Employees will need to put extra effort into amplifying their engagement virtually

Gokhan Emrah Kucukosmanoglu is an out-of-box HR Professional, trying to bring future HR into the present. He has multi-disciplinary experience in Logistics, IT, Purchasing, and HR. He worked in international roles, both in the HR Center of Excellence and HR BP positions. He also participated in start-up, scale-up, and M&A projects in multinational environments. He worked in his career in companies like Ericsson, Coca-Cola, Fater (P&G and Angelini JV), Y?ld?z Holding (Ülker, Godiva, United Biscuits), Arçelik (Arçelik, Beko, Grundig).

Additionally, he is the content owner and tutor of some training programs like Big Data & Analytics, HR Organizational Development, HR Analytics and Entrepreneurship/Intrapreneurship.

He is an Industrial Engineer and living in Istanbul. He has a professional interest in music, sailing, and martial arts.

Thank you, Gokhan, for agreeing to do this interview with us. Kindly be as candid as you can.
Let’s Start!!!
How does the pandemic year affect you? What changes, professional and personal, does it bring into your life?

In short, it was both ups and downs. I was having a job experience with an unclear future. I experienced an unemployment nightmare at the peak-point of the pandemic. After a few months, I have started to work in my current company and position. I was also a pioneer in my business environment to make online conferences during lockdown before it boomed and became a trend.

In my personal life, the previous year before the pandemic was full of travel, entertainment, and socializing for me. Like everyone else, I was enjoying socializing with the crowd, traveling free around the world, and using technology for communication only as one of the options. With the (especially initial months of a) pandemic; fear, anxiety, depression of losing the way we live, chaos, and some other negative feelings surrounded us. Now at this stage of the pandemic, we have a clearer picture of the future, though it is still affecting our lives severely. In this aspect, I am individually no different than anyone else. What I did differently is I focused on the long to-do list and cleared what is doable during the lockdown while keeping in communication with my loved ones.

COVID-19 exposed the unpreparedness of many in leadership teams. As a Talent Development Leader, how will you prepare future leaders to manage crises of this magnitude? What NEW LEADERSHIP COMPETENCIES will become necessary for the success of a leader?

I fully agree with your statement about the unpreparedness and incompetency of leadership teams. However, you will not like my response: NOTHING HAS CHANGED about leadership competencies. Consider you were a good driver (leader) so far and never had an accident in regular traffic. So, you were a "good leader". Now with this era, you had to drive like an F1 pilot, in regular traffic. But you had to have these driving skills already: Same skills, but different scenarios. These competencies (Some of them were systematically ignored and most of the leaders were weak in) became on spotlight:

  • Taking initiative during uncertainty, effective judgment
  • Being visionary, critical thinking, adaptability
  • Open and clear communication, influencing & inspiring the team

Of course, some sub-competencies like managing and engaging a remote team, emotional resilience, optimistic leadership were the tips of the spear. These were not so frequently used muscles, and this was the reason why, leaders and organizations were not ready for it.

About preparing future leaders for the new way of working; we need to assess their foretold skills and keep them "fit" for future crises. Also, as HR professionals, we need to have an "Organizational Disaster Recovery Plan" and make every leader ready for their role in such emergency cases.

The new normal requires a new definition for work-life-balance. In your role, do you think work-from-home is a boon or a bane? What were the new lessons you learned about work-life balance?

Work-from-home looks like a bane for short-term and everyone is focusing on the short-term negative results such as:

  • Lost balance between work and personal life; confusion about the concept of overtime, working hours, and rest/leave
  • Increased workload about family, children, and household chores
  • Difficulty in addressing the overhead costs such as utilities during home office periods
  • Concerns of employers and leaders about productivity

To be honest, I am focusing on long-term positives and feeling a strange satisfaction as new normal will distinguish strong performance cultures from fake and weak ones. If you have already defined strategic targets, cascaded properly into teams and individuals, implemented a self-driven performance culture, and provided tools and processes; why would you worry about new normal and its effects on performance? Remember that allegory about stones and the river: If the water is flowing strong, no one sees and cares about the stones or problems. When you get into a crisis: either your income drops significantly or the conditions you get used to are changing or you perform well only under specific circumstances and did not realize until you face it; you will start to see and hit the stones in the river.

You may realize that these arguments are mostly about performance. Returning to work-life balance: If the organizations can overcome performance problems (performance culture is directly addressed to workload), it will be much easier for employees to manage work-life balance on the employee side. Of course, maintaining a good work-life balance needs self-discipline and strong personal contribution. It has some dynamics similar to exercising at home. (P.S. I know how difficult it is for most of the people out there, without visiting a gym.)

