What will your job look like in 2025? How confident would you be in your answer? These are the questions Gartner has been asking in our ongoing series of briefings with hundreds of HR business partners, HR generalists, and other strategic HR professionals.
This particular group’s answer to this question is a matter of particular concern for their organizations. HRBPs and HR generalists make up the largest portion of today’s HR functions: about 25 percent of HR headcount and 19 percent of HR budget expenditure, according to Gartner’s HR Budget and Staffing Benchmarking Survey. Accordingly, the work these professionals do has a large impact on the global HR community.
At one of our recent briefings in Chicago, HRBPs discussed the new responsibilities they expect to take on in their jobs in the coming decade, as well as the tasks they are looking forward to setting aside or delegating.
Much of the new work HR professionals are anticipating mirrors the environment in which they will work (and in many cases, are already working):
- Doing more with data. HRBPs already feel growing expectations around their data skills and all expect that trend to continue. The ability to use data effectively, participants predicted, will also increasingly depend on fluency with HR technology and information systems, making the already difficult task of analyzing and telling stories with data more complex. For example, one HRBP from the retail industry shared that employee sentiment analysis and mood tracking was one particular area where she was already being asked to do more. Instead of relying on the formal employee survey, HRBPs will be asked to spot trends in employee email histories, health data, technology use tracking, and other data sets to identify workforce issues and opportunities.
- Being predictive, not just proactive. The HRBP role originally emerged as part of the HR function’s transformation from being reactive to being proactive. The next evolution of HR is to become predictive. Being proactive meant trying to anticipate events and align their work accordingly; being predictive, participants said, means not only anticipating potential outcomes, but also being able to judge which outcomes are most and least likely to occur. In other words, being predictive blends anticipation and prioritization in a way that proactivity alone does not. Many of our attendees indicated that they were enthusiastic about this change, especially in combination with their growing strategic role.
According to Gartner research, the adoption of AI is poised to grow rapidly in the coming years. This and other emerging technologies like robotics are bound to fundamentally change the way we work, largely or completely automating many of today’s jobs. While this technological upheaval is generally expected to create more jobs than it destroys, the transition will be disruptive and challenging for many professionals accustomed to working in a pre-AI world. The most dire projections anticipate widespread displacement or the radical transformation of current jobs due to AI and robotics, potentially affecting tens of millions of workers in developed countries.
The effects of automation will be challenging for the clients of many HR business partners, and HRBPs will be called to provide increasing support for those impacted, such as ensuring they have access to retraining opportunities. In addition, HRBPs see themselves as part of the population affected by automation: Ten years from now, HRBPs expect nearly half of their current day-to-day responsibilities to be automated. HRBPs are optimistic, however, about the impacts that technology and automation will have on their role. Our research at Gartner finds 68 percent of HRBPs agree that automation is an opportunity to prioritize strategic responsibilities. To capitalize on this opportunity, however, HRBPs need to anticipate what work will be automated and what work will be augmented.
At a recent meeting with 70 HRBPs in New York City, we discussed predictions for the future of their role and asked them how technology has changed or will change it. Several attendees mentioned employee data collection: Previously, this was an onerous monthly or quarterly process of manually pulling together data from various sources to populate dashboards for stakeholders. Technology has made this process easier and quicker, with the use of pulse surveys and other tools. It also creates opportunities to collect data in larger quantities or more precisely, and to use it in new ways, though HR still has a lot of work to do in convincing the C-suite of the value of talent analytics.
On the final day of the CEB’s ReimagineHR summit in Washington, DC, last Friday, dozens of heads of HR and other HR executives gathered to discuss the future of the Chief HR Officer role. A panel of heads of HR, including Julie Gravallese of the MITRE Corporation, Arielle Meloul-Wechsler of Air Canada, and Pascale Meyran of Michael Kors, made their best predictions about the ways in which their jobs will change and the new challenges that will face CHROs in the coming years. Here are some of the highlights from that discussion:
CHROs Are Being Called Upon to Protect Their Organizations’ Reputations
The proliferation of social media allows crises of any magnitude to impact the brand of an organization. In addition to the external damage this can cause, employees become frustrated if they feel their organization is not defending them. Heads of HR will have to enable their employees to be brand ambassadors, promoting the reputation of the organization with a heavy social media presence. In an era when corporate scandals can develop quickly and generate misinformation, employees need to be equipped with quick facts with which to defend the organization on any platform.
The Magnitude and Frequency of Change Will Be a Continuous Challenge
With entire industries being disrupted on a daily basis, employees will need to show tremendous stamina and resilience to manage change in the long term. Heads of HR need the emotional intelligence to recognize when change becomes overwhelming and which employees are unable to keep up. Continuous change can scare employees who see an uncertain future in the news every day, and heads of HR will be expected to listen and show empathy. It is important to be transparent with employees and tell them that change is expected, even if the final nature of that change is still unknown.
In today’s business environment, digitalization is reshaping organizations from top to bottom and HR is taking on a new role as a strategic partner rather than an order taker. Our latest recruiting research at CEB (now Gartner) presented to attendees at the ReimagineHR summit in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, looks at the confluence of these two trends and encourages recruiting leaders to adapt to the digital enterprise by shifting from a service mindset to a leadership mindset. This means moving from fixed to continuous planning, from a responsive hiring process to a predictive hiring process, and from business-focused job design to a candidate-focused approach.
