Many of you will be enjoying a return to pre-pandemic normality. I am just loving the revival of freedoms that we took for granted two years ago – seeing family and friends, having the option to travel, not having my glasses steam up when I’m wearing a mask. All the usual stuff.

Returning to normal can be wonderful. For HR, it can be a mixed blessing. Yes, we don’t have to deal with constant crises. We can now offer flexible, hybrid working as the norm. We have made virtual hiring, onboarding and L&D happen.

But on the other hand, we are seeing an unwelcome return of too many of the old ways of thinking. For every company offering fantastic hybrid benefits, there are an equal number of managers who want everyone back in where they can see them. From having to trust people during lockdown to deliver outputs without micro-management, there are numerous sighs of relief as managers feel they can go back to micro-managing their staff.

I think it’s important for us in HR to take a step back and reflect – what did we learn during Covid? What did we learn about managers’ capabilities, the ability of our people to change and adapt, and what did we learn about ourselves? If we can consolidate on what we’ve learned, maybe we can avoid the slippery slope back to old ways of thinking and leading?

We learned that people can change really fast

Imagine having an HR project where the end result would be the majority of our employees working in new locations, with new technologies and in new ways. You can just picture the scale of the project plan, the amount of stakeholder engagement, training programmes and communications. And yet it just happened.

What’s the learning here for us? I think it’s about looking at people and change through a new lens. Instead of our mantra being ‘people don’t like change’ – we need to see change as something we do really fast – if the circumstances are right. ‘Right’ meaning that we make it easy for people to use, give them the space to find their own way of doing it, and have leaders role model the same new behaviours.

Personal choice matters

We all experienced the pandemic in different ways. For people like me, who are lucky enough to have the space, working from home felt like a wonderful relief after incessant travelling. I got to spend time with husband and my Mum (who was in our bubble). Yes, it got a bit tedious at times – not seeing friends, (not the spending time with my husband!) – but on the whole 2020 wasn’t too bad. For others, cramped living arrangements, home schooling and isolation made it all extremely challenging. The return to normal has been equally personal. Some can’t wait to get back to the office, whilst others can’t think of anything worse.

The learning for us in HR is that personal choice matters. One size fits all hybrid working policies are always going to be inadequate. The more that we can enable managers and their teams to have grown up conversations about what works for the individual, the team and the company – the more likely it is that we’ll meet the different needs of our people.

Moments that matter

Even the most introverted homebody will acknowledge that some things are better done in person. Whether it’s brainstorming ideas, celebrating as a team or connecting with someone new, there are times when virtual just isn’t as fulfilling.

We learned however, that it’s important to know which are the ‘moments that matter’? Rather than old-school thinking of 3 days in/2 days out – if we can discuss and agree the moments that matter – when we should be face to face – then we can really get the benefits of hybrid.

The processes that weren’t missed

Quite a lot of our HR processes weren’t missed during the pandemic. Suddenly, our annual talent reviews, performance rating exercises and annual engagement surveys seemed unnecessary or too difficult to do. We turned our long training programmes into bite-sized Teams sessions that worked really well and were so much easier to schedule. Virtual hiring or onboarding meant we had to get creative. We changed our overly complicated mentoring schemes into pop-up sessions. Leadership comms became less formal and corporate. Short and sweet pulse surveys gave us much greater insights at the right time. We got rid of the processes we had been loyally defending as ‘best practice’ since the 1980’s and the world didn’t fall apart. In fact our new approaches gave us credibility and showed HR can adapt at pace. The good news is that many of us are not going back.

We can trust our people

Finally, if we only learned one thing from the pandemic, it should be that our people can be trusted. Turns out they didn’t need the myriad of detailed and prescriptive policies to know how to show up, serve customers and do right by their colleagues.

We should be taking this new atmosphere of feeling we can trust our people and use it to recharge our employee experience. It’s time to take away the rigid policies and replace them with light tough principles that start from the premise of ‘we trust you to use your judgement and do the right thing’. If we take this learning of trusting our people, we can create an environment that is not just passive and compliant but agile and ready to thrive when and if the next crisis hits.

Rather than relying on an HR policy to help you manage a team who are working flexibly, try asking yourself these questions to make sure you’re getting hybrid working right.

