HR challenges in an age of uncertainty – a short recap of HR Challenge Poland 2023

Jolanta Kozak
HR challenges in an age of uncertainty – a short recap of HR Challenge Poland 2023
12 min.

This year’s edition of HR Challenge Poland brought together many HR experts and practitioners, both from large corporations and smaller companies. Speakers shared their insights on areas that organizations should emphasize in the near future in terms of personnel management.

2 days, 92 speakers, 2 plenary sessions, 32 thematic sessions, 4 workshop sessions, more than 250 participants, and hundreds of conversations behind the scenes… – this is the summary of this year’s edition of HR Challenge Poland in numbers. The formula of the event remained the same as in the previous year. The division into main sessions (“New organizational culture of the company” and “Protection and development of business”), and numerous thematic blocks in the second part of the day, gave participants the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of lectures. What issues were discussed at HR Challenge Poland 2023?

  • Leader as a coach.
  • Employee motivation and engagement.
  • Anxiety and mental resilience.
  • Salary pressures.
  • Competency gaps.
  • Talent development and retention.

Modern change management in HR

The main theme of the HR Business Challenge 2023 was change management in the unstable business environment, which affects organizations across all industries. The current situation is a result of the recent pandemic, rampant inflation, and a growing number o Gen Z employees. Many speakers emphasized the fact that we no longer live in the VUCA world. We are now surrounded by the BANI world – fragile and very hard to predict. Given that HR departments are responsible to ensure a comfortable atmosphere among teams, they also become responsible to communicate the change and create the right conditions for employees to adapt.

Organizational culture – the force synergy of CEO, HR, and leaders.

The opening plenary session on the first day was focused on employee advocacy and employee focus in the sense of building and developing organizational culture. Speakers agreed that proper change management requires thoughtful and well-prepared communication. The starting point should be finding a common language for everyone – CEOs, team leaders, and HR leaders. Agnieszka Kręciszewska (Caparol) noted that this relates to ensuring a consistent employee experience and impressions, starting with communicating the company’s values, vision, and strategy, as well as providing feedback. This is important, especially from an employee advocacy standpoint – when an employee identifies with an organization, he or she becomes its ambassador. On the other hand, Jarosław Fotyga (Takeda) focused his presentation on change management in the context of personnel costs. He underlined the fact that leaders should be actively involved in the process of increasing employee retention (while reducing costs). HR departments are supposed to support leaders by providing them with the analysis of key HR indicators and thus support effective decision-making.

Are changes necessary?

During the second part of the plenary session, the guests brought up a topic that recently set the heather on fire i.e. shorter workweek. Łukasz Szymula (Tradedoubler) appeared on the stage and was talking about how the process of introducing a 6-hour workday at Tradedoubler looked liked and what were the main results of it. He started with the statements: ,, It is not enough to have happy and satisfied employees – it’s their engagement that it’s necessary” and that ,,Time is a universal benefit”.

„Time is a universal benefit” – Łukasz Szymula, Tadedoubler.

Accordingly, shortening the workday requires the cooperation of entire teams. He also added that in addition to that particular change, Tradedoubler decided to introduce some more new ideas. First of all new types of leaves where one is associated with seniority, and the other one is called a sabbatical holiday – a break from work to recharge and rejuvenate (lasting up to 60 days and paid 60% of the base salary). Secondly, a ban on business meetings which last longer than 30 minutes or are planned either early in the morning (till 9-10 AM) or later than 3 PM. How have all of these changes affected the performance? As a result, the company pointed out on following benefits: 

  • Increase in revenue – the value of total orders reached 4,5 billion PLN.
  • Increase in customer loyalty – 0 lost customers over the past two years.
  • Increase in NPS – up to 81 points.
  • Stabilization of employee retention – 100% over the past two years.
  • Reduced sick leave – by 52%.
Łukasz Szymula (Tradedoubler)

The plenary session ended with a speech by Lidia Świderska – HR director for Eastern Europe at Miele. She pointed out that although she really likes changes, every change encounters resistance. Thus, as a part of change management, it is worth using a tool that will minimize the risk of failure. One of them is the so-called Leavitt Dialogue, a concept by a Stanford University professor. According to Leavitt, every organization consists of 4 elements: people, structure, tasks, and technology, and the success of change implementation depends on the relationship between these elements. If we change one of the components, it is crucial to adjust the rest. The change management process at Miele was challenging due to the fact that it covered several areas i.e. new structures, new reporting lines, the establishment of an expert center, the creation of a new product line, opening up to direct sales, or the launching of own store chains. To successfully carry out the transformation of the organization, the emphasis was put on two factors – time and communication.