Me personally, I enjoy the time I save from traffic, use this time partially for work, when I work from home. I wake up early (not late!) I keep a routine and discipline with the motto during the work-from-home period: "Work effective, work less!" This means I don’t lose time for a task with half-attention and long hours. Do it with full attention, do it immediately, save time.

Post-Pandemic, in the new normal, what will be the critical expectations of CEOs from their HR Leaders?? 

Referring to post-pandemic immediately, acquisition and retaining of talent, running previously simple tasks, understanding new expectations of employees and leaders, responding to these expectations, doing it hastily.

In the long term, no big changes. Tackle operations (either building a sustainable/cost-effective team to do it and/or using high-quality systems and robotic processes) as must-have, assist in dealing with change, build a sustainable talent pipeline, and contribute actively to business results to sustain forever.

How lock-down has impacted Talent Acquisition? As a TA Leader, what are the new challenges you are facing?

First but not least, people lost their motivation to change jobs, while attracting talent. Technology recruitment was becoming a challenge before the pandemic, now it became a real burden.

It was another difficulty that TA Leaders faced that if they should proceed with pre-pandemic headcount and hiring plans as there was a dramatic change in a business environment. “Should we hire for this position in current circumstances?” was a frequent question asked in hiring desks.

In case the TA teams are determined to hire someone; making interviews, tests, and case studies is another challenge. Despite having technological infrastructure, face-to-face interaction is still needed in some cases.

Finally, if you are successful in hiring a new employee, onboarding is another challenge. How can I provide essentials of work like a laptop, welcome kit, contact, and other documents to new employees? How can I plan orientation? How can I introduce the new hire to the teams and make them work properly with remote conditions? How can I prevent new-hire from feeling isolated from the team and company?

These are the main limitations, and they are including but not limited to. Some operative tasks like health checks, office visits, or work from the office (if needed) are also some other pain points.

Lastly, what do you see HR Leaders doing 10-years hence? How will their role transform? What will they START Doing, STOP Doing, and CONTINUE doing?

I made a short introduction above but let me give more details. The business world faced with long-delayed remote working culture (which started compulsory around the globe during a pandemic and few companies implemented it long before) and its implications will continue in the following decade. The changes of the way of working will not find their routine within few years.

Aside pandemic effect, HR will not get rid of operations, at least coordinating and controlling it will persist. Even if you implement the best HRIS tools and RPA for operations; HR will continue to control, analyze, report, and solve unexpected problems. Business is getting more and more automated every day and its speed of rotation is increasing. Pandemic did not start but surely accelerated the digital transformation which will cause a gigantic workforce crisis in the future. Talent scarcity is growing in IT/Technology/Digital fields and companies (so that means HR Departments, whatever they are called or will be called) will look for out-of-box solutions to meet the need of the organizations. Competition to attract and retain the IT workforce is becoming unmanageable for most organizations nowadays; while the number of employees needed for transactional tasks is decreasing dramatically which will lead to an unemployment wave for the masses. In short, companies will need a workforce less in quantity, more in quality.

On the other side, the expectations of the workforce are focusing on flexibility, compared with the previous generations. This flexibility is multidimensional in terms of time spent, location, people in connection, and projects, along with the company they work for. Average retention is decreasing year by year. Based on the U.S. Department of Labor: “Median employee tenure was generally higher among older workers than younger ones. For example, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (9.9 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years (2.8 years).” This will lead to a steep rise in BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) services, soon after corporations will give up trying to meet the expectations of the IT/Tech/Digital resources in attracting and retaining. As mentioned above, corporations will need fewer people in numbers but more in terms of qualifications. This minority of the people would be critical in their multi-disciplinary roles, should be kept motivated, and be skillful. HR professionals should be flexible, quick-witted, practical, and result-oriented; and perform effectively in a complex and deadline environment. So, HR roles will transform into management consultancy roles focusing on “people-related” tasks, but with a direct contribution to the organization's results.

  • Actively involved in real business and contribute to its results, understanding business environment and be pro-active in changing the direction of the organization.
  • Having technology literacy and working as analytical as possible.
  • Complaining about the importance of HR in the organization.
  • Being satisfied with the back office tasks that are seen as a financial burden to organizations.
  • Trying to be the "office police", but nothing else. Of course, HR has a controlling role in people issues which should be activated if needed; not more.
  • Managing the culture
  • Caring of the employee motivation
  • Leading in organizational design and change management
Thank you, Gokhan, for sharing your insights.
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