  1. Do I work flexibly – or am I always in the office? What subliminal messages am I giving about where it’s best to work?
  2. Am I being clear about the outputs I want and then giving flexibility about where and when the works gets done? Or am I still managing by overseeing tasks?
  3. Am I being inclusive enough, or are my meetings geared to people in the office/at home? Am I accommodating the different needs and personalities on our team?
  4. Am I having grown-up conversations with my team about hybrid working? Am I being flexible enough, or am I being too accommodating and not pushing back if it causes problems with customers or the rest of the team?
  5. Am I having enough quick check-ins and chats about career development with the people I don’t see very often?
  6. Am I clear on the ‘moments that matter’ for my team? When should we be together face to face? Have I asked them when they feel it’s important?
  7. Am I using a range of tools such as WhatsApp or Slack to keep conversations going outside of meetings?
  8. Do my team members have what they need to be able to work effectively from anywhere?
  9. Am I realising the potential benefits of hybrid to create a more diverse team?
  10. Am I being too inflexible about where my team work because I don’t trust some of them? Could I handle this in a different way, so I don’t punish the many to manage the few?

If our organisations and our teams are going to survive and thrive in this new, disrupted world then we need a fundamentally new way of relating to our people. This video explores how leaders can do things differently using the EACH model – Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings

Right now, management teams all over the world are debating what they should do with the future workplace. Some, like DropBox are getting rid of offices for individual working completely. At the other end of the spectrum, some, like Goldman Sachs, seem to be denying that the last 18 months even happened and are urging everyone to get back to normal as soon as possible.

Most leaders though are taking a more progressive and rational approach and opting for a hybrid workplace. Whether that’s a 2/3 day split like at BP or even better – like O2, Mondelez, Standard Chartered – allowing for personal choice about where we want to work.

But what does this mean for managers who are trying to get the work done, keep customers and team members happy and still provide this level of individual choice? How can you make the future workplace – work?!

Got to work for all

As managers trying to juggle different – and sometimes conflicting needs and wants within a team – and still deliver – it’s tempting to look for some rule or policy that we can use to give us the answer. But the smarter leaders know that a prescriptive policy is NEVER going to cater for every possible situation. The best and really the ONLY way to resolve conflicting needs and wants is to talk it through as a team. If you treat people like grown-ups and share the dilemma – you can work through it together – through conversations. True, not everyone may get everything they want, but you’re treating them like adults and it’s more likely to be resolved amicably without applying a big one-size-fits-all approach.

Level the playing field

If you’re really going to make the future ways of working happen effectively, then it’s worth thinking about how you can create the same experience for your people, regardless of where they are based. It’s well-known that human beings tend to show bias towards the people we see more regularly and that remote workers can feel less valued as a result. One way of levelling the playing field is the approach that the company Coinbase take where they commit to there being no explicit or implicit disadvantages to working from any location and conduct all team meetings as if everyone were working remotely – including colleagues in the office who connect from their desks. Or have a think about how you reward and recognise your people and make sure that the celebrations aren’t always office based.

Retaining your culture

Managers I meet are worrying about how they can continue to retain their culture if more of their team aren’t in the office regularly – and I think this is a valid concern. What we see companies doing is being really clear on the key interactions with your team members that are best done face to face? – the so-called ‘moments that matter’

Managers at ABN Amro have identified 4 key moments that matter – being recruited, being inducted onboarded, dealing with difficult times and building social relationships. Once you’ve identified the key moments for your people that are best done face to face, then you can co-ordinate the team being together. Maybe have a think about the moments that matter in your area? Or better still, discuss and agree them with your team. Agreeing on the types of activity that play best remotely or face to face, rather than how many days a week tends to be more productive.

Leader’s checklist

And what about you as a leader? How might you need to work differently? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to hopefully help you move to a more hybrid workplace

  1. Are my meetings always about ‘tasks’ or do I create opportunities for social interaction?
  2. Am I having enough quick check-ins and chats about career development?
  3. Am I celebrating enough as a team? How am I recognising individual team members?
  4. Am I using a range of tools such as WhatsApp or Slack to keep conversations going outside of meetings?
  5. Do I Work From Anywhere – or am I always in the office? If leaders don’t actively work away from the office then it will be seen as something that in reality is frowned upon.

But more than anything, leaders can make this work by not seeing and framing Working from home as an indulgence. If we continue to imply ‘BUT, THE REAL WORK HAPPENS IN THE OFFICE!’ we’ll be back to packed commuter trains and cubicle-working in no time at all. Offering greater choice about where and when your teams do their work is a fantastic opportunity to provide the flexibility and autonomy we crave whilst providing the social interaction and structure too.

I was reading in the news today about a guy who had just won a legal claim against unfair dismissal. He’d called in sick complaining of a bad chest infection but had been spotted out later that day, drinking and smoking in a bar. His company fired him but lost their claim that they had been right to do so because, their detailed sickness and absence policies hadn’t specifically mentioned that employees couldn’t socialise whilst off sick.

