Study Finds Strategy Is Among 2013 HR Predictions

By Dinah Wisenberg Brin Feb 8, 2013
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Rapid cha​​nges in business across the globe will force human resource departments to shed traditional routines and transform into more nimble organizations with deep involvement in company strategy and employee development, HR experts predict in a Bersin by Deloitte report. Other experts say they also see long-standing HR practices giving way to broader roles and activities.

“Continuous recruiting, continuous learning, continuous management and feedback, and continuous recognition and rewards define the more agile model for HR,” Josh Bersin stated in the January report. He also made 2013 predictions centered on the notion that a “nexus of global forces” will drive new HR structures.

The Bersin-Deloitte report predicted that in 2013, business agility, globalization and flatter organizations will prompt a rethinking of many traditional HR practices. Bersin noted increasing client interest in “agile” management practices, including continuous feedback systems, social-recognition tools and expert-focused leadership approaches.

“Our research shows that companies which revisit employee-performance goals quarterly drive more than 30 percent more productivity than those which set goals annually,” the report said.

The firm noted as well that many HR practices were developed long ago when companies were more hierarchical, while businesses now need employee-development and leadership strategies focused on empowering teams and not simply enforcing standards and compliance.

“The old-fashioned HR concepts of an annual review, an annual talent cycle and top-down-driven leadership and training simply do not keep up. These programs have to be done in a more systemic way in which managers at all levels are involved and they take place more often,” the report stated.

Companies are trying to figure out how to transform their HR function, although some are changing only to save money, which may be a mistake, Bersin said.

“Companies actually should re-engineer their HR organizations to become more data-driven, proactive, business-aligned and strategic in nature,” the report said. Bersin recommends that companies invest more money in the “re-skilling” of their HR and learning-and-development teams. He believes that 2013 may be a tipping point for big HR departments to adopt talent analytics tools.

Bersin also recommended that expanding companies recruit and accommodate a “globally educated workforce” to thrive, given what he calls a U.S. skills gap that must be addressed through immigration and education reform. While American businesses often consider the U.S. an “exceptional” nation, the report said, the country is 25th in global math scores, 17th in science and 14th in reading. American schools are no longer graduating high numbers of career-ready workers, so companies have to either hire globally or help employees develop skills on the job, he said.

What’s more, Bersin sees a new focus on “talent mobility” and career development, driven by competitive talent markets and the need to build deep skills.

He notes, for example, that Cisco lets employees change jobs after only a year in their current position. And a large global oil company, facing a retirement wave in several years and a tight labor market for engineers, is building talent internally with “a vibrant career-development and talent-mobility program,” Bersin reports.

Given the ways in which mobile technology is transforming workplaces, Bersin said, HR departments in 2013 “should start to fully adopt mobile technology, learning, recruiting and management tools. Employees often expect to be able to work on these platforms, and these tools are the ‘new engagement systems’ of the future.”

Bersin said many successful companies realize diversity is a competitive advantage, and he recommends that businesses embrace diversity as a strategy for performance, customer intimacy and employee engagement.

Skills Gap Continues

Bersin’s report rings true, said Jana Fallon, vice president of recruiting and executive assessment at Prudential Financial Inc., who has a Ph.D. in industrial-organizational psychology.

“I see here more and more expected of our HR profession, and with that pressure comes the privilege of being involved in those business decisions,” she said, adding that business leaders are recognizing that HR talents go beyond the administrative.

The Bersin report’s emphasis on intense competition for talent and the need to reposition and attract new types of talent resonates at Prudential, said Fallon.

“We’re looking for lots of digital expertise across the company,” she said. But people with expertise in digital marketing, mobile technology and e-commerce don’t think of Prudential as their top employer, she admitted. Consequently, Prudential has significantly increased its efforts to brand itself in such a way that these professionals do consider the company an appealing place to work.

“People say it’s an employer’s market, [yet] it really continues to be incredibly challenging for us as an employer to find people with the right skills,” she said.

Prudential managers say they have noticed that new hires who are recent college graduates lack some important skills, although Fallon thinks that “a really great learning culture could close some of those gaps,” as an alternative to global hiring. Prudential finds that recent grads sometimes need help understanding corporate culture and business etiquette—“some of the basics that people might not tell you.”

Meanwhile, NorthgateArsino, a global HR consulting and technology company, posted on its blog in December 2012 seven 2013 HR trends that correspond to some of Bersin’s themes.

“The next 12 months will see technological and economic movements converge—and this will evolve the role of HR within business. For HR directors and business leaders, the challenge in 2013 is to ensure they move with the times, getting the most out of new and innovative HR tools and technologies that are now available and ensuring that HR plays a central role in developing wider business strategy,” NGA predicted.

“As business continues to change quickly, it is important that HR becomes more agile. This requires HR solutions that can be quickly adapted to meet the demands of changing business needs,” the company said.

“It is next to impossible to predict how global or local economies will fare in the short-term, but we can say that those businesses with agile, low-cost and unified HR processes will be best-suited to grasp opportunities arising from the first stages of economic recovery.”

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia.

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