a volatile market. That left a workforce that needed to pick up additional workloads, managers to think differently in how to engage a weary workforce and executives to consider flexible workplace strategies.

Understand your customer
Regardless of a bad economy, one thing is a fact, the customer has a long memory. This is particularly true, if they have a bad experience with a company. During this economy as a customer, I have observed fewer inventories of my favorite items, less quality of products and worse, less focus on customer service. MSN Money in its annual Customer Service Hall of Shame survey observed that while workplaces have stood up to prove their mettle, many have failed to support the customer during these difficult times.

We can hope eventually the economy will turn around long term. We can also predict competition will continue to become fierce both in revenues, and in talent. Once the economy improves, it is expected that turnover numbers will increase and talent will be hard to find. It will be the first workplace(s) that can recover, instill innovative and efficient practices, goods and service, engage talent and recapture the consumer through excellent service -- will be the one who wins.

Resist keeping training on the back burner for long. Customer focused training can yield a good return on investment. Perhaps now would be a good time to try innovative customer service models to win back hurting consumers.

Intellectual honesty
It is curious just how many workplaces were caught off guard when the economic meltdown hit. In a survey conducted by Cisco in October 2009, “many US organizations are not fully prepared for workplace unavailability.” In fact, the results of the survey indicates that “the majority of companies are not considering the importance of remote-access solutions for potential business interruptions, focusing more on business needs under normal conditions.” Interestingly the survey also reports that in most cases, “the cost to implement remote access across an entire workforce is a fraction of what the loss of business would be if employees could not work remotely during a crisis.”

Contingency planning does not require a crystal ball or being an alarmist. The truth is contingency planning is being realistic and applying common sense strategies in the event possible issues should occur that could negatively impact business operations and revenues. Contingency Planning, Inc. reports the most common disasters are power outages, fire, human error, earthquake, fraud/hacker, burst pipe/flood, and virus. Once all possible issues/threats are identified, plans can be developed that will protect operations/revenues. It is always a good time to gather your leadership and begin to ask and answer the tough “what if” questions. From there, develop solid plans and educate key players accordingly. Better to do it now, and then ask, “Why didn’t we plan for this?”

Continuous improvement but with balance.  
First, the turbulent economy forced workplaces to urgently move on efficiency initiatives including downsizings, furloughs, and closing of various locations. The struggle for workplace survival caused some workplaces to lose its balance between operational efficiency and employee engagement.

On one hand, while workplaces needed to execute on tough decisions just to survive, employee engagement initiatives moved to the back burner. Conversely, some managers worried about upsetting employees can become paralyzed from making tough decisions, and moving on continuous improvement initiatives. As the saying goes, the “truth lies somewhere in the middle” and in this case so does the solution. It is a savvy manager that has the courage to make and execute on the tough decisions but balances those decisions with being fair and objective.

HR Thought Leader and author, Martha Finney writes how to capture the passion of your high potential employes. Read, "A Powerful Way HR Can Reclaim Millions for Your Company." Leverage high potential employees to be your internal consultants and allow them to use "their influence to infuse the rest of the organization with the mission-critical spirit that you want everyone to share."

Operating efficiently and producing more with less, requires productive employees. There are low cost ways to keeping employees engaged and productive while times are tough. Dr. Bob Nelson best-selling author of management and motivation books such as “1001 Ways to Reward Employees” reports there are six key strategies to use in keeping employees up during tough times.

  1. Keep a clear and compelling direction – Focus may need to be refined during tough times in order to be attainable.
  2. Direct, open and honest communication – Communication alone can have quite a positive impact on employee morale. Communicate early and often.
  3. Involve employees and encourage initiative – The more employees are involved in decisions that affect them and their work the less helpless they will feel about the circumstances that surround them.
  4. Increase employee autonomy, flexibility and support – Allow individuals the flexibility, where possible, in their schedules.
  5. Career growth and development – Low cost development options for tough times include increasing responsibilities and assigning projects based on individual interests and abilities. This is especially a good idea for your high performers.
  6. Recognize and reward high performance – It is quite simple you get what you reward.

Focusing on the basics, implementing good customer service focus, and energizing the workforce can be just what is needed to propel the workplace forward during difficult times.


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Tresha D. Moreland, MBA, MS, FACHE, SPHR, SSBBP, founder of HR C-Suite, is an HR thought leader in Human Resource Strategic Management. She has held key human resource leadership roles for over 20 years in multiple industries most recently a senior vice president in the healthcare industry. Tresha is the founder and publisher of HR C-Suite ( HR C-Suite is a game changer results-based HR strategy website. It is a first-of-it's-kind site that organizes HR strategy based on desired business result. She has developed a business philosophy of integrating human resources with business strategy, thus creating a hybrid HR leadership approach. This approach enables the leveraging human resources to achieve business results.

  1. Successful people continue to move forward during difficult times. So do successful companies.

  2. Tresha:

    Very good article and very timely. In reading over the article 3 thoughts came to mind.

    1. Regarding customer service, it actually takes no additional effort to provide outstanding service versus what so many of us experience today. To me it is a reflection on the organization’s values and the employee relations environment that exists. I have seen so many companies engage in what I refer to as “The Race To The Bottom” which is evident in employee morale.

    2. Regarding contingency planning I couldn’t agree more. At Honda we had a simple saying that was “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Some of our greatest struggles resulted from our failure to have developed contingency plans in areas that were obvious after the fact. Unfortunately there is a mindset that exists in some leaders that such planning does not generate an immediate ROI so it is not encouraged or rewarded. Leadership therefore must create an environment that not only encourages such planning but values those employees who see into the future and take action. A personal saying of mine, which was an expectation I had of everyone was, “With and eye on the past, concentrate on today while focusing on the future”.

    3. Concerning continuous improvement as you are aware I have always been a proponent on achieving organizational balance between the needs and expectations of the people and the needs and expectations of the organization. Achieving a true culture of continuous improvement requires a nurturing of the environment with a very clear expected outcome. It also requires a very supportive and encouraging leadership/managerial team through good times and bad. Where is disagree a bit is in regards to Dr. Nelson’s six strategies and specifically his point, “you get what you reward”. Personally I believe you get what you value and appreciate. Rewarding performance through most organizational performance management systems frankly lacks effectiveness generally and frequently creates organizational conflict. Truly letting people know they are valued and appreciated and that you care more about them than the end result of what they do everyday will garner your desired overall organizational performance based on personal experience.

  3. Dear Tresha, This is a great article. You are right–organizations that have been ignoring their employees run the risk of their employees becoming disengaged and looking for jobs elsewhere, especially as the economy is picking up. Not only will the employees’ departure have an impact on the bottom line, but research also shows a real connection between the bottom line and engaged employees.


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