Apart from despair, what should our reaction in HR be to cases like these?

Should we immediately add in a new rule about not socialising whilst off sick? Maybe we even need to clarify what we mean by socialising? Is seeing family and friends ok, but not drinking alcohol? How far a distance from their home should they be allowed to travel? And how long could the socialising last for? Is one hour ok, but not two?

I know I’m being facetious and whilst this particular case might seem absurd and extreme, HR does have these sorts of issues cropping up with depressing regularity.

Full disclosure – I’m not an employment lawyer and my colleagues have suggested that I’m not even a proper HR person as I didn’t come up the traditional HR route of policy and process. But, it seems fairly obvious to me that more rules, more detail, more specifics are not the answer. We can’t possibly legislate for every eventuality. What’s even more important is that by trying to protect our organisations from people like this guy, we penalise the vast majority of our people, who have no intention of calling in sick and heading down the pub.

Tons of rules scream ‘we don’t trust you!’

Tons of rules speak volumes about how little we trust our people – to either behave decently or be capable of using their judgement. And this at a time when we are crying out for innovation, personal accountability and the ability to work with agility and cope with ambiguity. For all our values posters about integrity and teamwork, the pages of fine print we get employees to sign point to a very different culture.

And the biggest irony? We potentially leave our organisations more exposed to risk of damaging claims because we have so many rules – but not the precise one that caters for every scenario.

So, if the answer isn’t to provide more detail, maybe the reverse is true. Maybe this company that is right now reeling from the absurdity of their legal battle, should be thinking about how they take a step back, move away from the detail and instead work with principles, not policies.

Principles not policies

Fortunately, this is a growing trend for HR. Instead of being placed into the role of compliance officer, HR is replacing rules and policies with broad principles that use notions of reasonableness, that start from a position of trust – or assume positive intent.

Let’s look at some examples:

We’ve got social media policies that encourage employees to ‘play nice’, ‘use common sense’ and ‘if you mess up, apologise and take it down’ being used by companies such as Gap, Intel and Ford.

We’ve got dress codes that suggest you ‘Dress for your day’ being used at Legal and General.

We’ve got expenses policies that give employees the freedom to spend without pre-approval on the basis that they do so ‘within reason’ at the company Base Camp.

We’ve got Telefonica showing they trust their people to ‘work where you are most productive’ instead of the worrying post-pandemic trend of 3 days in, two days out of the office.

And we’ve got organisations like HubSpot who dispense with rule books almost entirely and encourage their people to ‘use good judgement’.

I’m not naive enough to pretend that there doesn’t need to be some kind of legalistic framework to some of our policies. Of course there does. But I do think we can revisit many of the countless rules we inflict on our people and take a different approach. So maybe the next time you’re thinking about tightening up on the detail of a policy, maybe instead just write a statement based around common sense and sound judgement and see how that goes down?

Here’s some HR stuff that you can stop doing that will save you time and money – and create a better people experience.

