The pandemic has affected Sweden’s business sector in a way that we have never experienced before. We spoke to Lena Bjurner, Secretary-General at Sweden’s HR Association, about the importance of HR when the crisis strikes.
“Many companies have been forced to lay off staff, and the state has paid huge allowances. I think it would have been better to use the time for development and education. We are in the middle of a huge transformation, by many called the fourth industrial revolution. Most of us will need to develop new competences.”
We are standing before large transformations following Covid-19, concerning both competence- and technical development. How does it affect our work and HR’s role in the coming years?
“Much has already started to change. HR includes both professionalism and innovation. HR is about classical HR competences such as teamwork and cooperation with the unions, labour law, compensation & benefits, and behavioural science. These are still equally important. But it is no longer enough to just work with this. Now we must be in the front line to understand where the world is going and help our organizations and companies in this transformation that we need to go through. We will have to invest a lot of time in innovation. Competence will be applied in new ways and we have to consider how the new reality with digitalization and AI will affect both employees and organizations.”
AI will not necessarily take over jobs but parts of the tasks. The question is what will be left and how we organize and develop the people that will work with this. HR has an incredibly important role in this, Lena explains. “AI will take over repetitive tasks and will thus give people the possibility to work with more relevant and complex questions. Things that used to contain three steps will be done in one step – what will our roles look like then?”
The emergence of AI in all industries is proceeding gradually and will soon accelerate. HR must, together with the organization, start planning how they will develop and where AI can fit in.
“Now we must be in the front line to understand where the world is going and help organizations and companies in this transformation we need to go through.”
How will organizations work with skills development and education?
”During my time as HR-Director at Scandic, we went through a digital change. It was of course our unique transformation, but I believe that there is a lot of knowledge to share from this experience. IMD made a case of it so that business schools and companies around the world can learn from our it. To push out mandate and energy in the organization, we started overseeing our culture. Digital businesses like booking sites and rating sites were challenging us, and we needed to be digitalized very quickly to stay in the game. We did not have time for decisions to be made at the top of the organization and then slowly reach all employees – decisions must be made where they are needed. We took a new grip on our vision, mission and values.”
Lena tells us that most important aspect was to develop their values, resulting in ‘Be Bold’. It encouraged to dare, test, do, and learn from mistakes. We got the feedback that leaders on all levels also must encourage this. Together with the organization we decided on a new leadership compass focusing on confidence and we created a process for teamwork with a collective intelligence. The new leadership was permeated by setting clear goals – but with individual responsibility to get there.
“We did not want a central function deciding about talent development, we wanted to give the employees the right conditions to take responsibility for their own development. With short and accessible films and forums, where everyone could share their opinions and experiences, it was easy for everyone to develop and educate themselves.”
What is the biggest challenge for HR in the coming years?
“In my opinion, we have to create room for driving future issues and be pro-active. HR has a very broad function, and the daily work is extensive, not at least during the pandemic. The positive thing is that HR-leaders have gained a strong position due to this, it has become obvious how important HR is for the business’ success and survival. The pandemic is one of the biggest challenges and tragedies of our time, but just like other crises, it has also started a wave of change. It has accelerated the digitalization, creating new possibilities and ways of working. At the same time, this also demands a more transparent, innovative, and human leadership. The challenge will be to hold on to the changes and keep developing them. The organizations who manage to hold on to the technical development and the new leadership will be successful. The ones falling back to old habits will have a tougher situation.”
What is your view on the lack of digital competence in Sweden?
“Today you must be an attractive employer and show where you are heading, have a higher purpose and vision. You need to be trustworthy. You have to develop, it is no longer enough for a CEO to tell the organization about the ‘journey’, all employees have to breathe and live the vision and values.” Lena says that we must see the employees like customers and attract with what you as a company accomplish. Not all companies will be able to attract and recruit the right competences, and maybe they should not if they only need a specific skill for a certain period. “The gig-market will be increasingly important. More and more people do not want to be employed but will use their specific competences in different environments and choose where and how they work. There will be different types of agreements and contracts. In October we arranged the HR-Days where the Minister of Labour, Eva Nordmark, talked. An important question was how to make the labour market more agile? HR will be even more important, and organizations will have to include and engage giggers and consultants in the same way as the permanent employees. Here, many companies have a long way to go. At Scandic, for example, we had a large number of temporal workers, and the guests do not know who is who – you have to make sure that everyone feels the same engagement.”
In the future, which skills will be the most relevant?
“I believe that it will be very important to understand ‘digital’ and how it affects the whole organization. We must focus on what tasks AI will take over and what tasks humans will keep doing. Innovation and the human factor will still be important, but much of the data we use will be produced by AI.
I also believe that organizations and companies must through big cultural changes to stay competitive. The old management style has played its role and the pandemic has hopefully put an end to it. Remote leadership means that you must lead with trust and follow up on goals instead of office hours. We have taken a leap due to the pandemic and this is exactly what we need. There is no time for decisions to be made high up in the organization.”
Will we see more flexible ways of working?
“I am sure that we will see more flexible ways of working. There is a large group of people who want to gig, but also a group of people who involuntary must take on short, non-permanent jobs. We must create security for all. Companies need to engage external competence to be competitive.
Many companies have got rid of their consultants now. This has resulted in that people with specialist competence and critical positions, are forced to leave. There is a risk in this as businesses will have to speed up again after the pandemic. They will need speed and the right competences to navigate their way out of the crisis.
An interesting comparison is China, where companies are more diverse than in Sweden. They often have more than one product or service and can easily switch over to another part of the business when needed. In Europe companies often focus on a core business, making them more vulnerable.
The Swedish Association of HRM is Sweden’s leading association for people working with or studying human resources. The Swedish Association of HRM works to inspire and connect people active in HR in Sweden today. We are an active network with ca 7,000 members.
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