How to improve employee engagement?

After the main session, it was finally time for the thematic workshops, which covered topics such as remote work and its legal regulations, employee engagement in organizational development, coaching culture, and analytics in HR. It seems like the most popular sessions at the entire conference were the parallel sessions in the second half of the day. They were broken up into three modules focusing on the biggest HR challenges:

  • Leader as a coach.
  • Employee motivation and engagement.
  • Anxiety and psychological resilience.

In the employee engagement discussion panel, during her speech, Agnieszka Maciejewska (TVN, Warner Bros., and Discovery) emphasized that for her company employee engagement and a sense of mission are crucial as they directly translate into increased efficiency. However, at the time of implementing a hybrid work, it turned out that while employee productivity (assessed by themselves) was ranked at 87%, the results provided by their leaders were a bit different. It was mostly due to the lack of direct contact and established rules for measuring work performance. Thus, most of the superiors were not sure whether their subordinates were working productively enough. So how can the engagement be built with trust issues? The recipe for that is smooth and well-defined communication i.e. clearly assigned tasks and valuable feedback. If it comes to remote (or hybrid) work it is no less important to take care of the social aspects of work i.e. building strong and authentic relationships.

The topic of hybrid work was also discussed by Anna Waardecka and Marlena Chojecka-Bek from PZU. Both ladies talked about how they managed to lead their organization of more than 10K employees through the implementation of hybrid work. As you might guess, it was certainly not an easy task. Mainly because of the specific organizational structure (white collars, agents, and sales point employees), as well as due to the fact that there are some visible generation gaps between PZU employees. A change was a real novelty, as previously remote work was simply unavailable. The supporting argument for introducing such a work model was based on the research, which revealed that 1/3 of employees said that they are able to forgo a pay rise as long as … they can work remotely. Thus, as a part of its transformation, the company introduced a special tool for group work. Yet, the most important was the communication in the language of benefits, so the employees could feel taken care of at every stage of the process and have a good understanding of the reasons and purpose of the change.

Katarzyna Bajek-Bartold (Coca-Cola) focused on the cooperation of the HR department with team leaders, which in her opinion should lead to perpetuating proactive attitudes. The starting point of this process is on the one hand an organizational culture, and on the other hand the employee lifecycle. Coca-Cola values coherence. Thus, already at the recruitment stage, the candidate is provided with bright and clear instructions, which are presented in the same manner at each following stage (e.g. onboarding). Such communication requires good cooperation between team leaders and the HR department. The leaders should co-create an engaged management model and know how to appreciate the employees’ potential. HRBPs, in turn, should support managers from the strategic side.

A very important topic i.e. the study of phenomena in the organization using surveys was raised by Agnieszka Wodecka. She told about among others how the HR department in Caparol collects data from the employees and analyzes the obtained results. The guest first pointed out the importance of the rationale for the research, the way of conducting it (online/offline), and its cyclicality. She emphasized that the research study should be conducted on a regular basis with the use of the same questions (to keep up with the changes) as well as by marking situational ones (those that may be changed). She gave the example of one of conducted engagement surveys at Caparol, which aroused emotions, especially among the executives. In the end, the survey yielded a considerable amount of information and allow the organization to come up with some interesting findings. An important lesson the researchers have learned was to ensure clear communication in future surveys. It was mostly caused by the fact that the team’s concerns about the first survey were primarily due to insufficient communication about both the purpose of the survey itself and the consequences and actions undertaken in response to the results of the employee engagement survey.

