• Ettie Holland

Four Questions Every HR Team Should Answer to Bounce Back Stronger [Summit Session Summary]



It’s events season, and this year’s movement to virtual means you’re probably attending more summits and conferences than ever.

At least, we’d guess so given our customers that hold events have all seen record registrations, attendee numbers and engagement. Good stuff.

That’s great news for your content marketing. Events mean new ideas and inspiration, plus credible references your competitors mightn’t be sharing. They’re a great springboard to elevate your content.

But the sheer volume of virtual events probably means you’re missing out, as sessions overlap or work-work takes priority.

So here’s a recap, if you missed Benjamin Granger and Marina Pearce’s fantastic discussion, ‘4 Questions Every HR Team Should Answer to Bounce Back Stronger’ at the recent re:engage 2020 virtual event.

We tuned into many sessions over the two-day event and this was one of the very best. If you create content for HR leaders in mid-to-large businesses, this was a great insight into the strategic questions they’ll be weighing up over the coming weeks.

RECAP: Four Questions Every HR Team Should Answer to Bounce Back Stronger

This session was structured as a discussion between Benjamin Granger (XM Catalyst at Qualtrics) and Marina Pearce (Head of Talent Analytics at Ford).

Benjamin and Marina started off by framing the problem HR teams face right now, as they start to return to work. They shared the five-stages of transition:

1) React

2) Plan for return

3) Initial return

4) Scaling up

5) New normal

Benjamin outlined how the fourth stage, scaling up, will be the hardest for most businesses as we’ll all be struggling to balance our pre-pandemic habits and the ‘new normal’. It’s that awkward transition period before we settle into new long-term behavioural norms.

It’s in this context HR leaders should be asking the following four questions, to accelerate their journey out of the crisis:

  1. What changes should we continue or expand?

  2. What signals should we need to monitor during the transition?

  3. How are employees’ expectations likely to change in the future based on their experiences during the crisis?

  4. How can we differentiate our organization for the next phase(s)?


The speakers then chatted through each of the questions in turn.

Question 1: What changes should we continue or expand?

Or, as Ben put it, ‘based on what you’ve had to do in the initial phases of the pandemic, what should continue forever? What’s worked?’

Marina talked about how Ford has been actively thinking about culture for years, and learned they have a few priorities for change:

  • We need to make faster decisions

  • We need to overcome ingrained norms

  • We need to be more flexible

  • We need to learn to focus on what really matters

  • We need to move away from bureaucracy

But they’ve also found, those things are really difficult to change.

“It’s really hard to change this stuff normally. But those things are a lot easier to change during a pandemic. The pandemic is forcing the company to show up”

For Ford the pandemic has accelerated positive cultural change, especially with things like better leadership communication and flexible working.

That’s what this first question is all about: unpicking the good things that have started to take off and making sure they continue.

Question 2: What signals should we monitor?

In other words, ‘what do we need to measure to see what’s happening?’.

Marina talks about two ‘categories of signals’:

  1. Employee sentiment signals

  2. KPI signals

“The big questions are, ‘how do our employees feel about how we’re showing up for them?’ And ‘how are we measuring our most important HR metrics? What’s different to what we expected? What’s good? What’s bad?”

Marina goes on to talk about the framework Ford use for measuring employee engagement by looking at continuous active and passive datapoints across the business.

It’s a step beyond pulse surveys, looking at all the different markers that together, demonstrate engagement or disengagement. Then using that insight to target support:

“It’s been about reading a lot, listening to employees a lot, benchmarking a lot, adjusting our measurement strategy a lot – so we can precisely target action”

Benjamin agrees about the potential limitations of Pulse surveys, saying:

“There’s nothing wrong with pulse surveys but sometimes the employee needs to drive the conversation. A one-way conversation doesn’t work for a long-term relationship.”

Instead, he says, could HR find ways to listen naturally to what employees are communicating? Fascinating stuff.

Question 3: How are employee expectations likely to change?

Ben talks about how experiences drive behaviour, because experiences drive our attitudes – like engagement – and our attitudes drive behaviour:

“If we deliver the same experiences in 2020 as we did in 2019, the perception and the attitudes that are created from our employees could be drastically different. Because expectations could change.”

From Marina’s perspective with Ford, there have been two big areas where employee expectations have changed:

1. Huge shift towards working from home. We now know, people working from home can be just as productive as their in-office peers. And know the workforce know that, en-masse, for the first time. It means employees will expect more support and flexibility around WFH.

Marina points out how HR has a huge role with policy redesign but also preparing leaders to operate differently, guiding role redesigns, maybe even looking at pay equity across locations, not just within a role.

2. Increased expectations of senior leaders’ communication. Marina talks about how Ford were already doing weekly huddles with senior leaders but are finding now that employees are ‘aggressively interested’.


She talks about how HR needs to:

  • Partner with leaders to help them talk about difficult issues

  • Collect and derive insights from sentiment surveys faster

  • Work with comms teams to deliver the right info to the right people at the right time

  • Teach people leaders how to translate strategy into business-wide comms

Benjamin agreed with those two areas as major areas of expectation-shift, and also introduced a third: ‘bringing your whole self to work’:

“Right now, working from home, we’ve realised it’s not unprofessional to have your kids in the background. It is what it is. People aren’t suddenly going to go back to work and say, all of a sudden, it’s not OK to have my kids in the background”.

The idea is, HR leaders need to be aware of their people’s changing expectations so the biz can show up for them in the ways that count. And that might’ve changed wholesale through this crisis.

Question 4: How can we differentiate for the next phases?

Marina’s take on this question:

“How do you use this crisis to improve our employer brand? That’s not the right question. It’s… too self-centred. Maybe we just need to use this opportunity to embrace our culture coming to the fore. If we keep doing the right things, following our culture, we’re differentiated just by being who we are”.

She talks about how Ford have an ingrained culture of doing the right thing, and they’ve stayed true to that during the pandemic. For example, they shifted fast to manufacturing PPE, delivering millions of face shields and ventilators.

That culture guides all their decision-making, so by simply ‘being Ford’ they can differentiate because their culture already is such a strong differentiating feature.

It doesn’t feel like most HR leaders have that degree of trust in their culture, but that’s certainly a good goal!

re:engage’s fantastic virtual event ‘Embracing New Realities and Preparing for the (Near) Future of Work’ happened over June 10th and 11th 2020, and focussed on building organisational success through improving the employee experience. Benjamin Granger is XM Catalyst at Qualtrics. Marina Pearce is Head of Talent Analytics at Ford.

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