This is the number one position companies need to hire for in a post-COVID world

By: Hart Hillman

At this point the words “new normal” are beyond cliché.

In recent months I’ve heard those words more times than I can count, and I’m sure you have too. I personally dislike using the term to describe the reality of today because it implies a sense of false comfort, suggesting that whatever comes next will be safe, consistent, and impervious to further disruption. In my opinion that which comes after the current crisis, has no permanence either. Instead I believe it will be characterized by regular cosmic shifts of near Coronavirus proportions.

Practices and policies that began as temporary emergency measures are now being implemented on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. Business units, companies, entire industries, in fact the entire way we conducted business up until February seemed utterly doomed by the end of March. The world is being reshaped by physical distancing necessity; the workplace is being reconfigured by the rise of remote work; and businesses of all shapes and sizes have had to make a sudden pivot in order to stay afloat and relevant. The only thing “normal” about this new business environment is its constant disruption.

There are, however, a number of beneficiaries who are thriving at a time when most are struggling. Video conferencing providers, delivery services, logistics companies, technology enablers, remote service providers and companies that operated on a fully remote basis are among the few that will emerge from this tragedy in better position than where they started.

The question that remains is: how do you as an organization ensure that you’re in a position to thrive during the next major disruption? I believe that in order to seize the opportunities of the future you need someone on your staff that is wholly dedicated to considering what that future will look like, and how your organization can best adapt to seize the opportunities it will provide.

Therefore, the most important position your company needs to fill in order to thrive post COVID is an innovation officer.

That position, in my professional opinion as an executive recruiter, requires two distinct types of expertise, and therefore could be further divided into two distinct positions; one focussed on internal operations, and the other focussed on external opportunities.

In just a matter of weeks the way in which human capital is structured, deployed and managed has been completely disrupted. Companies are scrambling to maintain productivity in a remote setting, build policies and procedures to manage a decentralized workforce, maintain a cohesive culture in dramatically different formats and ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of staff during this period of adaptation.

That’s a lot for companies to build from the ground up on short notice, especially in the midst of a crisis, but those who were already thinking about the future were much better positioned to manage the fallout.

“The difference is the last crisis was owned by the CFO; this crisis is really being owned by your CHRO,” explains Erika Van Noort, the Vice President of Candidate and Employee Experience at Softchoice.

Van Noort adds that the current crisis exemplifies why human resources should play a central role in that strategy conversation, and help their organization reimagine their human capital practices.

“This is that time for the human resources groups within organizations to prove just how well they know the business, how well they can support their people, and how well they can lead through unknown times,” she says.

While companies should use this moment to evolve their human resources practices they also need to react and adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace. The difficult reality is that many businesses won’t survive. I believe, however, that many more will grow from the fertile soil that is left in its wake.

Pivoting towards new and previously unimaginable opportunities often requires the utilization of technologies like big data analytics; in which case organizations should strive to find or internally promote an innovation officer with a strong IT background. For others it will require a careful scan of the marketplace and an exploration of new customer, product and service opportunities; in which case they should strive to find or promote from within an innovation officer with a strong revenue and sales background.

Either way, seizing future opportunities requires an executive team member that can offer a fresh perspective, unbiased by company convention and tradition.

“What you need right now is someone to question everything; question your cost structure, question your sales processes, question your manufacturing, question your sourcing, question it all,” explains Sam Duboc, the Chair & CEO of digital mental health platform MindBeacon. “Someone who doesn’t come in with preconceived notions, someone who is not coming in with biases, someone who is not coming in with, ‘this is how we do things,’ is super important for the future.”

Duboc believes that history’s biggest opportunities often emerge from major disruptions, and the current crisis is no exception. I happen to agree.

As disruption becomes the norm it becomes vital for organizations to designate an executive or team to consider future disruptions, and the opportunities they will provide. I believe that comes in two distinct formats: reimagining internal structures and pivoting towards new market opportunities.

Whether that requires your organization to hire for two new positions, a single executive who can manage both responsibilities, or elevating members of your existing team to the c-suite, I believe it is imperative for every company to designate an innovation officer in order to thrive in the “new normal.”

I’ve seen business leaders incorporate a classic Charles Darwin quote in countless presentations about innovation over the years, but the cliché has never rung truer. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”