SumTotal Blog

Sumtotal Blog (2 Posts)


Take a Holistic Approach to Employee Well-Being for an Optimal Return to the Workplace

In the wake of COVID-19, as organizations plan for the return of employees to the workplace, their focus is on how to help ensure the physical safety of their staff. However, many companies have yet to consider how to address other key elements of employee well-being.

“I’m doing more counseling of organizations on the mental and emotional side,” said Kevin Oakes, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). “Psychological safety is going to be a topic that will be brought up a lot post-pandemic and post-return to the workplace.”

A leading HCM research firm, i4cp examines the people practices of high-performing organizations – firms which report better revenue growth, increased profitability, and greater market share than their competitors. While i4cp’s research captures best practices, the firm is most interested in providing organizations with next practices – those actions with a solid correlation to business performance, which most companies have yet to take.

Kevin was the guest speaker for the first episode of SumTotal’s series of conversations on The Future of Work: HR Strategies for a Changing World, hosted by Brent Colescott, senior director of business strategy & transformation at SumTotal.

Kevin was a natural choice to give a “State of the Union” address on how HR can lead the way during this complex time given his wealth of HR experience and the research-based insights he brings from his current role at i4cp..

Holistic Well-Being Benefits Employees and Organizations

In a recent survey of organizations, i4cp discovered that executive leadership typically focuses as much as 25% of its collective energy on return-to-the-workplace efforts, while some teams are devoting 50% or more of their time to that endeavor.

“A lot of leaders don’t like to admit that they really don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Kevin said. “We’re all in this for the first time.”

In talking with organizations, Kevin has learned that most companies have thought through the actions they need to take to help ensure the physical well-being of employees as they return to their office buildings. These considerations include policies on taking employees’ temperatures, the wearing and issuing of masks, elevator etiquette, and the reconfiguration of open-plan offices.

Kevin envisions that most organizations will adopt a phased approach to bringing employees back to the workplace, starting with a gentle suggestion, which becomes stronger over time, and finally becomes a requirement. At the same time, he urges empathy from organizations to employees’ different situations. This may include feeling uncomfortable or unsafe in the workplace due to COVID-19 or a home situation where an employees has had to take on the responsibility of childcare or elderly parents due to the closure of schools or nursing homes.

“One area I see as an opportunity for vendors out in the community is helping managers with the conversation with employees around their mental and emotional well-being,” Kevin said. “That’s normally been a taboo conversation.”

According to a recent i4cp research study, “Next Practices in Holistic Well Being: The Performance Advantage,” high-performing organizations are already paying attention not only to employees’ physical and mental well-being, but other elements of well-being, including financial, career, social, and relational well-being. That attention to all aspects of employee well-being also positively impacts the employer brand as employees feel the company cares about them, and the majority will then recommend their employer to their friends.

Move Ahead Cautiously and Empathetically

Kevin cautions CEOs and other senior executives against basing any corporate decisions on remote working purely on their observations of working from home full-time. “Organizations have to recognize that we’ve got a wide range of situations out there that we’ve got to be empathetic towards and try to be accommodating towards,” Kevin said. For instance, some employees may lack the space or quiet they need at home to work effectively.

“My advice is not to react too quickly,” he said. “Hold off making those decisions carte blanche because they affect people differently.”

The sudden shift managers have had to make during the pandemic into becoming comfortable operating in a largely virtual environment has revealed their leadership skills. “One CHRO told me ‘I don’t need to do any assessment of leaders inside my company. This pandemic has told me everything I need to know, and it’s shown me who has stepped up and who has not,’” Kevin said.

The leaders who have successfully stepped up during COVID-19 have done an excellent job of communicating with their direct reports and more broadly across their organizations. “They have shown empathy,” Kevin said. “They recognize that this isn’t all about work. We have to be very empathetic towards the balance between work and life because it’s blended more than ever before.”

Kevin expects organizations to discuss how the impact of the pandemic and their response to it has affected their culture. They can then determine what needs to change and what can be maintained.

“Another caution I’ve given to companies is to make sure you’re treating your employees correctly because that will have a huge impact on how consumers and your customers look at your company,” Kevin said. From an employer brand perspective, that behavior will also impact how prospective new hires will look at a company long term, he added.

At the same time, some companies are finding some unexpected benefits to the current situation, particularly with workforce education. “I had one prominent CLO tell me that this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when we think about this captive workforce that we’ve got, in terms of trying to leverage the programs they had envisioned rolling out,” Kevin said.

