COVID Changes the CHRO Role

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted senior management teams globally and in particular has brought greater focus on the role of the CHRO. COVID has greatly impacted organsation structures and ways of working which in turn has demanded new capabilities and responsibilities

CEO’s have turned to the CHRO and wanted solutions immediately – it was now more like a line management role. Line Managers were already in panic mode – restructuring production and revising supply chains, stores were closing, online was the new sales channel.  Leaders needed to create a new work culture, restructure jobs and lay people off while at the same time maintain morale.

Some larger companies had disaster plans to refer to, modify and implement. But many companies did not have them. CHROs needed to focus on rapid results, be resourceful and devise and implement action plans. Few were prepared for this as the HR role was traditionally advisory and not implementing major change, especially at short notice.

One of the biggest people impacts has been working from home. Remote working was more prevalent in US with approx. 40% already working from home but for the rest of the world it was a much more dramatic change. In Europe, Indian Sub Continent and Asia Pacific homes were much smaller, staff lived in tall blocks in 500sq ft flats with their family and grandparents. Kids were at home not at school, mothers (your employees!) needed to look after them. The kids needed the fast internet for Zoom lessons (and games!), but many homes did not have hi-speed internet connections or printers at home. Working from home became a sudden necessity without the time to think through and manage the consequences

Leaders suddenly needed to create revised organization models. Working from home revealed that many duties could be carried out from home without harming quality or efficiency. However others needed contact with numerous colleagues and the resources in the office. Important information was retained in peoples heads and not on line!

Now in early 2021 companies are starting to see the shape of a new normal and are planning changes. The CHRO is expected to play a key role in this. New policies and protocols need to be devised. Some staff are planning to leave their company as the new normal does not work for them or because it is a blend of job change and home change which clash.

CHR0’s now need to work with managers to define the new set of customs and practice, revise existing work rules and protocols and devise communications strategies to embrace the new reality.  Who will pay for remote workers’ connectivity and any required equipment as many roles need terminals not IPads to connect to complex company systems.  Data access and data security will need a major rework

Managers themselves may well be finding the new normal stressful as they cannot cope without their team being in the office or that having 20 faces on screen all day does not work either! Finally the role of the coffee machine is better understood!

Managing the new normal

Many roles will need redefining as they will be carried out in different ways. Staff who were based in a Head Office or Regional Office may find their role has significantly changed, or, perhaps is no longer needed. Offices may have been transformed into workspace. Leases have not been renewed and offices relocated to smaller premises in a different less expensive district. CHROs need to ensure that changes are carefully communicated especially those working from home! Not all line managers are good communicators!

Not only talent acquisition but also retention will remain a critical task. Employees need to be recognized and engaged, no matter if they are working remotely or waiting to return to the office in a changed role. New recruits joining a company may be nervous about new roles and how to meet subordinates and colleagues online in post-pandemic company structures they are not familiar with.

Control needs to give way to trust. Staff will need help to learn how to work remotely and with far less oversight. They may find they have a new boss and need to learn about what works and what does not work when based at home.

The pandemic and lockdowns have put pressure on employees in ways that not only test their wellbeing and private lives, but also that of our society. Caring for the workers’ well-being is one of the most important challenges for the CHRO and senior leadership.

CHROs will need to be creative, decisive, empathetic and leading these changes and communicating to the staff affected. The corporate culture will need to be rebuilt as soon as possible. A well-defined organizational culture is critical for long-term success. Culture is vulnerable in times of crisis. With financial problems on the one hand and structural changes on the other, it is easy to put organizational values, mission and identity aside

Looking at the positive side COVID has forced leaders to operate in a more agile way, which will probably benefit them in the future. Business leaders now have a better idea of what can be done outside of their traditional processes. Many are finding simpler, faster and less expensive ways to operate. The pace and scale of workplace innovation is growing rapidly

The CHROs who are effectively dealing with it while avoiding harming staff performance have gained a new sets of skills and responsibilities There will be new normswhich will promote and value human communication and feedback, adaptation to change and producing working results. The status quo ante has gone.

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Growing Your Company

Your research projects have started to show potential and you need to raise more funds for research, development and clinical testing. As your company grows the development of your management team will become as important as the scientific development. You will next need to be thinking ahead to strengthen capabilities in regulatory affairs, finance, commercial and market development in your management team.

The Biotech industry is growing rapidly. Talent is very much in demand. Demand is greater than supply. You need to have a talent development strategy comprising recruitment, succession planning and competency development. If you do not have a talent management strategy in place you also risk losing your own talent!

Potential investors will want to meet your management team as part of a due diligence process and hear them speak about how the business is developing and overcoming the challenges it faces. I have been through it with my own business!

Having a high quality management team will help to maximise the value of your business in the eyes of investors. A weak team will hinder your attempts to raise investment funds. A mis-hire or a non-hire while your business is growing at 15 – 20% a monthly can be crippling.

Raising funds

Whichever route you take to raise capital the requirements are similar. The major change is that the financing of the business has become as important as the scientific development

  • Predictable and consistent revenue. The business needs to be mature enough and its systems robust enough so that it can reliably forecast the next quarter and the next year’s expected income or reduction in losses! Investors or stock markets do not like it when companies miss earnings targets or have trouble predicting what they will be. Potential investors will question your team about this
  • A strong management team. You need an experienced top teamin place who have been with the company 2-5 years. Recent joiners with less than a year’s service will not be credible
  • Trade Sale is much more discrete and may not become public until it happens. An IPO becomes public a year before the event because of “book building” and getting approval to join the listing queue. This will put a lot of pressure on your team
  • Robust Systems and Processes. Investors will look for robust business processes in place. This is important even if a company stays private. But going public means every aspect of how the company is run will be closely examined.
  • Long Term Plan. The company needs to have a long-term business plan with financials and sales forecasts prepared for the next three to five years to help investors and the market see that the company knows where it is going.

Quality of Leadership

This is one of the biggest factors investors look at beyond the financials when considering buying into your company.

Your top team will typically include: Chairman, CEO, CFO, CMO, SVP Early Stage Development, SVP Late Stage Development, Head of Govt & Regulatory Affairs, Head of IT & AI, Chief Business Officer (Purchasing, HR, Administration), Chief Commercial Officer (Marketing and Sales). These people need to be high quality and not just names on doors. They will be quizzed by the Venture Capitalists and Investment Banks. Your investors will expect these people to have track record and have been with your company at least 2 years.

Our Role

Preparing for and executing major loan finance, a trade sale or an IPO involves major business transformation and operational disruption. These can be heavy burdens for startups which have been used to running lean.

Your recruitment and development plan will be almost as complex as your scientific development plan. It will need to be executed in parallel to ensure you have the right people in the right place at the right time! Recruiting a senior executive from a competitor typically takes six months as there will be a 3 months notice period in addition to the hiring process. Senior recruits may take longer as C suite recruits are often on 6 months notice.  If you want to recruit a senior executive from a competitor you may need to do this very confidentially and using an executive search firm.

Your company may also need part time Independent Non-Executive Directors with prior experience to sit on audit, compensation and governance committees.

We can help you to set up an HR function and assist them when there is a surge of recruitment. We are experienced in biotech, food tech and medical device recruitment, have a database of candidates and can manage the necessary confidentiality. We have a global network of offices to enable us to find the talent you need. We will work with you to develop and execute this plan in a cost effective manner.

Need Help?

If you need advice or a discussion, please contact Mark Geary, CEO of Asianet Consultants:

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