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How HR suddenly became the most important job 

by Saul Leese

By Peter Gillett, CEO of Zuant

Well, certainly in most of our lifetimes, I don’t think there has been anything like this global change to our lifestyles so quickly.

And for the companies that don’t have a formal HR because they’re too small to justify such a full-time professional job, then suddenly, the CEO has to quickly jump into this role.

In our case, I remember it clearly on a Thursday evening four weeks ago, I received an email from my partner in San Francisco who had forwarded a quasi – scientific extrapolation of what was going to go on outside China – I remember this was at the time that Italy was suddenly thrust into the Covid spotlight with cases running out of control in a very short space of time.

While this whole thing was happening in China, I think we all had a false sense of security because it was going on thousands of miles away and wouldn’t affect us here because we could do things like close borders – if only…

So, back to that Thursday, there was no doubt that we needed to act fast and the following morning, I briefed our whole team to use this as the last day to make preparations for WFH.

At this stage, this was simply a quick executive decision, and the only HR aspect was handling the look of amazement from people when you said that this could be for possibly three months or more.

And then the weekend, my job changed absolutely completely. We had already seen our income fall quite dramatically, so it was straight at the spreadsheets to quickly re-run our business plan with various ‘what ifs’ for business dropping by half or more and what would happen to the all-important cash flow where cash certainly is king in these situations.

The first week of this new style a business involved very little of my old style of work where you could leave your teams to work on product dev, client service, finance, etc. In those lovely old days, I had always had the luxury to focus basically on the things that you think would make the business more successful using your only skills. Now, that’s completely out of the window; we have a good business plan which has to be tweaked and adjusted almost on a daily basis, and my focus switched onto our team. The main focus is a daily call with everyone at a set time every morning to review all projects with everyone – the interesting result of this already is that this very quickly encourages a much tighter more communicative way of working, and team spirit which has been a real benefit to the business.

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