At the start of a new year, people return to work with a renewed sense of purpose, vision, and goals for the year ahead. Similarly, for people in HR, it can be an exciting time to set goals to map out key business objectives and clear any backlogs from the year before.
What could make the start of the year difficult is in recognising ‘where’ and ‘how’ to begin. The multifaceted nature of HR’s role requires them to consider profitability, brand and reputation, engagement, productivity, and wellbeing before proposing substantial initiatives for the new year.
We asked Louise Groves, Leadership and HR Coach at iHR Australia on where HR can begin at the horizon of a new year and she suggests leading with a question — “what culture do you [HR] want to create this year, for yourself, employers, employees, and the clients.”
According to Groves, a great place for HR to start is:
- to revisit the business plan and its objectives to gauge whether it still holds relevance to the “culture you want to create”
- conduct a thorough review of policies and procedures, to ensure the business is compliant with the current legislation and can mitigate legal risks
But how can HR practically achieve this?
Groves outlines three initiatives to consider when aligning the business’ objectives with the organisation’s policies, whilst remaining adaptable with upcoming legal changes.
Aligning Policies and Objectives: Three Strategic Initiatives
1. Visioning – helps foresee legal changes and how it impacts the business
Groves views the start of the year as an optimal time to focus on getting things together “and doing purposeful reflection on how you feel about the year ahead through a visioning exercise to note what success looks like when sitting here again, next year.”
When asked about the significance of visioning for HR at the beginning of the year, Groves says, “I think it’s really important to have a vision, or you tend to become busy reacting to situations instead of leading.”
Visioning can be an impactful way of developing and steering long-term organisational strategies, but also as a ‘risk analysing factor’.
An array of workplace legislation changes has made it ever-so-crucial for HR to be practicing ‘visioning’ to effectively apply the changes in practical terms.
Two recent legislative changes that come to mind are the new positive duty guidelines under the Sex Discrimination Act and the implementation of Managing Psychosocial Risks in the workplace.
These changes sparked discussions at the leadership level, as they shifted the onus on leaders to go beyond rudimentary policy updates. The focus now is on proactive elimination of risks to ensure a safe working environment for all. Such legislations call for prevention plan to be implemented within workplaces, and thus, emphasises on the importance of practicing visioning from the get-go.
Visioning can also be extremely handy to drive agile and flexible processes in motion, which includes observing potential hazards in the workplace, including poor job designs, inadequate workplace conditions, prevalent toxic behaviours, or recurring workplace conflicts to identify ways to control and manage its spread in the workplace.
Finally, Groves points to visioning as a “purposeful way to nudge leaders to act in line with the recent legislation.”
“This can involve conducting regular check-ins to ensure the business’s practices do not just reflect in written contracts and documents but informs leaders and employees to act in accordance with the legislation.”
Facilitating a team vision workshop
A visioning exercise “provides clarity and offers a robust framework to realistically gauge what needs to be prioritised,” says Groves.
Here is a simple visioning exercise to begin with:
A team vision workshop can be a great opportunity to sit down with peers and define the ‘purpose’ for the rest of the year. This can begin with an exchange of individual visions for the organisation, followed by a brainstorming session that helps develop a collective vision for the company, and harmonising the collective vision to map out which business areas and policies need amending.
For instance, if the set vision is ‘In the next two years, HR will focus on improving workplace behaviours and conditions to make the workplace safer’, then HR needs to strengthen:
- the process to identify risks in its early stages
- to improve accessibility
- ways to control sex-based harassment and discrimination
- and ensure what parts of the business needs tailored policies to eliminate hazards and developing an internal investigation team to address workplace allegations
2. Help employees feel comfortable with integrating AI
Uncertainty has persisted since COVID-19. However, a looming recession, unpredictable labour market, and AI fuelling job redundancies have intensified discomfort and left people at a being in the unknown phase furthermore.
For HR professionals, as Groves explains the importance of recognising that there is a lot of uncertainty out there, “and people crave certainty.”
Although it is impossible to offer certainty, “HR can help people sit more comfortably with the escalating ambiguity around AI by acknowledging what is creating some of that in the first place,” says Groves.
For example, Groves notes fear of AI as a major factor contributing to the ongoing tensions around the AI transformation.
“People need to get comfortable around AI as it is not going away.”
“While acknowledging the spread of technological transformation is one thing, the other type of conversation needs to be around educating employees on how AI can be integrated into workplace practices that extend beyond the basic ideation or in merely drafting job summaries,” says Groves.
“It’s crucial to educate individuals on how AI can offer support, reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed.”
In a journal article1, Overcoming Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Value of Trust, published on September 2023, the author draws from personal experiences and highlights the usual cause of fear then and even now is, ‘will AI take my job away?’ or ‘Am I obsolete?’. The article takes a rather nuanced approach to explain that ‘AI will not replace us.
It is only there to help us’, and the only way to move forward is not by blindly following everything that AI instructs as it does make mistakes too.
Groves recommends having such conversations in a transparent manner to evoke genuine trust within the workplace, and assuring people that AI is not a one-size-fits-all solution in a workplace.
Secondly, she also recommends organisations to develop and outline their AI Workplace Policy to seal the conversations in an official format. Creating such policies can communicate whether AI is permitted in the workplace, if yes, what AI tools can be effectively utilised in line with the organisation’s standards.
“AI can be an ally rather than a threat and asking can we take an aspect of AI and build it in some positive way? can change our perspectives about AI” says Groves.