Improving employee engagement in the international, dispersed teams was covered in the most memorable speech for us. The speakers i.e. Agnieszka Pietruszka and Katarzyna Mączka talked about how this process was handled in Danone – from both local and global perspectives. At the very beginning, they pointed out 3 key elements important from the perspective of building an organization and employee engagement:

  • attractive job offer,
  • development opportunities and
  • organizational culture.

Katarzyna Mączka admitted that brand reputation as well as supporting the reskilling are quite important here (according to the research 99% are familiar with the Danone brand). The first day ended with a panel discussion with the participation of Joanna Szorc (Keter), Paulina Ziembińska (Volvo), Joanna Kucharska (Sii) and Anna Kurczewska-Formeli (Leasingteam Professional) on challenges and pitfalls in motivating employees. The speakers agreed that the first thing to do is to listen to employees very carefully and start an active dialog with them. Then it may turn out that the employee doesn’t need an external motivation but the internal one, which in fact is more precious. However, it is crucial to remember that everyone is motivated by different things. They also mention the problem with the huge slowdown in the labor market, with the simultaneous high financial expectations of candidates and employees due to inflation. In this case, however, there is no recipe for success. Undertaken actions should depend on the company’s capabilities and wage policy.

Joanna Kucharska (Sii), Paulina Ziembińska (Volvo), Anna Kurczewska (Leasingteam Professional), Joanna Szorc (Keter)

After everything, it was finally a time for a bit of the entertainment. The first day ended with an evening bartending show and a live cooking dinner, which provided the perfect backdrop for less formal conversations to share experiences.

The growing role of HR in business

The second day started with a plenary sessions featuring Ireneusz Martyniuk (Scalence), Łukasz Chmaj (Gemini), Wojciech Zaręba (independent expert), Andrzej Kisielewski (Anwil), Jakub Grzelak (CCC) and Andrzej Borczyk (CCC Group). The speakers discussed how HR can support the CEOs, to jointly create a developing business environment. Once again, communication in dispersed teams was discussed. It was described as a double-edged sword as on one side, a properly managed communication process brings multiple benefits to the company. However, if poorly managed, it may become a headache. They referred to digitization, which in recent years led to some major changes in HR, not only in the area of IT applications but also from the employee’s perspective. Implementing some new tools, impacted the competency profile, which began to include new, currently in-use technologies.

Ireneusz Martyniuk (Scalence), Łukasz Chmaj (Gemini), Wojciech Zaręba, Andrzej Kisielewski (Anwil), Jakub Grzelak (CCC), Andrzej Borczyk (Grupa CCC)

The attention was also drawn to a currently popular topic i.e., HR analytics. The representatives of Leasingteam Group: Andżelika Majewska and Dominika Zaczek-Chrzanowska talked about what to explore and how to measure HR activities. They presented two possibilities:

  • Directly translating HR issues into the organization’s bottom line,
  • Indirect relationship with the financial performance- through support of operations or customer satisfaction, which affects the bottom line (growing in popularity option).

In the following parts of the lecture, examples of HR metrics (such as employee costs, retention rate, engagement level etc.) were provided while highlighting the areas that they affect. The focus was on engagement, made up of remuneration, superiors, collaboration, satisfaction, and many more elements. To sum up, low employee engagement may cause up to a 46% drop in productivity.

Petra Kolarova (AmRest) during her presentation focused on engagement and talent programs targeting the employees from the chain ”AmRestee” meaning employees full of passion and discipline. Major challenges were as it turned out the communication channels for diverse groups of employees, the activities involving all employees regardless of the location, and the continuity in talent management ensuring the development of the organization. For this purpose, the 4 areas of engaging activities were prioritized:

  • company events and integration,
  • flexible working hours,
  • a culture of feedback, and
  • recognition and rewards.
Petra Kolarova (AmRest)

Meanwhile, in terms of talent development, the speaker underlined the fact that thanks to a thoughtfully planned development path and well-designed communication process, most of the managers were internally promoted. The High Potential Development Program for developing leadership skills was also launched. The plenary sessions ended with Petra Kolarova and Agnieszka Baranska sharing their experiences. They both agreed that in order to be best prepared for changes – you have to predict them to some extent. Thus, it is so important to carefully observe trends, not only in HR.

