Something goods comes out of everything, even Covid. Some things are tangible and focused like home office. Other elements are more fundamental but less visible, like trust.

The golden rule – do to others as you want them to do to you – is embedded in almost all world religions. There is a reason for that. This is about core human values, which over time has proven beneficial for individuals as well as societies. It feels and does good.

The industrial revolution was a success. Fredric Taylor transformed societies and created growth and welfare.  It created new paradigms of what “work” is about. Revolutions create need for stabilization – the dynamics prepare the ground for rigidity. Success turn into chains and makes new reforms more challenging. The paradox of successful changes is that practices sticks in a way that hamper the next round of innovation and improvement.

For decades, thought leaders have talked about what will follow. If we look back to McGregor and Herzberg, they pointed out quite clearly where leadership should be heading. Gareth Morgan rocked the world of organizational design in the 80s. Atkinson and Charles Handy gave us perspectives on agile talent and gigsters before anyone had even heard about the terminology. Ricardo Semler showed us the way with a practitioner’s perspective. Nicholas Negroponte delivered insights on the interaction between man and machine and descriptions of what was possible in a future digital world, mind-blowing at the time. Gary Hamel has for many years challenged management and bureaucracy traditions, pointing out the need for innovation and a more human approach to how we run business.  Thomas Piketty is the new superstar pointing out pitfalls at a societal level when capitalism deviates from the ideas of Adam Smith. The list could have been much, much longer. All these gifted thinkers have delivered great insights, from different angles, describing important factors in a world where everything is interconnected with everything.

But seemingly, even when buzzwords like VUCA and disruption have become part of our vocabulary, we commuted to job on a daily basis, worked alongside each other in open plan offices, travelled to meetings which were held purely for information purpose, showed up 10 minutes or more late to our physical meetings and designed our organizations very much after models that derived from the industrial revolution. First line managers were often primarily selected and evaluated based on their ability to “keep control” and – not surprisingly – later they struggled with letting loose when taking on more senior and complex roles. And although Kotter told us that “most companies are over managed and under lead”, few of us took the consequence.

Then came Covid. The crisis threw us out of our comfort zone. Nothing of what has happened since has been surprising factor by factor. But speed of change and the way we have adapted has been impressive. Covid accelerated a development that was long overdue. When we sent people home, we also released unnecessary rigidities in complex managerial systems and provided tools the best way possible. We supported our colleagues the best way possible. And we empowered and trusted them. In fact, we had no choice. We had to.

In its core, Covid produced a mutual beneficial trust reform.

  • Trust is good for profit. It cuts costs and increase revenue. Trust is a business case.
  • Trust provides better workplaces, where each and one of us can thrive, develop, feel mastery and learn. Trust is a people case.
  • Trust is also the foundation for a better community. It is well documented that trust-based culture produce welfare, security and better lives than where distrust dominate. Trust is a societal reform

Covid is on return and companies are preparing for a new normal. Few of us want to stay on with the social isolation and other negative elements of lockdown. At the same time, as managers and leaders we see challenges piling up ahead of us. But few of us want to get back to where we came from. We want the best from two worlds – based on a more people centric “new normal” and to the benefit of companies, individuals, and the community we are jointly responsible for.

Industrialism was largely built on control and managerial excellence. But it never solved the problem with distrust and might even be said to have been contra-productive for leadership. In some ways it also escalated and sharpened conflicts. But industrialism was a success, good for its time. To say that we should throw everything overboard, coming out of covid, would be naïve and ineffective. But when we now see a clear light at the end of the tunnel, we can and should use the opportunity to challenge old paradigms.

HR is about people and organizations – multidisciplinary and providing the link between people and business. Modern HR will be focused on talent, digitalization, communication, organizational design, leadership, learning and development. HR should be bridging internal and external resources and calibrating people capabilities with digital infrastructure and tools. It should be value based and producing value. And with shared purpose, psychological safety and good organizational citizenship, we will hopefully see that people mean business and that business is good for people

HR has done a tremendous job during Covid. Without practices based on trust, everyone would have suffered even more. Those companies who have been best on trust-based leadership and HR are also among those who have been most successful during Covid, and will probably reap additional benefit from becoming employer of choice in future war of talent.

Out of Covid, there is a substantial trust dividend. Not only for consumption but also for reinvestment. HR has a huge task but also a great window of opportunity in what will come. We need to focus on business objectives. In parallel and highly integrated we need to nurture an inclusive, trust based culture. That largely means putting people first and align all our people practices for what we want for the future. A crisis is a too big opportunity to let to waste, it is said. Now we got it served on a plate. Seldom HR has been more important, people management felt more meaningful, and maybe never before we have had a better cocktail of challenges and opportunities ahead of us.