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New guide on human capital management

By Dr. Si Mohamed El Hail, WCO Secretariat

The workplace has undergone several radical changes in the past few years. According to literature, the traditional Human Resource Management (HRM) function has evolved to include new responsibilities such as an increased attention paid to people’s wellbeing. People are now seen as a ‘’Capital’’ rather than a ‘’Resource’’. Human Capital Management (HCM) is more demanding, and its implementation requires adopting a specific toolset (methods, techniques, models) and acquiring a specific skillset (knowledge, understanding, abilities). To provide guidance to Customs administrations in this domain, the WCO Secretariat has produced a Guide to Managing Customs’ Human Capital through Crises and Beyond.

New normal

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit some two years ago, those responsible for the overall management of staff within Customs administrations had to make decisions in a very short time frame, often without any data, previous experience or best practices to guide them. They had to decide who should come to the office or duty station to work and who should work from home. They also had to find solutions to provide training while respecting social-distancing rules, to support staff on a personal level and keep them motivated and engaged, to empower managers to lead remote teams and, finally, to prepare for a post-pandemic workplace.

In order to create this “new normal” and strengthen their organization’s resilience, HR managers must shift away from inflexible and standardized approaches and adopt a personalized approach in which each employee is considered unique. In so doing, they take on the role of HCM professionals.

According to Professor Dave Ulrich, HCM professionals are required to play the following roles:

  • Strategic positioner: they strategically position a business to win its market by evaluating the business environment, understanding stakeholders’ expectations and aligning them with internal business processes.
  • Credible activist: they are capable of building relationships of trust in the eyes of business and management by making proactive recommendations and providing results.
  • Paradox navigator: they are able to manage tensions inherent in business (including long-term and short-term tensions, and top-down and bottom-up tensions) while balancing various internal and external stakeholders’ interests and goals.

Their priorities should include:

  • shaping staff behaviour through culture;
  • redesigning processes with a focus on digitization to ensure that they are agile and relevant;
  • building a “humanistic-based leadership” culture within the organization, in other words ensuring staff adopt management practices that place workers’ needs front and centre;
  • upskilling and reskilling staff; and
  • improving employee experiences and the organization’s employee value proposition (EVP – the value a company offers to employees in return for the value they bring to the organization).
A Guide developed using a triangulation methodology
  1. A literature review to identify the challenges faced by Customs administrations and solutions for HR management in times of crisis.
  2. An online survey to collect data from Customs administrations; 200 respondents answered all 23 questions.
  3. Structured and focused interviews[1] with Customs administration representatives, the private sector and international organizations in order to refine and consolidate the findings arising from the survey.

WCO guide

To develop the Guide to Managing Customs’ Human Capital through Crises and Beyond, WCO Secretariat staff conducted a survey among Customs administrations. They also interviewed Customs representatives as well as leaders in HR and emergency management from international organizations, the private sector and academia.

Finally, they reviewed extensive literature, set up expert focus groups and took into account the outcomes of the two regional WCO conferences that took place in 2021.

Survey and interview findings
  • 53% of the respondents considered that COVID-19 severely impacted their administration’s ability to deliver its mission and conduct operations.
  • More than 40% also reported dissatisfaction with their organization’s overall response to the crisis.
  • More than 50% considered that the HR service/unit’s response to the crisis was poor or very poor.
  • Over 80% reported being not completely satisfied with the new work arrangements.
  • Four top priority areas were mentioned: (i)leadership and organizational culture; (ii) competency and talent development (including upskilling and reskilling); (iii) staff resilience and well-being at work; and (iv) organizational/work design and change management.
  • HCM professionals are expected to take on the role of strategic positioner, culture and change champion, and human capital curator.

The guide therefore includes a broad range of perspectives and highlights solutions that can be replicated in a Customs environment. It particularly sheds light on:

  • 19 guiding principles which are recognized as critical within Customs administrations in enabling staff to thrive in times of crisis and beyond.
  • Seven key HCM focus areas to be considered while designing solutions and practices to help navigate through a crisis and to prepare for the post-crisis environment, namely: (1) leadership and communication; (2) HR business continuity; (3) staff well-being and resilience; (4) work design in a post-COVID world, (5) learning and development; (6) management of teams, individuals and performance; and (7) implementation of new HR roles to create more value for the organization and a better employee experience.
  • 22 case stories from the public and private sectors which illustrate the key HCM focus areas and explain practical measures that can be implemented.

The guide has been developed as a practical tool with detailed instructions and examples to facilitate its use and maximize its impact. However, as always, the WCO Secretariat stands ready to assist any administration wishing to work with it in implementing HCM and actively influencing the adaptive capabilities of their workforce.

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