  1. Look at your current Handbook – is it full of unnecessary policies, negative language, and rules? This traditional approach is eating away at our people’s (and our leaders) ability to use their judgement – and it puts us in the role of HR compliance. Instead, go with a light touch Culture Handbook and replace as many policies as you can with principles that focus on people applying judgement and not designed around a rogue minority. A great example is Hubspot who use just three words to cover their policy on social media, travel, time off, expenses & remote working “Use good Judgement’.
  2. Ditch your probation period.  It’s not just a terrible word and gives the impression that we don’t trust our new people, but it’s taking up lots of our resources with review meetings, confirmation letters, chasing managers etc. Check on how many people don’t actually pass their probation? Bet it’s very few. Instead, encourage your managers to have more regular short check-ins with their new people to help them settle in.  
  3. Question whether you need to make that training mandatory. If you have to chase people to complete it, get some insight into why that is i.e. is it tedious, not adding value to their work etc. Challenge whether it should be mandatory and why you in HR are even owning it?
  4. Kill stupid rules. Ask your people to tell you the HR processes that get in the way of them doing a great job.  Guaranteed these rules will also be draining your HR time.
  5. If you haven’t already, stop doing annual appraisals. If you work out the hours spent preparing for appraisals, managing appraisals, chasing appraisals and doing appraisals, it’s quite a big hit to our HR budget and time.  We already know that it’s an outmoded way of managing performance. Move to frequent check-ins and ditch the paperwork. Check out our Leader Box to give simple tips and conversation starters to managers.
  6. If you are still planning to do an annual engagement survey, then maybe it’s time to question the value you have derived over the last few years? Apart from the Board feeling better because they’ve ticked the box called staff engagement, what has really changed? Instead, move to frequent, light touch pulse surveys. Create your own free survey (e.g. Typeform, Survey Monkey) and ask regular questions on themes e.g. “How could we make remote working better for you?” If you do have a bit of budget invest in one of the great feedback apps like OfficeVibe CultureAmpTINYpulse that focus on real-time feedback.
  7. No budget for building your employment brand?  Ask your people to write a review on Glassdoor about what they think about working for you?  Discuss the reviews at leadership meetings, so that you can celebrate what’s great and how you’re going to work on areas you need to improve.  
  8. Stop sending emails and and set up different employee groups (leaders, new starters etc.) on your current comms channel e.g. FB Workplace, MSTeams, Slack etc. A great way to start conversations and discussions.
  9. If your leadership training budget gets cut, preventing you from bringing in external trainers, well, that might not be a bad thing– after all, you know more about your leaders than anyone so why not do it yourself with all the time – set up informal clinics to provide coaching, set up a community to push useful external resources (try this one!) and send them a weekly whisper email like google with a suggestion of one new thing they can try out with their team.
  10. Stop sitting in on interviews.  Not only is it wasting valuable HR time but you’re making hiring managers more dependent on you and they’ll never develop their recruitment skills.  Run a workshop, share great resources, and then leave them to it.
  11. If you’re still using the 9 Box Grid, you’ll know how much time and effort it takes. Big cumbersome processes that take months to complete are increasingly discredited and being replaced by regular ‘Talking Talent’ conversations about talent movement and roles that need refreshing.  Check out our Box of Meetings which has a helpful template to help get those conversations going.
  12. Ditch the hi-po programme.  Expensive, elite and they don’t deliver value according to research by CEB (73% of high potential programmes show neither business outcomes nor return on investment). 
  13. Stop wasting hours of time creating HR reports with random stats and flawed people data. Instead, go to leaders with a more compelling narrative 1)Are we able to attract the talent we need? 2) Are we creating the conditions where our people can perform to the best of their ability?
  14. If your spending hours doing exit interviews please stop – we need to be talking to our people before they’re dissatisfied! Instead encourage managers to have stay conversations in their normal one-to-one check-ins asking questions like “What makes you stay here” and “What would make you want to leave?”
  15. If we want to role model efficiency in our business, we have to take a look at changes we can make to our own function without compromising on the value we can add.  Get your team together and share the problem.  Give them the safety of knowing that this doesn’t mean restructuring but instead, you want their ideas and suggestions about how they might adapt to focus on what’s important – ‘What processes, activities that are not adding value should we stop doing?’

Despite HR’s progress in lots of other areas in reward, getting rid of bonuses has proved almost impossible. I think that’s because we, and our leaders, cling onto a number of myths that have proved hard to shake. This blog tries to bust those myths and to give you the ammo you’ll need if you want to fight this particular battle!

Myth 1. Financial Incentives improve performance

Probably one of the strongest of the deeply held beliefs in corporate life! We still firmly believe that if the financial carrot is big enough, we can deliver superior performance from its potential recipients.

Where did this myth come from?

In the 40’s and 50’s various psychologist and researchers were promoting what’s known as Behaviourist Theory. This was largely developed through observation of animals in labs but amazingly still dominates our views on financial rewards today – 70, 80 years on and very little has changed.

Behaviourist theory is very simple; it says our behaviour is determined by the consequences of it. So, if we do something and get a reward, we will do more of it. You can see where bonuses fit in here.

In the 70’s and 80’s corporations became obsessed with making sure we got the rewards/incentives right. The thinking seemed to be: Get the incentives right, and people will be motivated to perform better, resulting in better performance for the company. And despite the bad press and public uproar that big pay-outs generated in the wake of the financial crisis, when many top executives had been heavily rewarded for short-term performances that ultimately proved disastrous, the system marches on.

And so, we spend countless hours focusing on how to structure our bonus schemes. But rarely do we ask ourselves the question that challenges the principle on which bonuses are created, namely, do financial incentives actually improve performance?

