CIPD Annual Conference 2020: You are playing a ‘heroic’ role in the coronavirus crisis, Bersin tells HR

The industry analyst closes the virtual event by explaining how the people profession will continue to radically evolve after the pandemic

People professionals are “doing heroic things” during the crisis, eminent industry analyst Josh Bersin told delegates at this year’s virtual CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition.

Delivering the closing keynote, Bersin (pictured left), founder and dean of the Josh Bersin Academy, highlighted several changes to both the world of work and the HR profession that had been brought on by the pandemic. “We talked about the future of work an awful lot before this, but now we are living the future of work,” he said, adding that when the pandemic first hit in March, he predicted five key changes.

“We were going to change the way we work, the way the economy worked, we would change the role of leadership, change and need the role of trust and change the way HR operates,” he said.

Bersin pointed out that while these things were thought about pre-Covid, putting them into action in a “quick and immediate way” was not necessarily an HR priority. “This year, [HR has] the ability, the right and the authority to do something immediately that might have been a two-year discussion in the prior economy. The breakthrough is making HR resilient,” he said.

The role of HR has also changed, according to Bersin. Not only has wellbeing and mental health become a top priority in the crisis (“we have all become psychologists,” he said) but the profession is also now a centre of innovation within business. “Most of you probably are not sure you would call it that, but I think it is and this year proved that.

“You proved that you could come up with new ideas, work with cross-functional teams and business stakeholders, you could identify problems that you hadn’t solved before and you solved them, and that is the way HR works,” he said.

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Bersin argued employee experience was something that affected the whole HR profession, and encouraged delegates to think of themselves as a “full-stack HR professional” – a term coined from software engineering where a professional has a complete range of skills.  “Everything is connected now,” he explained. “One of the things you have to do as a professional… is make sure you understand the adjacencies of your role to the other things going on in HR.”

Most businesses now recognise that employee experience crosses over HR, IT and other business areas, he pointed out, adding that while it used to be about perks and benefits, it was now about getting employees safely back into the workplace.

“When I meet people that are the vice-president of employee experience and they work in HR, I feel sorry for them. They can’t handle it all because employee experience is a cross-functional initiative,” he said.