Volatile; Uncertain; Complex; Ambiguous — Words often used to describe our world.  V.U.C.A. was coined in 1987 to describe the environment leaders were working in then.  Well… we are (still) in a period of continuous change.  Employee engagement is at one of its lowest points.  Companies are experiencing the great resignation or reshuffle.  Generational changes in our workforces.  And then, there is Covid – yes that continues to impact how and where we create value …

In all of this, what is the role of the HR Professional?  What is the role of business leaders and individual employees?  How do we think about leadership; about teams?

From engagement to thriving

Global employee engagement numbers are low.  In Europe, only 14% of employees are engaged at work according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report. 7% points lower than the Global Average and 19% points lower than the US and Canada — which, at 33%, is still an abysmal number.  What is behind this and what can LEADERS do to change this?  Notice I didn’t say „What can HR Teams Do to Change This?“

A recent internal study at Microsoft revealed the difference of environments experienced by employees who were thriving at work vs those who were not.  Summarized in a recent HBR post: „Thriving employees talked about a collaborative environment and teamwork with colleagues, an inclusive culture with autonomy and flexibility, and well-being support — being able to have honest, non-judgmental conversations on difficult topics, with a focus on finding solutions.

Employees who weren’t thriving talked about experiencing siloes, bureaucracy, and a lack of collaboration. In these comments we hear a lack of agency and a sense for being a cog in a machine. In other words, the opposite of being empowered and energized to do meaningful work.

They need to understand emotional intelligence, learn mental resilience and how to lead with a coaching mindset

I believe and champion that managing our human resources, our teams, is the responsibility of the frontline manager and her leadership — not the responsibility of our HR Departments.  Our operating managers need to work to create an inclusive environment of psychological safety.  Operating executives, managers and their leaders need to be trained and held responsible for creating this environment for the enterprise to thrive.  They need to be supported with programs that help them focus on employee development.  They need to understand emotional intelligence, learn mental resilience and how to lead with a coaching mindset.

Human Resource Professionals as Strategic Partners  

Where do Human Resource Professionals fit in this vision?  As an operating executive leading a large, multi-layered team, I believe human resource management, leading my teams, was and is my responsibility — it is integral to the role of operating management.  I and my management team are responsible for creating an environment where our team members can thrive.  It isn’t always easy.  Often, internal clients have strong emotional responses to their own challenges and „share“ that negative energy.  The front line managers are challenged with supporting their teams while ensuring the work gets done.  One of the keys to our success is the way we choose to work with our HR partners.

As partners, we include them in our normal business meetings (along with our finance partners), after-all, if we are to work together to make the business successful, they need to know what is going on in the business, what are our operating challenges, and then contribute to decisions we are making.

WE (emphasis intentional) have conversations on how changes in production volumes might impact workloads and how we can adapt.

WE explore training programs for our teams which can also benefit other parts of the company.

WE discuss what our employees are feeling and how company policies are impacting them.

In the same way we rely on our Technology and Workflows Director to bring forward innovation and improvement in how we work. We work with our HR Partners to bring forward ideas and innovation in learning, organization and team-building approaches to help us know more about the wellbeing of our team members and help us keep everyone moving in the same direction.  And yes, they support us when we have to have difficult conversations.

HR Inside Summit as a space to begin exploring how we can make a greater impact

I am excited to participate in the upcoming HR Inside Summit, I want to be curious to learn what others are doing, to benchmark other companies and to develop professional connections.  I am looking forward to sharing and gaining insights to help answer some questions:  How does our contribution to our companies‘ success shift from administrative and task oriented toward strategic growth and development?  How do we help prepare our companies for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous future by increasing the resilience of our people, and systems?  How can we integrate employee engagement/thriving data, focus on developing and growing leadership competencies, provide leadership coaching for managers and executives, support our leaders to define purpose and link it to the vision.  We are strategic business partners — let’s explore these questions together.



about the author

HRSteven Bushong
Former SVP @ The Walt Disney Company | Reinventlist, Executive & Team Coach| Bushong Media LLC | Global Team Coaches

Purpose:  Hurling meteors of positive impact to help people transform their worlds

Steven is a retired executive from The Walt Disney Company where he most recently was Senior Vice President of Marketing Operations leading Operations, Production and Post-Production teams. Throughout his career, he has led and significantly contributed to global business reengineering and transformation projects in the areas of Marketing, HR, IT, Finance, and Operations.


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