Incentivised performance improvement is temporary

Interestingly, research suggests that, by and large, rewards succeed at securing one thing only: temporary compliance. When it comes to producing lasting change in attitudes and behaviour, however, rewards are strikingly ineffective. Once the rewards run out, people revert to their old behaviours. Studies showed that offering incentives for losing weight, quitting smoking or using seat belts, for example, is not only less effective than other strategies but often proves worse than doing nothing at all. Incentives do not alter the attitudes that underlie our behaviours. They do not create an enduring commitment to any value or action. As for productivity, at least two dozen studies over the last three decades have conclusively shown that people who expect to receive a reward for completing a task or for doing that task successfully simply do not perform as well as those who expect no reward at all.

In fact, if you introduce financial incentives where people were previously engaged in their work and doing well, their performance will get worse! In other words, if someone is internally motivated to do a thing, and then you tell them you will give them a bonus for doing that thing, they will lose their internal motivation to do the thing.

So, you get better performance from finding ways to engage people in what they are doing – making the work interesting, giving people the space to do the job their own way, ensuring you are playing to peoples’ strengths and so on.

Dangling a financial carrot can lead to a temporary uplift, but it won’t last – and worse, by introducing external, financial incentives, you actually destroy the motivation that was there without it.

Myth #2. They help manage costs

This myth is often thrown at HR leaders who are progressive enough to try and change their leaders’ addiction to bonuses. And, as with all enduring myths, there is a small element of truth in them. In theory, bonuses do give you greater control of pay variability. But unfortunately, in practice, most of us work on the basis of on target earnings (OTE), ie: what you would expect to receive in a normal year, and our typical bonus becomes an expected part of our annual salary. Not paying that expected bonus becomes very tough without a huge fall in motivation.

Finance teams know this and tend to always accrue the same amount for bonus payments each year (c85% of bonus pot). So, it’s not clear how the bonus is all that variable in terms of the accounts and in reality?

Also, most companies continue to pay out regardless of the levels of performance. Paying for under-performance remains the norm.  In a recent study almost half (45%) of senior managers and directors whose performance was rated as “not meeting expectations” received a financial bonus and almost one-third (30%) of UK managers whose performance was ranked as under-performing were paid a bonus in 2015.

So, we’re typically paying the same amount out each year and we’re giving it to under-performers as well as the rest. Not the best advert for cost control?

Myth #3: Everyone wants more money

We all need to pay our bills and provide for our families, but once these basic needs are covered there is a lot of evidence to suggest that more money doesn’t actually make us any happier. Or, as Arnold Schwarzenegger once stated: “Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.”! Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton reported that, in the U.S., emotional well-being levels increase with salary levels up to a salary of $75,000, but that they plateau afterwards. So, enough money makes you happy, but lots of money doesn’t make you any happier.

People care more about other things

Our bonus systems are based on the myth that money is what everybody wants and that if we get it, we will have happier and more engaged employees. Indeed, several studies over the last few decades have found that when people are asked to guess what matters to their co-workers, or, in the case of managers, to their teams, they assume money heads the list. But put the question directly; “What do you care about?” and money typically ranks only fifth or sixth. Dan Pink’s research has led him to conclude that whilst being paid enough is very important, once people perceive that they are paid fairly, then they become much more motivated by intrinsic elements. Once people are paid fairly, they look for more from their work.

It’s easier to pay a bonus than work out what they really value

So, why do we continue to believe that our people are only interested in more money? Maybe, in part, it’s because money can represent many different things that many of us do want, such as power, freedom, security, appreciation, etc. Giving money is an easy ‘catch-all’ and much simpler than trying to really get to what each of the individuals in our team really value. As was noted in this HBR article back in 1993, (my God, was that really 27 years ago?!) ‘Managers often use incentives as a substitute for giving workers what they need to do a good job. Treating workers well—providing useful feedback, social support, and the room for self-determination—is the essence of good management. On the other hand, dangling a bonus in front of employees and waiting for the results requires much less effort.’

Smarter companies are spending the time and effort to understand what their individual employees value, what makes them feel appreciated through interventions like stay interviews. They are trying to provide choices that meet those needs, rather than throwing money at them and expecting their motivation and productivity to rise.

Myth #4 We need bonuses to be competitive

‘We have to pay them because everyone else does’ is a fairly common refrain. And this is certainly true if your attraction strategy is to be exactly the same as your competitors! But why wouldn’t you want to be a pioneer in your market? Why wouldn’t you do what’s right for your people and your culture and make this a USP of your employment brand?

Moreover, wouldn’t the following statistics give you some confidence to focus on other things other than a hefty bonus?

The bonus is rarely the thing that makes you a fantastic place to work.

