Human centricity: A golden nugget in times of crisis

Every corner of our global community has felt the consequences of COVID-19. Moments of crisis, which are really moments of blatant truth, bring underlying flaws to light—and expose the power and impact those flaws have on our nations, communities, and economies. As many aspects of society diverge toward points of extremity, some might seem destructive and frightening. 

But luckily, extremes always come in pairs. In war, there will always be terrible villains and radiant heroes––and for those who know where to look, there is also true beauty in the crisis we currently find ourselves in.

“We are all in this together” is a phrase I have seen being used in everything from email signatures to branding campaigns or political speeches. As more and more countries have initiated lockdowns and other extraordinary measures in recent weeks, solidarity has gradually blossomed as the good initiatives rolled out for the many risk being compromised by the actions of the few. Fairness has been underscored as a driving force in enacting countermeasures for the virus, and transparency in government is key to obtaining progressive, large-scale results. And trust, a result of transparency, is a key weapon against epic levels of uncertainty.

COVID-19 and our sense of purpose 

On a personal level, the crisis has reminded us of the profound value of human connections and relationships. Had we taken the privilege of being able to connect with friends, families, colleagues, and even strangers for granted? Is it now, when the ability to connect with others has diminished, that we see how much of a critical success factor the feeling of belonging is?

The importance of day-to-day purpose for our well-being is becoming clearer. Whether you’re fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines or helping your neighbor purchase groceries, purpose in its purity is something we’re more consciously relating to.  

Simply put, a crisis makes inherent truths––good and bad––float to the surface, and I believe that it’s giving us a snapshot of what is really important in a society, what truly drives us and makes us resilient and productive, even through extraordinary hardship. This is a glimpse of beauty.

It’s up to us to determine what to do with it. It’s easy to focus on the mistakes and the mishaps, but while scrutiny is important, it’s key to put the spotlight on what makes us better human beings.

How COVID-19 has encouraged human centricity

Success has been proven in the established science of positive psychology and strengths-based leadership. A focus on strengths and core talents rather than flaws in yourself and others has proven to be a path towards performance optimization. And it’s something leaders should focus on, particularly in tough times. 

At this point you might ask, how does this relate to the business world, HR, and talent management? Notice the value keywords bolded above––they can each be found in the latest research and trends about human capital. In the 2019 Deloitte report on Global Human Capital Trends, we see that employee experience is evolving into human experience. According to the research, enterprises with a top-quartile employee experience achieve 25% higher profits than organizations with a bottom-quartile employee experience, and that the most important factors are making work meaningful and giving people a sense of belonging, trust, and relationships.

The report also talks about the rise of the social enterprise organizations whose mission combines revenue, growth, and profit-making with the need to respect and support its environment and stakeholder network—and that the pressures that have driven the rise of the social enterprise have become even more acute. Deloitte sees that these pressures are now forcing organizations to reinvent themselves around a human focus, and among their benchmarks for reinvention, we find design principles like purpose, fairness, transparency, and personal relationships.

In the context of change management, a tremendously powerful catalyst for change itself is a transformational experience in which someone gets to really feel the need for change.

I’d argue that everyone, all the way up the organizational ladder, has been able to feel the power behind the values described above in their lives during the COVID-19 crisis. Have they, through these experiences, felt how the power of these values could be harnessed to optimize value on many fronts in the years to come? I think so.

The role of HR

So what does this mean for HR and talent management professionals? I’d argue that HR has been given strategic missiles here—a golden opportunity to present business cases on human centricity, and why it’s crucial to act now.

Where can HR start? 

  • Address the aforementioned values through a business frame that’s relevant at the top level, for example, with an emphasis on the forced digital transformations that most organizations are now going through
  • Position itself as a champion of company-wide lessons-learned initiatives and properly log and curate facts-based findings
  • Stimulate dialogue on differentiating factors between what makes a good day vs. a bad day at the virtual office
  • Encourage holistic thinking 
  • Be open to expanding scope to include success factors that have been instrumental in helping colleagues cope in their personal lives in difficult times 
  • Bounce off of other inputs, highlight red lines, and invite suggestions from employees that could improve their own experience in the workplace

In parallel, seize the opportunity to look at your organization’s culture and internal process structure in light of the design principles prescribed by Deloitte.

Start by asking yourselves: are our employees able to see how their work fits into the bigger picture? Is the way you promote fair? Do your employees understand what lies behind promotion decisions, how bonuses are awarded, and how they are being evaluated in general? Is this reflected in individual goals, KPIs, and performance appraisals? Do you have a culture of feedback and managers that deliver on these values? Are employees able to actively raise concerns and new ideas? Are knowledge sharing, trust, and corporate values nurtured through informal social events as well as physical areas and cross-functional opportunities?

If you can answer each of these questions thoroughly and positively, you are likely working for an organization that understands the value of human centricity. And if you’re interested in learning more about how to build and structure organizations that work to uplift their employees, check out HST’s Master in Talent Development & Human Resources.


Originally Norwegian-Scottish, Thomas Dodds has worked with people of many nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds across the globe. With experience in consulting, marketing, business development, and human resources spanning across three continents, he now works on the frontline of development in all the above-mentioned areas as Associate Director of Global Recruitment & Admissions for the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology.