The HRBP in 2025: What’s In? What’s Out?

The HRBP in 2025: What’s In? What’s Out?

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.

What’s In?

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.

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HR Business Partners Aren’t Afraid of Technology Changing Their Role

HR Business Partners Aren’t Afraid of Technology Changing Their 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.

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Board Buddies Should Come From Outside the Board Too

Board Buddies Should Come From Outside the Board Too

A the Wall Street Journal last month, Joann Lublin examined an emerging trend of boards using a buddy system that pairs new members with more experienced mentors to help them “figure out the boardroom’s cultural norms, power brokers—and even the right place to sit.” Companies using this technique include Cisco, Foot Locker, Nasdaq, and Applied Materials, and a 2016 survey by the National Association of Corporate Directors found that 33 out of 296 US Companies with orientation programs for new directors were assigning senior members to mentor them.

This buddy system, corporate governance experts told Lublin, was “virtually unheard of” five years ago but is growing increasingly common, with one expert predicting it could be in use at 50 Fortune 500 companies by 2020.

This may be in response to recent reports on board struggles, including a survey last year finding that many directors had negative perceptions of their boards. Some of the shortcomings identified in the survey include boards not bringing in relevant talent and directors not giving each other honest feedback. Based on our research at CEB, now Gartner, we have argued that the head of HR is perfectly positioned to step in and support the board with its current talent challenges.

Dissecting the goal of the buddy system, which is to acclimate new board members, we find further reason to advocate for heads of HR to increase their involvement with the integration of new board members. In their role, CHROs are responsible for talent and culture, critical areas for a new board member who needs to become familiar with an organization quickly. And this is not going unnoticed by organizations, as nearly 30 percent of CHROs tell us they are more responsible for onboarding board members now than they were three years ago. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can see the full results of our 2017 CHRO survey here.)

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ReimagineHR: A New Recruiting Model for the Digital Enterprise

ReimagineHR: A New Recruiting Model for the Digital Enterprise

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:

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Principles Eat Rules for Breakfast

Principles Eat Rules for Breakfast

Part of the old, negative stereotype of HR is that it is a function driven entirely by rules and procedures, concerned mainly with compliance and ensuring that employees do not engage in behaviors that could harm the organization. As the role of HR and talent management has evolved into something more strategic, however, the rules-based mentality has become more of a liability for organizations that want to develop high-performance cultures and unleash their people’s potential.

At the Harvard Business Review last week, HPWP Consulting founder Sue Bingham made the case against overly prescriptive HR policies, arguing that policies focused on preventing bad behavior by a minority of employees only cause the majority of employees who do have the organization’s best interests in mind to feel distrusted and belittled. This in turn makes it harder to attract and retain high performers. In the alternative, she advocates for policies that focus on setting positive expectations rather than proscribing specific infractions, and that treat employees as intelligent adults capable of using good judgment.

In other words, organizations need principles, not rules, Eric J. McNulty argued at Strategy+Business last week, as principles “give people something unshakable to hold onto yet also the freedom to take independent decisions and actions to move toward a shared objective”:

In some rule-based enterprises, it is the enduring, mythical power of a four-inch-thick procedure manual that lays out exactly what workers can and cannot do. In others, it is accumulated organizational ossification. Of course, there are regulations, union rules, and other legitimate constraints. Too often, however, rules were designed to fix the problems of yesterday and remain in place long after the problem itself has changed. …

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Study: Most Companies’ Data Doesn’t Meet Basic Quality Standards

Study: Most Companies’ Data Doesn’t Meet Basic Quality Standards

At the Harvard Business Review, Tadhg Nagle, Thomas C. Redman, and David Sammon present the findings of a study they conducted to assess the quality of data available to managers at 75 companies in Ireland. Using Redman’s Friday Afternoon Measurement method, they asked managers to collect critical data on the last 100 units of work conducted by their departments and mark them up, highlighting obvious errors and counting the number of error-free records to produce a data quality score. “Our analyses confirm,” they write, “that data is in far worse shape than most managers realize”:

  • On average, 47% of newly-created data records have at least one critical (e.g., work-impacting) error. A full quarter of the scores in our sample are below 30% and half are below 57%. In today’s business world, work and data are inextricably tied to one another. No manager can claim that his area is functioning properly in the face of data quality issues. It is hard to see how businesses can survive, never mind thrive, under such conditions.
  • Only 3% of the DQ scores in our study can be rated “acceptable” using the loosest-possible standard. We often ask managers (both in these classes and in consulting engagements) how good their data needs to be. While a fine-grained answer depends on their uses of the data, how much an error costs them, and other company- and department-specific considerations, none has ever thought a score less than the “high nineties” acceptable. Less than 3% in our sample meet this standard. For the vast majority, the problem is severe.
  • The variation in DQ scores is enormous. Individual tallies range from 0% to 99%. Our deeper analyses (to see if, for instance, specific industries are better or worse) have yielded no meaningful insights. Thus, no sector, government agency, or department is immune to the ravages of extremely poor data quality.

The data quality challenge should sound familiar to HR leaders attempting to implement talent analytics strategies.

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CEOs Want HR to Communicate the Value of Talent

CEOs Want HR to Communicate the Value of Talent

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.

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