Myth #5: They focus people on the ‘right’ things

As with the first myth around incentives improving performance, this one has real longevity. But it feels relevant to another age when we had annual business plans that made sense, not the disrupted agile world we inhabit now. Trying to record and maintain a rigorous focus on objectives 12 months out from bonus pay day is just nonsensical. We need our people to be responsive to the fast-changing demands of our markets, our customers, etc. We may want them to change their focus several times in the year.

There can also be some negative consequences from our incentive schemes as people start to focus on the ways they can increase their bonus, sometimes at the expense of right thing for the business.

Bonuses discourage risk-taking

“People will do precisely what they are asked to do if the reward is significant,” said an early proponent of pay for performance programmes, Monroe J. Haegele. And of course, this is precisely the problem! By focusing on their bonus, people can become less inclined to take risks or explore possibilities, to get creative or try something new.

Bonuses destroy collaboration

One of the best ways of destroying collaboration is to force people to compete for rewards or recognition or to rank them against each other. For each person who wins, there are many others who carry with them the feeling of having lost. And why would you share your ideas, support a colleague or miss out on a sale that negatively impacts customer retention, if your bonus is dependent on hitting individual targets?

Bonuses can destroy ethics

Several years ago, Green Giant, a unit of General Mills, had a problem at one of its plants: Frozen peas were being packaged with insect parts. Hoping to improve product quality and cleanliness, managers designed an incentive scheme in which employees received a bonus for finding insect parts. Employees responded by bringing insect parts from home, planting them in frozen pea packages and then “finding” them to earn the bonus. A small example but one that points to a more fundamental problem. Incentives might mean you hit your targets, but they don’t guarantee that employees will earn them by following the most moral or ethical paths. There are many studies that point to the ways that a focus on achieving bonus has led to questionable behaviour in business.


These myths endure because we have believed them for so long, we’ve built our performance and reward structures around them and we have all believed them – so they must be right, mustn’t they? And yet the evidence is there, and has been for years, to show that these myths should be challenged. The financial crisis made them wobble a bit, but they didn’t collapse. Maybe now is the time, with our desire to create something truly better as a result of the current crisis , for us to finally bust them for good?

Better Normal Award Winners

We have a winner! Well, actually we have five winners! Five HR teams who have shown amazing resilience, innovation and agility. Five companies who have used the crisis to make lasting changes in how they deliver HR.

We had loads of fantastic entries – thanks so much to all of you who took the time to tell us about your incredible changes to HR.

These were the five that stood out with the five runners up because the standard was so high.

The ‘God, it’s got be changed to virtual!’ Award

Winner: Bacardi for their fantastic range of virtual support

Bacardi had over 10,000 hits on their digital portal that they used to provide access to resources and tools. They provided over 30 support sessions on how to get through the crisis, encouraged their people to blog and provide podcasts on how to overcome the challenges and to focus on what they described as #NewBetter.

Runner Up: Lafarge Holcim for their move to virtual recruiting

Virtual interviews were never seen as an option, especially not for blue-collar workers as they were seen as “not digital enough”. And as they have 55 different locations in Switzerland, recruiting usually involves a lot of travel for HR. The crisis changed this almost overnight. Now they are doing virtual recruiting interviews for all positions, saving lots of travel time and costs for candidates, HR and line managers. And everyone likes it!

The ‘No-one’s missed this process’ Award

Winner: Kantar for showing there’s more to talent than the 9 Box Grid

Having assessed their annual talent review and discovered that it cost more than $1m for little follow-through, they decided to allow their leaders a choice of whether to continue with the 9-box grid or not. Only two leaders decided to stick with the old process, all the others are now coached by HR to have stay conversations with their people.

Runner Up: Xoserve for getting rid of appraisals

They have dumped their complex, subjective, time-consuming and demoralizing (their words!) annual Performance Management process and moved to a simple, agile framework that focuses on team OKRS that are set and reviewed regularly, and where the emphasis is on regular check-ins through 121s, team huddles and meetings rather than an end of year performance conversation.

The ‘Who knew our managers were this human?’ Award

Winner: ICI Pakistan for their innovative approach to leadership comms and engagement

ICI Pakistan used the lockdown to experiment with a wide range of leadership communications, including frequent 1-2-1 check-ins, the ‘rapid fire round’ where employees get to ask leaders a load of questions, virtual town halls, a focus on ‘reasons to be grateful’ sessions, personalised cards from the CEO, an incredible range of support tools including regular mood surveys and even celebrating religious festivals online!

Runner Up: Martin James Network for the role their managers played during the crisis

Managers created the Tribeout platform to offer free gym sessions every morning, fun sessions for employees’ kids, sessions on maintaining mental health and discussion forums to engage their people around the Black Lives Matter movement.