For instance, Groves suggests utilising AI apps as a coaching platform, particularly for new managers, to enhance their personal development, assist in providing tailored growth plans, and gain specific feedback to target areas of improvement.
In summary, reclaiming the benefits of AI can be an empowering factor for HR in the workplace.
Join our Stepping up for Frontline managers training, led by industry experts to learn about performance management, providing feedback to team member, and handling conflicts.
3. Leverage on the human experience
Whilst technology provides timely support in various aspects of the business, ultimately it boils down to how leaders maximise on the human experience.
Groves notes that a workplace culture can significantly benefit the human experience as “it facilitates deeper learning outcomes and good energy exchange.”
She also poses a question to all the leaders and HR professionals — “When you have your people together, how do you leverage the human experience?”
In the workplace investigation landscape, iHR Australia’s investigation team has observed an increase in bullying claims in the workplace.
“So, how can we improve working together?” asks Groves.
Groves reiterates that one of the most impactful points of connection is in sharing stories.
In this manner, employers and employees can organically forge connections that do not go to waste and work to improve the quality of employee connection in a much more energised way.
Achieving a positive workplace culture is not solely resting in the purview of HR. In fact, Groves suggests that leaders and employee share their lived experiences to build a culture of trust and comfort. This way, organisations can truly harness the human potential and progress as a collective in terms of achieving business objectives.
“It is within our ability and power to talk about such risks, aspirations, and areas of improvement to identify how to improve the standards of an organisation and come together to harnessing a psychological safe workplace,” suggests Groves.
Moreover, harnessing in the human potential gives more job autonomy to employees which visibly increases productivity and boosts engagement in the workplace.
Learn more about the psychosocial risks: low job control and its detrimental effects on an employee’s mental health in our free webinar series.
An article2 published by Great Place to Work found that ‘When you invest in workplace culture, your business is more profitable’.
The article highlights that employee with consistently positive experiences in the workplace are more likely to stay in the organisation, experience less burnout, and drive faster rates of innovation.
All these aspects have a cumulative effect, which makes organisations more profitable and, in turn, helps achieve the long-term target.
“It can’t just be an HR thing”
“I position HR as a leader, regardless of what they know or what their roles are called, because of the impact and influence they can have,” states Groves.
However, HR cannot thrive alone nor implement these initiatives in a standalone manner without the support of employers and employees alike.
Groves suggests employers can “assist HR by participating in upskilling opportunities, recognising transferable skills to boost employability, and consciously contribute to building a culture that is safe for all,” she says.
An example that Groves talks about is the Positive Duty under the Sex Discrimination Act3 (where organisations and PCBUs have a duty to eliminate unlawful behaviours in the workplace, occurring on the grounds of sex).
“These laws are explicit,” says Groves which puts leaders and HR under the radar to be proactive in eliminating and controlling sexual harassment in the workplace.
“But it can’t be just an HR thing, it needs to be a leadership and workplace culture thing,” she adds.
The legislation required employers to inform the employees, not just in writing or by simply handing out contracts but needed to monitor and proactively manage throughout the organisation’s lifecycle.
Whether you are a manager or a staff member, it must be a conscious part of your responsibility to proactively set the tone in the workplace and follow up when required,” says Groves.
This goes back to the initial thought process behind fostering a workplace culture of sharing stories and experiences.
A good starting point would be to create tangible goals to address perennial HR issues by having a “framework to challenge what work we’re going to prioritise,” Groves says.
“It’s also important to resist the sense that the ‘treadmill is inevitable’ and create space for yourself to challenge the many HR assumptions there are.”
“Think about what impact you want to create and do not be fearful to challenge existing assumptions and processes,” says Grooves.
She also advises HR professionals to begin the year with an open and curious mind by asking some pressing questions like:
- Where do we want to help?
- What do we want to create?
- What are some non-negotiable aspects we need to do?
- What would leave the greatest impact on organisations, employers, employees, and HR team?
Word of Advice for HR
While putting these initiatives into action can be incredibly satisfying, the challenge is maintaining them. Groves recommends conducting ‘purposeful reviews’ to ensure people are motivated, feel supported, and get the opportunity to openly address what is and what is not working.
Groves refers to ‘people in HR’ as the ones “trying to solve things for everyone in an organisation. “
“And so, it’s important that HR teams approach a new year from the perspective of what impact they want to create, how they want to measure success, and what those outcomes need to look like.”
“The benefit of that is it stops the kind of inevitable to-do-list frenzy and feeling like you’re mired into work,” she adds.
“It could be something as simple as saying, sitting down with your team to ask ‘well, , what do we want to do differently this year’ that can leave a bigger impact on your vision for 2024.”
- Overcoming Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Value of Trust, 2023
- 5 Ways Workplace Culture Drives Business Profitability, A Great Place to Work, 2023
- The Positive Duty under the Sex Discrimination Act, AHRC
Where to next?
We hope you found the three key HR initiatives productive and can apply it within your workplaces.
As the new year is setting a pace of it’s own, let’s not get caught up in the uncertainty.
To help your organisation navigate through the ambiguities of work, we have a range of workplace training programs that can assist in smoothening the process:
Workplace training on key topics:
- Custodians of Culture: Anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment
- Leadership, performance and management
- Mental health and well-being
- Workplace interventions
HR support services:
- Outsourced HR solutions to help your HR departments
- Develop policies and procedures that matter
- On call employer advisory to support small and medium-sized enterprises