The end result of these three strategic changes is decreased cost-per-hire, reduced time to fill for new roles, and an increase in recruiter productivity. CEB Recruiting Leadership Council members can read our full study, Recruiting for the Digital Enterprise.
There are external forces driving the urgency of this shift: Businesses are rapidly evolving their products, the way they deliver them, and the processes that support them. Along with increased talent mobility, this has led to increased volatility of hiring needs and greater uncertainty. It’s time for recruiting to take charge.
Many HR executives are understandably worried about the effects of making such a bold change to their organization’s recruiting strategy. Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions we get from recruiting leaders when it comes to making that transformation from serving the business to leading talent acquisition:
When it comes to what CEOs want from HR to help drive business value, one of their main demands is that HR help communicate the value of talent to investors, whether that means Wall Street or a lone philanthropist. At a breakout session at last week’s ReimagineHR event in London, Brian Kropp, HR Practice Leader at CEB, now Gartner, explained that the reason CEOs want this help is not because investors believe in making employees happy for its own sake, but because they are increasingly acknowledging that talent is a leading indicator of business performance and growth. Below is an overview of some ideas HR leaders should think about when approaching this opportunity:
The Growing Value of Talent
According to PwC’s annual CEO survey, the percentage of CEOs concerned about the availability of key skills as a business threat to organizational growth has risen from 46 percent in 2009 to 77 percent in 2017. This year, CEOs identified “human capital” as the second most important investment to make to capitalize on new business opportunities, ahead of “digital and technology capabilities.” Various trends, from new technologies to demographic shifts, are uprooting the core assumptions of how companies and industries operate. In our analysis of earnings calls from 1,600 of the world’s largest publicly traded companies, we found that words like “change,” “transformation,” and “disruption” have become commonplace. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can see the full range of insights from our Investor Talent Monitor here.)
In a recent earnings call with Volkswagen, Chairman and CEO Matthias Mueller said that “Volkswagen needs to transform. Not because everything in the past was bad, but because our industry will see more fundamental changes in the coming 10 years than we have experienced over the past 100 years.” Highlighting the value of talent is becoming one way in which organizations can gain the trust of their investors that their business still has what it takes to outperform a rapidly changing, volatile market. Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L’Oreal, mentioned in their earnings call that they were going through a “digital transformation” whose success “stems from our very decentralized agile approach in execution with a significant investment in talent.” Conversations like these are only growing, and investors are pushing for more. Private equity firms are even taking matters into their own hands, appointing executives to oversee the talent strategies of their portfolio companies.
As we’ve observed in our Investor Talent Monitor, 46 percent of the largest public companies talked about issues related to talent during their earnings calls in 2010, but by 2016, this number had topped 60 percent. This should not be surprising: Investment firms and activists have been making the news recently for taking an active interest in companies’ talent strategies, pushing firms for greater gender diversity on boards of directors as well as for firms to publish employee compensation and pay gaps.
At our ReimagineHR summit in London on Thursday, CEB (now Gartner) Principal Executive Advisor Clare Moncrieff led a session on creating a common vision of digitalization for the business and HR. After examining hundreds of trends, our research councils serving chief HR officers and chief information officers have identified six deep shifts in the business environment that will result from digitalization. These shifts should act as the framework for heads of HR to:
- Ensure talent conversations with the line are grounded in business context
- Identify the current talent implications of these shifts, project future implications, and partner with the line and C-suite peers to prioritize and respond to each
- Improve their teams’ business acumen (to underscore the importance of this, 58 percent of HR business partners indicated in one of our surveys that building business acumen was their top development goal in 2017)
(The case studies we link to below are available exclusively to CEB Corporate Leadership Council members)
1) Demand Grows More Personal
As customers seek personalized products that align with their preferences and values as individuals (rather than as segments), companies will rely on digital channels and digital innovations in logistics and customer service to achieve personalization at scale. Customers will continue to expect lower-effort, nonintrusive service.
This could, for example, affect how HR functions look for new talent. Attraction of critical talent now requires differentiated, customized branding and career coaching. Candidates will demand a more effortless, personalized application experience. AT&T approached this shift by creating a more personalized “Experience Weekend” to show the innovation of its brand to campus candidates and make top talent more likely to accept job offers.
At the ReimagineHR summit in London on Wednesday, Brian Kropp, HR Practice Leader at CEB (now Gartner), led a benchmarking and discussion session with over 150 chief HR officers, almost half of whom manage businesses with over 10,000 employees. The group shared their thoughts on the growing challenges heads of HR face today, and one theme remained constant throughout the conversation: change.
1) Disruptive Trends Changing the Pace of Business
As heads of HR look forward to 2018, the number one priority for many in the room will be change management. One HR executive, for example, said her organization’s major challenge currently was in managing multiple, overlapping acquisitions that were doubling the size of their workforce practically overnight—and both the pace and intensity of that form of change will only increase. Historically, organizations would make one acquisition and then wait several years before the next. Over the past several years, however, organizations have begun to face acquisitions or mergers one after another. Today, however, many businesses are struggling as they confront multiple changes at the same time.
One consequence of this, as another head of HR pointed out, is that organizations can no longer manage change using the same strategies they learned through their previous experiences. Every change is different, deserves its own unique response, and must be dealt with as if it were the first time the organization was doing it. There is no “one size fits all” approach to change.