The “We’ve killed a stupid rule” Award

Winner:  XoServe for taking away punitive policies

They removed their commander-control people policies and brought in short principles instead, eliminating their 26 long, complicated policies to zero!

 Runner Up: Babcock for removing the six-month qualifying period for sick pay

In the spirit of a #betternormal, they reviewed their policy and now allow new staff to take full company sick pay from their start date.

The ‘It’s now better and cheaper!’ Award

Winner: Peabody for their changes to recruitment and onboarding

Peabody have made massive changes to their recruitment and onboarding as a result of the crisis and they’re not going back! They’ve started using Facebook and Instagram to recruit. They now recruit virtually for many roles using video assessments, supporting hiring managers and candidates with a short telephone screening guide and video interview preparation and guidance materials. During onboarding they introduced secure video calls for checking documents instead of asking candidates to submit them in person. They adapted their induction process to a digital format and now train their front-line staff through e-learning and 1-1 support. Plus, they developed their own YouTube channel with engaging videos and animations about the company! They’ve managed to increase the speed of recruiting, filled over 171 open vacancies they were previously struggling to fill and improved the experience for new recuits!

Runner Up: Robert Walters for moving their coaching support online

In-person coaching was always a priority for Robert Walters. They have moved it all online, providing support so managers and their people get the most from it – and changed it from two intensive days to shorter virtual sessions over a couple of months. They have increased the number of people that get coached, both managers and employees find it more meaningful and they’ve saved around £100k in travel costs!


Winners receive membership of the Disruptive HR Club (including all the Better Normal training sessions on changing HR) and a bag of Disruptive HR goodies. Runners up will get two free places on one of our Better Normal training sessions and a goody bag too!

Thanks again to all of you who entered – there were so many to choose from and we are SO proud of the way HR has stepped up during this crisis! Congratulations to all of you who are using this horrible time as the opportunity to create a better normal!

Both the best and the worst examples of leadership have been on display throughout the crisis. But as things start to regain some semblance of normality, how should we redefine our expectations of leaders? Every leader and HR Director I speak to acknowledges that we can’t just go back to what we had, that this terrible crisis should result in something better for leadership. But what does ‘better normal’ leadership look like? In my opinion there are three elements of #BetterNormal leadership.

(I’d really hoped this would have resulted in a more impactful acronym than TOE! But sadly, this was all my Scrabble skills could produce!)

Leading with Trust

Despite our best efforts to make leadership more relevant for the disrupted world, command and control has remained the dominant leadership style. Our leaders kept on trying to be bigger and better than their teams, to know more and to have everything under control. With the fears about what we’re heading into, the ‘unknown unknowns’, the raging uncertainty, leaders will finally have to relinquish this pretence and move to a place where they trust the teams they have employed. This trust will take two forms; trust that their people will behave well, and trust that they are capable of using their judgement and making the right decisions about their customers, their work, their careers, their families and themselves.

For example, when the pandemic hit, the first thing Culture Amp did was to address the impact that the crisis was having on the speed of their decision-making. They created a daily situation room, a meeting where they ran through a deck of the latest information related to the crisis. They then published all the data on an open channel on Slack. Once they gave front line employees the data they needed to contextualise their decisions, they discovered that leaders were more comfortable distributing authority and allowing teams to make their own informed decisions, without wasting time chasing down information and approvals. ‘Autonomy means getting to make your own decisions, and being trusted to make your own decisions,’ argues CEO Elzinga. ‘But it also means trusting others to make decisions on your behalf, too.’

Leading with trust means starting from the assumption that your people can handle the truth and don’t need protecting from bad news as if they were children. If we think about the leaders who are getting the most praise right now, such as Jacinda Ardern or Andrew Cuomo, it’s clear that we want to be treated like grown-ups. The same needs to apply in work. As Josh Bersin writes, ‘Strong leaders give us the truth “as it is,” not “as we want it to be.”’

So, what does Leading with Trust look like after the crisis? #BetterNormal leaders will:

Leading with optimism

As an HRD, I used to get so fed up with moaning leaders. God, they really are hard work, aren’t they? Now, more than ever, we need our leaders to show the resilience and agility that comes with optimism, as well as the energy that it generates. Indeed, Gallup finds that 69% of employees who have optimistic leaders are more likely to be engaged in their work.

Whilst being optimistic as a leader might seem to contradict point one above, this is not about being some kind of corporate Pollyanna and avoiding tough messaging. Instead, it’s about finding the positive even in the direst of situations.

Even before the crisis, optimists tended to be better leaders.

They are:

All traits that every business could do with right now.

A great example of that optimism spilling through during the crisis comes from Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh, who wrote a letter recently to employees encouraging them to focus on the crisis’ silver lining. ‘One of the things motivating me through this difficult time is the idea that we can learn and adapt and adjust so we emerge stronger as a result of this test,’ he wrote. The crisis ‘will pass. We will get through this together and be a better and stronger company as a result of it.’ Powerful stuff and leadership that you want to be around.

Optimism isn’t something we have traditionally looked for when we’re hiring leaders or included in our leadership competency frameworks. But we need to make sure we’re putting people into leadership positions who aren’t ‘glass half empty’! Dr Martin Seligman, the former president of the American Psychological Association and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has devoted decades to studying optimistic people and reports that they tend to view adversity in their lives as temporary, specific and external, as opposed to pessimists who view adversity as unchangeable, pervasive, and more personal.

So, what does Leading with Optimism look like after the crisis? #BetterNormal leaders will:

Leading with Empathy

If there’s one trait that our leaders seem to have suddenly ‘got’ during the crisis, it’s empathy. I hear regular stories from HR about how the crisis has made their leaders more human, capable of compassion and genuine warmth. They’ve let down their guard and let their vulnerability show. When they ask the question, ‘how are you?’ they actually want to know the answer! We see them with their kids, their pets, in real-life environments as they struggle to look professional on Zoom – just like the rest of us.

It’s not like the importance of empathy is new. We’ve been talking about it for years but, as one recent study found, although leaders agree that they need to display more empathy, there is often an ‘empathy gap’ between the leader’s awareness of the issue and the way they’re seen by employees. The reason for this gap may be that leaders didn’t necessarily know how to exhibit empathy to their employees; 58% of CEOs say they struggle with consistently exhibiting empathy. Well, many of them don’t seem to be struggling now. Just take the example of Jeff Bezos who shared his genuine feelings and vulnerability in his message to employees. He wrote, ‘There is no instruction manual for how to feel at a time like this…My list of worries right now—like yours I’m sure—is long: from my own children, parents, family, friends, to the safety of you, my colleagues, to those of you that are already very sick, and to the real harm caused by the economic fallout across our communities.’ Or, the CEO, of Activision Blizzard,  Bobby Kotick, who handed out his personal phone number to the firm’s 10,000 employees during the crisis. When asked how many had taken him up on the offer, he confirmed that a “few hundred” had opted to call him.

Sustaining this warmth, this compassion, is going to be key for leaders as we start to emerge from a medical crisis and into a financial one. How we treat our people, our customers, our suppliers and our communities will shape our brand reputation, our employee brand and our levels of engagement in the coming months and years.

So, what does Leading with Empathy look like after the crisis? #BetterNormal leaders will:

So, creating a better normal will be about leading people with trust, optimism, and empathy rather than task management, command and control and assessment. Of course, that’s what great leadership has always been about, but now we’ve had a taste of it, we’ll be reluctant to simply go back to how things were.

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The Disruptive HR Club

Over 1000 members and 600+ resources to help you design and implement changes to HR. Find out more about The Disruptive HR Club here.

HR’s response to the crisis has been amazing! You’ve proved just how innovative, agile and responsive HR can be.

At Disruptive HR we have been campaigning for years to change outdated HR practices for good. And many of you have done it overnight!

We want to celebrate those of you who are creating a #BetterNormal. So, we’re launching our #BetterNormalAwards.

Entering is really simple.

  1. Choose one or more of the five categories below.
  2. Send us your entry – either in writing (no more than 100 words) or via a short video (no longer than 2 mins) to by Weds 8th July

Winners will receive free membership of the Disruptive HR Club and a bag of other goodies!

Winners will be announced on 15th July

Award categories

The ‘God, it’s got be changed to virtual!’ Award.

Have you changed something to virtual really fast like a grad programme or onboarding? Think you’ll never go back to the old ways? Then this is for you.

The ‘No-one’s missed this process’ Award

Have you dumped that tired old process as a result of the crisis? Tell us about it!

The ‘Who knew our managers were this human?’ Award

Will you never go back to formal comms for leaders? Share what you did!

The “We’ve killed a stupid rule” Award

Those policies that got in the way that you’ve now dropped. Tell us how you are now trusting your people to do the right thing.

The ‘It’s now better and cheaper!’ Award

Pretty self-explanatory! Just let us know!

We can’t wait to hear about your incredible efforts over the last few months – and even more importantly, how you’ve used the crisis to make change happen – to create a Better Normal!