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Nottingham Business School Professor collaborates with international colleagues on HR responses to COVID-19

The research explores skunk works as an important tool in an organisation’s solution to tackling the crisis

Skunkworks news story

Professor Helen Shipton, Professor of International Human Resource Management at Nottingham Business School (NBS) at Nottingham Trent University has collaborated with colleagues in the USA, Australasia, China and the UK to research the application of skunk works to solve HR-related challenges as a result of COVID-19.

Organizations face a growing number of unanticipated HR challenges that require drastic measures, starkly exemplified by the current COVID-19 crisis. Rapid adjustment by HR is required, as organisations react to travel bans and quarantines, large-scale workforce restructuring and layoffs, physical distancing and an overall shift to work from home mode of operations.

Skunk works are informal, flexible groups empowered to work rapidly with minimal management constraints. Traditionally used to address technological challenges, this research argues that they could be effective in generating solutions to the people management issues created by COVID-19. Skunk works can foster rapid and novel responses to many types of non-routine situations.

The research has created three key ways in which HR can use skunk works to tackle COVID-19. The first is setting up a skunk works team which has the following features:

  1. Isolation from the main organization
  2. Customer needs center stage
  3. Focus- directing attention towards the matter in hand
  4. Planning
  5. Trusted project manager
  6. Cross-functional teams
  7. Leveraging overlaps across the expertise and networks of team members

The second is that the team needs to have the autonomy to act swiftly to deal with any opportunities, threats or concerns as they happen. This enables a rapid and effective response when faced with unprecedented events.

Finally, the team needs to remain connected with the wider organisation and have a link back in. This ensures that the team can deploy a skunk works approach on demand, whenever innovative and urgent solutions are needed.

The study uses three examples of organisations successfully adopting a skunkworks approach to solving HR challenges. Sany Group, a Chinese company, entertainment company Sky and the Academy of Management (AOM).

While HR teams regularly need to be flexible and responsive, this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. This research aims to empower teams to innovate.

Find out more here:

Nottingham Business School Professor collaborates with international colleagues on HR responses to COVID-19

Published on 10 September 2020
  • Category: Business; Research; Nottingham Business School

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