2011: a forecast by McDonalds’ David Fairhurst

2010 has been another year of economic uncertainty, as we moved from a painful recession to a vulnerable recovery. Despite stronger than expected GDP growth figures, next year will be when people really start to feel the impact of the Government’s austerity measures.

Thousands of public sector workers will lose their jobs, the VAT increase will make its mark on the weekly supermarket bill, and the economic fragility of countries across the eurozone will continue to affect people’s confidence.

What does this mean for HR professionals?

The reality is, we are in for turbulent times, and if HR teams are to avoid the pitfalls of the year ahead and seize the opportunities that it will present, they need to adapt quickly to what’s going to be the “new normal”. HR will need to play a role in creating organisations that won’t just survive, but which will thrive on the energy, excitement and opportunity that this turbulence can create.

Survival of the quickest

Today’s operating environment is radically different to that of five years ago, and the pace of change is showing no sign of slowing down. As the speed at which we do business continues to accelerate, and the volume and diversity of issues we face become ever more complex, managers will need the agility to solve complex dilemmas swiftly. And in turbulent times, there is rarely a right answer – instead, managers need the judgement and confidence to find the best answers.

To equip managers with this nous, it’s essential to set in place a clear and ingrained set of corporate values that capture the DNA of the organisation, and stick to them through thick and thin. They provide the compass that empowers leaders across the organisation to keep making values-led decisions for the business – no matter how quickly they need to be made.

Creating fusion

During uncertain times, it can be challenging to get the best out of employees – but it is possible if we put the science back into HR to really engage them. It requires a forensic approach that I describe as the fusion model. The first step is to understand your workforce as individuals – let them tell you what they value, rather than what your organisation believes they should value, about the employment experience. Then, match what they value to the needs of the business. When fusion occurs between what employees value and business needs, there’s a powerful release of energy.

The approach requires real understanding of how people factors impact on business performance, but there’s a sizeable prize for those who achieve it. In a customer-led business like ours, the challenge is to make delivering for our customers intrinsically rewarding for our people – and when we do, we see improvements in customer satisfaction, employee confidence, staff tenure and brand trust.

Future-proof and fighting fit

The truth is, 2008’s global financial crisis has left its mark and it will take many more years to cleanse it. This will present many short-term challenges, but it’s crucial that we don’t fall into the trap of short-term HR policies.

We need to look ahead for the long term to create “future-fit” leaders and teams who are equipped to flourish when faced with complex issues in unpredictable times.

It’s not something HR can tackle alone – entire senior management teams must take responsibility for spotting who is “up and coming” at all levels and where there are talent gaps across the organisation. Then, HR can support them in finding and developing this talent – not just for the year ahead, but for the years ahead.

If HR professionals can adapt to the “new normal” of the turbulent times we’re operating in, 2011 need not be a year of challenge and difficulty, but a time of excitement and opportunity for individuals, organisations and HR professionals.

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