How COVID transformed HR

‘COVID is not an inventor. It is a time machine that has pulled the HR profession forward’
Marc Coleman, Founder and chief executive,
By Marc Coleman, Founder and chief executive,

More people have moved to online shopping and learning in the last five months than in the past ten years.

2020 was the year HR changed forever. In HR technology terms, it turbocharged the shift to online. The profession has endured a global crisis, one unheard of in our lifetime and for which the future economic, social and human impact is still unfolding. The events of 2020 have reinforced in me that the future of the workforce is changing more dramatically than anyone can predict, and it has led to fundamental changes in our labour force and economy. 

That’s why seeing the statistics behind our in-depth research this year on Why HR Projects Fail is both scary and heartening. HR has been stoical in this crisis, the unsung hero and the superhero on the leadership team, leading remote working, contingency planning and repeated business transformations.

HR leaders recognise all models were broken: business, leadership, strategy, culture, engagement, compensation, learning. The radar organisations flew into this crisis with hasn’t worked and will not be the one they need when flying out of the crisis. This is why some of the research we are working on behind the scenes is fundamental as chief HR officers (CHROs) and the C-suite rethink how they do business and retool their organisations for the real-time COVID economy.

At UNLEASH, we’ve always asked our industry to call out the truth for full clarity and integrity; to clearly define what is working, what isn’t and explore the direction of travel for HR. 

Our Why HR Projects Fail report formulated 8 Golden Rules for successful HR projects that enable leaders to get the best out of the systems they commission over the next 12 months. 

We gathered perspectives from over 1,000 global HR leaders, representing an estimated $4 billion of managed HR tech budget. 

Based on our analysis, we have identified that project excellence correlates with attention to eight critical factors. I am happy to share one and five.

1. Focus on outcomes 

Ask the question, what do we need to achieve? Leadership teams must understand their objectives before signing expensive contracts. Organisations that have clear goals and stick to their vision are more likely to achieve transformational outcomes. 

Imagine the contract has been signed with the vendor or service provider. Think of the questions you now need to ask yourself, your team, and your organisation.

Do not sign a multi-million-dollar HR technology contract and start asking questions on business strategy, resources, finance, IT, user adoption, language, culture, data management, integration, training and return on investment afterwards. 

5. Build on solid data 

Data that is not clean or ready is the most frequently encountered challenge  for HR tech projects.

Predictive became redundant in this crisis. It was not designed for this level of chaos or a virus turning the global economy on its head with on-and-off lockdowns. That said, HR analytics can serve a much bigger purpose over the next six to twelve months.

Think of the skills your organisation will need to match your business strategy in 2021. This crisis has put strategy firmly into the hands of the CHRO. In a world of never normal, business and frontline leaders need to be armed with HR reporting that enables us to understand who’s coming back to the office, who’s  staying at home, and the hybrid worker who loves both, and when. 

HR hack for 2021: if you don’t have data scientists in your HR department, steal them from IT.

HR and workforce tech is coming of age under the spotlight. Getting it right means HR can become the business value driver it has always aspired to be.

Written by Marc Coleman, Founder and chief executive,