Viorel Panainte: Raluca Modoran is now Senior Leadership & People Advisor at Signium – Stein & Partner in Romania. We started working together more than 5 years ago on projects we were building for Vodafone Shared Services, where Raluca was Global Talent & Development Manager. Always active, with ideas and initiative, she sought to connect our programs with the company’s strategic priorities. The main themes of an organization are clear to her and that is why she was invited to do the next interview.
You have over 15 years’ experience as a HR manager, in several industries: FMCG, Telecommunications, and Distribution. You went through the 2009 financial crisis occupying such a role. What were the employees’ concerns then? What are the similar ones now? Which are the differences compared to the current crisis? What leadership lessons from the crisis years of 2009-2010 are now useful to you?
I perceive these 2 crises differently, both from a starting point of view as well as a subsequent manifestation.
The crisis that started in 2008 in the US generated consequences which were felt in Romania only after 6-12 months. I remember a slightly “arrogant” attitude and comments such as “it will not reach us”, “it cannot impact us”, stemming from employers and employees as well. They then continued to focus on their daily activities, few of us were actually concerned about the future, because we had no benchmarks on the reverberations that such a shock could produce. When the effects of the crisis began to be felt in Romania as well, the employers’ response was mainly to reduce the staff and costs associated with employees, without showing any particular interest for the consequences of such decisions. The employees were on their own, the impact was for everyone, at all levels and across all industries.
The crisis of 2019 came as a global wave, which was felt from China, Europe, and the US in less than 3 months, blocking the entire ecosystem. At that time, I think many of us remembered 2009 and what we noticed around us was an employer-employee coalition against this “common enemy”. I have seen much more consideration for the employees, support programs, flexibility, increased level of communication in both directions. As a natural consequence, companies that were not impacted by social distancing registered a productivity of up to 180%.
“People work for people” was a saying and I’ve seen this very present in the last year when managers were much closer to their teams, listened more, and showed understanding. In 2020, leadership really was with and about people, about authenticity, about “togetherness”, although from a distance. And this created expectations that will have to be met by leaders in the next period as well.
From your point of view, what are some of the priority systems and processes of an organization and which should be as strong as possible in this crisis?
During this crisis I’ve seen industries severely affected, but also others for which this change actually meant a huge opportunity. Each one harnessed it to their best abilities, but that’s another discussion. A crisis foresees a need to change or adjust mentalities and review practices. Therefore, I consider some directions of action important for the leadership teams and the opportune moment to ask some questions:
Reviewing the organization’s mission and vision, values, and behaviours. Now is a good time to revisit concepts such as purpose and mission or to take the first steps towards articulating them. What is important for the company? What do we really want as a leadership team? Why do we do what we do? What do we offer to our customers? What do we offer to our employees? Are the established goal and mission still relevant? Do the established strategy and objectives help us in the new context? What new set of behaviours do we want to see in the future? What beliefs and values do we need to change both at management team level as well as at the level of the entire organization to generate new behaviours? What will we do differently?
Organizational redesign. Do systems and processes support us in the new strategic direction? Do they respond to the new business demands and our employees’ needs? What impact will technology have on processes? What degree of adjustment do we need? How to design the new organizational structure to ensure the skills we need and the clarity of the new roles and responsibilities?
Constant feedback and validation from employees. The fact that change is the only constant in our lives has been a long-known fact. What is different now is the speed with which these changes are taking place and the increased need for employee involvement in decisions and much faster validations to ensure their implementation. What is the level of employee confidence in the new strategy? How does it support new initiatives? How much / how little are they willing to accept the new direction? What do they think we should aspire to?
What would now make employees be available for prolonged intense effort and contribute proactively to the constant cultivation of mutual trust, of collaboration where they work?
It is time for a paradigm shift. It’s not just about finding new ways to keep doing the same things, but I think it’s essential for employers to revisit the purpose for which we do certain things. It is possible that by prolonging the old practices we get the opposite of what we want, despite our best intentions. We can take as an example the traditional Christmas party: in the past years, employees used to meet at the office or in another location and celebrate the end of the year. In those get-togethers, they connected informally with their colleagues, they relaxed, stress was released, and this led to building engagement. In the context of the pandemic, these Christmas parties were moved by many companies online, turning into an excruciating 4–5-hour marathon of smiling (or not!) in front of the laptop. Thus, I wonder if keeping the same habits (namely organizing a Christmas meeting) has really achieved the commitment of employees? Or is it time to reinvent ourselves and understand how to actually be close to our people and make them happy? I remember the example of a company having employees with an average age of up to 28 years that sent them complete menus for Easter and Christmas meals, because they could not be with their families.
In other words, by truly understanding the profile of our employees, listening to their opinions, and integrating their ideas into retention and development programs, we will achieve a partnership based on mutual trust and support.
From this point on, the results will come readily.
What are some of the changes you think will happen in the coming years on the labour market? How do you think labour relations will be made more flexible? What beliefs in this field will be considered outdated and will fade? What new beliefs do you think will emerge?
I think the pandemic will accelerate the trends we have already seen in the last 3-5 years in the labour market. Roles will be further impacted by automation, robotics, digitization, and many of them will disappear sooner than we expected. Companies will need to continue their plans to adjust the work schedule and conditions to the employees’ needs. I am referring here to what I used to call well-being initiatives, and which were optional, and I think they will be part of the basic offer package for attracting valuable candidates. On the other hand, employees will be even more attentive to the company’s culture, its ability to adapt to new trends and the importance given to them, and depending on these, they will choose to stay or change rather than for financial reasons.
I believe that the pandemic has given us the opportunity to settle down and re-evaluate why, where, and how we want to continue our activity and relationships, as well as what defines us both as employers and as employees.