Expert Advice of the Month: The responsibility of HR leads at a time of flux


Martina Pileggi is senior director for North American Business Partners at The Hillman Group, a fastener producer for the hardware, automotive, plumbing, and electrical markets.

Following a tough year for many vendors in the industry in 2023, HR leads are facing new challenges of their own. That’s the outlook of Martina Pileggi, who heads up HR for The Hillman Group in North America. Pileggi shares her outlook and concerns for HR leads as they work with their teams in a year that is filled with uncertainty.

An HR professional’s prospective has to be acutely aware of cost control, she says. When things slow down you have to think about cost control around labour, how or when to lay people off. She warns against being too short-sighted or too cost-driven when looking at laying people off. Don’t do anything without thinking it through, she cautions, as you don’t want to be caught short down the road when it’s time to add workers again.

“Because what goes up must go down. And if you’re stuck recruiting for all these positions, you’re now in a shortage of labour when it gets busy again.”

Pileggi offers some straightforward tips: Evaluate how long this problem will last. Do you have to lay off people? Do you cut people, or cut hours? Once people are gone, you may have trouble rehiring. “Those people you lay off are going to find another job. And maybe in three months, when you call them back, guess what? You have nobody.”

Effectively and responsibly managing the staffing needs of your company is, Pileggi says, the number one concern. “Yes, people are laying off, but you still need to have people working for you, and you still need to be prepared for what’s coming.”

She says HR has to work with managers to deal and cope with change. “And this a lot of change.”

Leaders on the floor talking with the teams are often overlooked by HR when it comes to providing tools to help them manage the changes. These leaders and managers have to be considered and HR has to work with them. Pileggi says your managers have to be evaluated for their own capacity as leaders. It’s really important now to take time to develop your managers. Don’t make the mistake, she says, of overlooking the need to support managers at this time.

“Taking care of the people who manage others is high level—to look at their capacity for change, their level of resilience.”

Do they understand what changes are occurring that affect your company? Can they repeat it back? Then do they understand how it’s impacting your business? Again, have them repeat it back in their own words to you. “What did you get from what I said?”

This approach applies to a company whether it has workers across the country like Hillman, or if it’s a small team. A true HR leader will bring everyone together and work with them all to understand the situation. “In a small environment it’s, in fact, better. Because that’s the team that’s holding it all together,” Pileggi adds.

“If your leaders don’t understand it, your culture will struggle.”