People Leaders: Your role in driving sustainable performance

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Anna Penfold
Executive summary
How can HR leaders prioritise sustainable leadership and organisational resilience while dealing with seemingly endless challenges?
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Annastiina Hintsa  

Annastiina Hintsa | CEO, Hintsa Performance

Entrepreneur in second generation, Annastiina has witnessed the growth of Hintsa Performance for over two decades. She is a leader and public speaker fascinated by the resilience, capacity and adaptability of the human mind and body.

Anna Penfold  

Anna Penfold | Global HR Capability Leader, Russell Reynolds

Anna Penfold conducts senior search and assessment projects across all industry sectors focusing on the HR community.


Sustainability and organisational resilience are more important than ever, but how can HR leaders create the space to think about the future while dealing the crises of the present? Read on to hear more about the discussion held on 14 November in London with 21 HR leaders.


Recent crises highlight the importance of organisational resilience—but make it much harder to address

“There’s no normal, no certainty,” said one HR leader of the last few years. As the wave of one crisis subsides, the next is already breaking and there’s barely time for breath. On top of that, most HR leaders of this generation are dealing with today’s issues for the first time: many were at school the last time inflation was this high, the geopolitical landscape is the most uncertain it has been in decades, and no one in living memory has steered organisations through national lockdowns. Organisations have had to adapt more rapidly in the last few years than ever before, demanding more of both leaders and employees just to keep up. HR leaders can sense their organisations are low on energy, but, as one leader put it, “we keep asking our people to work miracles every day”.

Alongside this, research shows the huge benefits when wellbeing and resilience is high. Organisations that succeed in meeting their employees’ wellbeing report engagement levels that are twice as high as organisations that don’t, while loyalty is boosted by a factor of three. If you needed any more convincing, companies with the highest wellbeing outperform competitors on the S&P 500 and Dow Jones by 20%. The need for organisational resilience has never been clearer, but making space to think about it has never been harder.


Solutions aren’t easy…

With such a great focus on looking after the wider organisation, HR leaders say their teams are more fatigued than anyone else; their teams’ own wellbeing has suffered. While there is a clear desire to apply systems thinking to solve organisation-wide issues, HR teams are apprehensive about taking on any more work while dealing with more immediate problems. There was also debate about the remit of HR today and the changing expectations of the workforce: In giving employees self-service tools to practice resilience, have organisations simply pushed the problem onto them? How firm should organisations be in enforcing return to office policies? Should HR teams be required to have a policy for all their employees’ issues? Have wellness initiatives distracted from the harder business of future-proofing business models? It’s tricky territory, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.


…but HR leaders can start with themselves

The discussion finished with a rallying cry for leading by example and prioritising individual wellbeing. HR leaders shared their own strategies for looking after themselves and agreed the importance of creating space away from demanding jobs for the other things in life. Setting boundaries, making time to recharge, and hiding smartphones away for a portion of the day are all areas for HR leaders to consider. With research showing that people with excellent wellbeing are 19% more productive, have better cognitive functions, and higher empathy, it’s not just a nice-to-have: it’s a must.