Study: HR Expected to Become 'Power Hitter' in 2011

By Pamela Babcock December 13, 2010

Globalization, innovation, collaboration and deep specialization will power business growth in 2011, according to a recent report by HR research and consulting firm Bersin & Associates. The company said this shift toward a global, “borderless workplace” will demand new people strategies and will drive talent and learning strategies during the year.

High-impact HR organizations will learn to create a “borderless workplace that encourages innovation, expertise and collaboration by focusing on leadership strategies and programs that enable everyone in a company to become better at what they do,” said Josh Bersin, president and chief executive officer of Oakland, Calif.-based Bersin & Associates.

“We are in the accelerating stages of an economic recovery, much of which is starting in emerging economies,” Bersin noted. “In 2011, successful HR organizations will focus on helping their organizations globalize, empower their employees to innovate and better serve customers, and work more closely together.”

People strategies will include the continued use of social networking for recruiting, the adoption of informal learning and coaching models, a refocus on specialization and development of deep skills, and a change in leadership models to promote innovation and collaboration.

The predictions are part of Bersin’s December 2010 released research report, Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2011: Predictions for the Coming Year—Building the Borderless Workplace.

Borderless = Global

“Borderless” implies that people throughout the company—and outside it—are now communicating and working together in teams and that the borders between countries and geographies have gone away, Bersin explained.

“Employees in the U.S. communicate directly with those in China and India, and line managers may work in another city, state or country” than the employees they supervise, Bersin said. “Successful organizations now openly share information in this model, and they must embrace new models for leadership and teamwork to empower this new workplace.”

In the study, 17 percent of organizations cited “globalization” as one of their top three business strategies in 2010. That figure was up three-fold from what the same group reported in the middle of 2009, Bersin noted.

Bersin said the biggest surprise was that “most companies are well beyond the recession” in terms of their approach to growing their business.

“Globalization is a top issue because most large companies now see that their best business opportunities are not the U.S. or in Western Europe but in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East,” Bersin said. “They are also aggressively growing their opportunities in China and India. This is forcing HR to globalize learning and development and HR programs as well as its own operational structure.”

The report was compiled based on various surveys the company conducted in 2010, the most recent being in November 2010. There were about 3,000 respondents, about 75 percent of whom work in HR and learning and development; the balance were business leaders, Bersin said.

What's in Store for 2011

Following are Bersin & Associates 2011 predictions:

1. Innovation, empowerment and a focus on learning culture will become common themes for talent management and business growth. Now that the recovery is under way, companies want to re-engage employees and drive innovation. According to the report, 34 percent of companies cite “innovation” as one of their top three talent strategies, up from only 14 percent a year earlier. Downsizings and layoffs have meant that companies have essentially “frightened” employees from taking risks, Bersin explained. Now that the economy is growing, companies are ready to take risks again. The growing economy has opened new markets for green technologies and products and a need for companies to reinvent their brands.

2. Deep specialization and career development are crucial to organizational success and will drive integrated talent and learning strategies. Organizations that thrived in recent years have one thing in common: They’re very good at what they do, Bersin said. Deep skills are critical to all major job roles, such as sales, finance, IT, marketing, engineering and HR. Companies should rethink leadership development and talent management strategies to build deeper skills. He cited enduring brands like Intel, IBM, Accenture, Qualcomm, General Mills, Procter & Gamble and Apple as good examples.

“These are organizations of experts,” Bersin said. Building expertise requires a focus on foundational skills, on-the-job experience, developmental assignments, coaching and a variety of learning experiences. Feedback, performance management, development planning, coaching and career development are key to cultivating these experts, he added.

“It isn’t good enough to be first to market anymore because the world is so flat,” Bersin said. “Companies need to build deep skills and specialization programs.”

3. Informal and continuous learning will drive further adoption of internal and social networking. The training industry is going through a renaissance, and the topic of “informal and social learning” has forced learning and development to re-engineer its skills and approaches, the report said. New tools such blogs and internal social networks have brought a new “continuous learning environment” model that likely will drive the next 10 years of change in learning and development, according to Bersin.

4. Talent mobility will become highly strategic, often replacing the traditional approach to succession management. Companies that fared well during the recession reinvented themselves quickly by restructuring and reengaging employees and moving people rapidly into new positions, Bersin said. High-performing companies create programs to help people—and their managers—“dynamically move people in order to meet individual and organizational demands. This movement also drives expertise and skills into the company,” the study said. In 2011, talent mobility will be crucial to leadership and talent management.

5. Social networking will continue to transform corporate recruiting. Traditional recruiting models “are getting crushed” by social networking, with 60 to 70 percent of recruiting now being done through social networks. LinkedIn, Facebook and online tools for video and assessments have helped transform some of the “broken models” for recruiting, the report said. Companies spend millions of dollars each year on external recruiting providers. But by using online networks, they can bring in house “the tools and secret networks which used to be owned by external recruitment firms,” the report said.

6. New models of leadership development will emerge, forcing HR to rethink and reengineer many leadership programs. As companies become more global, interconnected and young, skills needed to lead them are changing. While “old-style” organizations are led by strong hierarchies, high-performing organizations are led by “strong subject matter experts with skills in team leadership, learning agility, global awareness and business acumen,” the report said. Most organizations know where their leadership gaps are, but few have a good sense of “where the new leaders are” and “what capabilities they will need,” the study said. In 2011, Bersin said, most major organizations must rethink leadership development strategies.

7. HR transformation programs will accelerate, driven by globalization and the need to integrate talent and employee engagement strategies further. “High-impact HR organizations have learned how to reorganize and offload administrative work and reskill their HR teams to turn HR generalists into strategic business partners,” the report said. Key issues HR must address in 2011 include the emergence of the “extended workforce” as the total audience to serve. This includes part-time workers, alumni and contractors as well as candidates, new employees and potential candidates. The research shows a continued lack of HR competencies in business acumen, technology understanding and broad awareness of business trends.

8. The talent management software market will continue to grow rapidly as players become bigger and more consolidated. The talent management software market, which was estimated at nearly $3 billion in 2010, “is one of the hottest parts of HR” and is estimated to grow 12 to 15 percent in 2011, Bersin said. Look for new applications in 2011, including workforce planning and analytics, talent mobility solutions and built-in systems for talent reviews, segmentation and engagement management.

9. Companies will begin to replace their 20-plus years of investment in HRMS systems. “The old-fashioned HRMS is ready for a major facelift, and 2011 will show an increasing trend toward implementing next-generation [software as a service] based HRMS solutions, which will become the company’s new talent system of record. In 2011, more and more companies will start to build plans for such an integrated solution,” the report said.

10. HR leaders will still struggle to gain alignment. HR leaders are less aligned with business leaders than they would like. Bersin found that the single biggest challenge HR professionals face is “the ability to stay aligned with the business strategy” (37 percent of respondents). Nearly one-half of respondents (44 percent) said they felt that their organizations lacked a clear and business-centered HR and people strategy. During the past few years, most people strategies focused on reducing costs. In 2011, business leaders will be looking for HR and learning and development to help them grow and expand the business, the report said.

“The next generation of HR will be a very strong business function, not just a support function,” Bersin said. “It’s all about changing the skills and business acumen in HR.”

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.


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