Some organizations have been escalating their employee education programs to take advantage of the current period, while others are encouraging user-generated content. “That’s something that I’ve always felt was under-utilized in organizations,” Kevin said. “Getting the workforce to create content for the benefit of the company is another aspect of what we’re seeing increase right now when we’re all working from home.”

What to Do Next

Tune in here for the complete lively and wide-ranging conversation between Kevin and Brent. As well as hearing Kevin’s advice for organizations contemplating their return to the workplace, you’ll also hear his description of SumTotal’s origin story.

Please join us for four more fascinating webcast discussions in the ‘The Future of Work: HR Strategies for a Changing World’ series coming up over the next few months or available on-demand.

4 Must-Have Elements for Succession Planning


Whether it’s a CEO or a frontline manager, no employee will stay in one role forever. People can leave on good terms, with plenty of notice, and will still leave an HR team scrambling to fill their role. Not having a plan to fill the position can cost an organization six to nine months of salary on recruiting/training expenses.

The goal is to get to the point where your organization has role continuity. Each critical role, regardless of level, should have an internal candidate being developed to take over that role, should the position become vacant.

The name of the game is succession planning—nurturing your existing pipeline of talent for roles your organization may need in the future. This helps safeguard an organization’s ability to have role continuity no matter the circumstance of a role becoming vacant. Even the largest organizations can have operations totally derailed if key roles aren’t filled.

In developing your succession strategy, consider these four must-have elements:

  1. Have a plan

First, you have to draft your overall plan. This involves identifying all critical roles—from first-line managers to the C suite—and determining the impact each role has on the company. For example, ask yourself:

  • What’s the day-to-day impact of X position on our organization?
  • If the person holding said position left, how would operations be affected?

The key is to develop adequate bench strength—i.e., the ability to adapt and pivot during times of change. Whether it’s a VP retiring or a sudden frontline manager departure, organizations will inevitably have vacant positions due to evolving business demands. By developing a succession plan, organizations discover where the gaps are, and which employees can help fill them.

  1. Identify prospects

You’ve identified the critical roles, the impact of each role, and the competencies required to perform the role. Now you need to identify internal prospects who could—with the right development—fill a critical role should it become vacant. Have managers across the organization provide the names of their top performers and create profiles for each individual’s skills, experiences, and career aspirations.

It is important to keep in mind that roles don’t always have to be filled from the ground up. Not every critical role has to have a successor who previously worked below the departing employee. As hierarchical business structures continue to flatten, more individuals are making lateral moves when it comes to changing roles.

It’s important to consider a prospect’s career goals. Though Jane might have the pre-requisite skills and experiences to fill in her boss’ role, that doesn’t mean she wants her boss’ role. If Jane is a high-caliber employee, find out what she is interested in and where she may want to go with her career. There might be other critical roles outside of her current functionality that she could potentially be a good fit for.

  1. Be transparent

When you actually meet with a prospect, be fully transparent about the opportunities. Prospects are not guaranteed these critical roles but can be guaranteed that the organization will help them discover what skills, competencies, and abilities they should develop in order to grow into roles, as they become vacant.

Organizations should communicate to all employees that they are always looking for talent, especially from within. Communicate that the organization is actively engaged with succession planning as a means to not only support business continuity but to invest in individuals’ professional growth with the organization. You need talent with the potential to stay for the long haul; vocalize commitment to growing the organization from within.

  1. Focus on skills development

After you have a roster of internal prospects with profiles for each, start to identify the skills gaps each prospect may have. Once this data is collected, find the commonalities, and use them to influence future learning initiatives, learning content purchases, and development plans.

This provides driven prospects opportunities to hone their current skills as well as reskill to new ones. It also gives your organization a broader view of what learning opportunities should be standard in your succession plan. For example, if communication is a common skill gap among prospects looking to grow into a leadership role, recommend and provide all prospects with resources for them to hone their communication skills.

Succession planning puts people at the heart of business continuity

Business continuity hinges on people. Individuals with talent agility drive organizations forward through disruption and that agility must be nurtured and developed. Organizations have a duty to invest in developing the skills of the next wave of leaders. When driven employees see how committed their organization is to help them develop their skills, that commitment is reciprocated and keeps talented prospects where you need them, at your organization.

This commitment drastically affects an organization’s ability to effectively carry out a successful succession plan. Succession planning is just a piece of overall business sustainability, but it certainly puts people at the center if business continuity in these disruptive times.

Kurt Jones, a Product Marketer at SumTotal