Everyone remembers where they were when the world shut down in March of 2020. I was with my team as we began strategizing and sending the employees who could work from home off campus. At first, some of us thought it would be six weeks tops before we’d all be back together rejoining our production employees who make up the majority of our workforce, in-person. Others on my team were not as optimistic, predicting that it would be closer to two years before we were back on-site as a team based on learnings from previous pandemics.
We quickly assembled a Public Health Task Force just weeks before much of the workforce shut down. I led the small cross-functional team composed of HR leadership, legal, supply chain, quality, public relations, and communications. My team stayed informed and fearlessly presented our recommendations and any new developments surrounding the pandemic. We immediately informed the business which allowed our organization to quickly make critical decisions.
Using an approach similar to the agile methodology of project management, we refined our recommendations, which were implemented much sooner than they would have been in the past. As someone who has been in HR for decades, I’ve experienced many month-long waits to gather feedback on a change before pivoting to a new direction. The virus does not understand the word "wait,” which compelled us to use the data we had and our collective judgment to make recommendations almost in real time. We understood there was no perfect solution given the varied constituencies, but we were unafraid to press on. The business viewed us as leaders to guide Sargento through this challenging time, and we rose to the occasion.
“After enduring years of intense change, employees across every industry want to know that their employer cares about them and their wellbeing, including that of their families. That's the new value exchange.”
Now that we are more than two years beyond March of 2020, the way we led the business during the pandemic is still paying dividends for Sargento, even as we navigate the Great Resignation. We earned the trust of our company by making the best decisions possible to keep workers safe and employed.
After enduring years of intense change, employees across every industry want to know that their employer cares about them and their wellbeing, including that of their families. That's the new value exchange. Health benefits and a retirement plan are table stakes at this point. While many businesses are focused on recruitment in today’s tight labor market, we are equally–if not more–focused on retention. Our HR team is constantly exploring new ways to ensure our employees continue to feel valued, respected, and energized by their roles. A forward-looking approach to retention must also play a role in how HR continues to lead.
Gone are the days when HR is timid and waits to take direction from the business. The pandemic broke this model by accelerating change for nearly every facet of life. It also encouraged HR to do what it does best–demonstrate the organization’s culture to ensure employees are safe and feel valued. We at Sargento are fortunate to have a strong, people-first culture that champions innovation as a fundamental belief. Our unique response to the COVID-19 crisis kept our employees at work and our products on store shelves, ultimately driving record sales. Being proactive, pragmatic, and acting with urgency is how HR must operate today to win the future.