Talent management – how to successfully develop and retain talents in your company?

After a short launch break, the conference was again split into 3 thematic panels i.e. “Salary pressure”, “Competency gaps”, and “Talent development and retention”. The last panel definitely caught our attention. Anna Pfejfer-Buczek (Transition Group) started with a lecture on the use of AI in the HR processes – based on the Chat-GPT example.

As noted by Katarzyna Szydlowska of Viessmann, the possibilities are slowly becoming endless. In fact, we can use this tool at any stage of an employee’s life cycle in an organization, for example:

  • KFC in the UK recently deployed Chat-GPT to recruit employees for customer service which resulted in the process being 90% shorter.
  • IBM uses AI (including Chat-GPT) to analyze CVs and conduct job interviews.
  • PepsiCo creates customized onboarding process with the use of Chat GPT instant interaction – the process is now 50% shorter.
  • Deloitte, increased employee engagement after the onboarding process by 40% with Chat-GPT.
  • Chat-GPT as a knowledge base assistant – answers questions about the procedures and solves the problems of Volkswagen employees – the response time was reduced by 25%.

Chat-GPT can also support the L&D area in the company – by being a sort of virtual training assistant and helping employees to learn new skills or creating individualized development paths. All in all, Chat-GPT can help a lot, although it won’t replace all human work in this field.

„Nearly 30% of employees, while seeing no opportunities for growth, decide to part ways with the company - Honorata Kifner, LMC

One of the most frequently discussed topic at the conference, which in fact is linked to engagement, was employee development. Honorata Kifner (LMC) began her presentation by asking the audience a seemingly simple question: what happens to an employee who does not develop? The answer was quite obvious, and they all agreed: “he/she leaves.” To confirm these words, the results of the study saying that nearly 30% of employees, while seeing no opportunities to grow, decide to part ways with the company, were presented. At this point, it is worth noting that people have different development needs, and the worst solution is to overwhelm an employee with dozens of training courses on a variety of topics. By reason of that, it is so important to take an individual approach and prepare personalized professional development paths.

We were very interested to follow the lecture by Marta Czerniawska-Lech and Sara Mazur from Roche titled:  “I got a talent – and I am not afraid to use it!”. During the speech, they repeatedly underlined the importance of an employee’s self-awareness if it comes to the talents they have. The fundamentals of change in the organization was the introduction of the concept of strengths in relation to employees. People, while finding a time for a reflection, appreciated themselves, others – believed in themselves. A group of talent partnerships also emerged – a community was formed to support each other in smaller groups, both in terms of relationship building, but also development. As it turned out, finding the right partner to work with was already half the battle. As a result, more and more employees began to form cross-departmental (complementary) collaborations from the bottom up.

Sara Mazur i Marta Czerniawska-Lech (Roche)

The last discussion panel we participated in at the conference was led by Aneta Przybysz (Veolia), Agnieszka Maciejewska (TVN), Marta Krukowska (MODIVO), Marcin Fidecki (Orlen) and Paulina Zasempa (SD Worx Poland). The topic of the debate concerned remuneration. They tried to answer the question of how to find a balance between the high salary expectations and the company budget. Unfortunately, a perfect solution does not exist. However, what the HR departments can do, is work closely with the CFO. An analytical approach combined with high empathy will help to develop solutions that are as beneficial as possible for both the organization and the employees themselves.

HR Challenge Poland – we say yes!

Taking into account the substantive value and interesting topics, we do regret that we couldn’t take part in all lectures during HR Challenge Poland 2023. In this summary, we described only a tiny piece of what the event hosts have prepared for us this year. We highly encourage you to see with your own eyes how valuable knowledge is shared by the speakers. Undoubtedly, the event made a presence on the map of all HR events and with its formula encourages participating in its future editions. We highly recommend it!