4 HR Resolutions for 2017

HR pros reflect on what they’ll do differently in the new year

By Elaina Loveland Jan 4, 2017
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​What's on your New Year's resolution list for your HR role? HR leaders share their goals for 2017, like streamlining HR processes, improving leadership training and enhancing employee engagement.

1. Increase Efficiency and Pare Down HR Processes

Krisha Buehler is HR manager at eaHelp, a virtual assistant company based in Cumming, Ga., where the number of new hires grew by 30 percent last year. Streamlining and improving the efficiency of HR processes is on her 2017 to-do list.

"We experienced a lot of growth in 2016, which has led to awareness that some of our processes that worked well in the past now need to be revamped to remain effective," she said. "My main focus will be on streamlining, reducing re-work, leveraging technology and increasing quality within the HR department."  

She also wants to improve the benefit-enrollment process. She has already made "big strides" by moving from paper to electronic enrollment forms, but the process is still not as user-friendly as she would like. "I'm looking forward to improving this process in 2017 with a self-service, user-friendly enrollment functionality for both new employees and during open enrollment time," Buehler said.

"Simplify HR processes and practices" leads Sarah Clausen's list of resolutions for the year. Clausen is director of global IT, finance, HR and enabling solutions at John Deere, a global manufacturing company with headquarters in Moline, Ill. "I'd like to truly assess what is competitive and differentiating work and make sure we're spending our time and customizing [our HR practices] only where it makes sense."

Clausen said that customization isn't always necessary; simpler "out-of-the-box" HR solutions are really all that are needed and might improve efficiency.

"Another priority is to think more strategically about our IT HR strategy and examine how we can better utilize IT to improve employee productivity, improve organizational effectiveness and reduce our overall cost structure," Clausen said.

And Mark Mallis, head of global human resources at LifeWorks, a global engagement and wellness company in Minneapolis, plans to "mesh many [of our] internal systems and processes to create a more synergistic efficiency." LifeWorks is a merger of two companies—formerly known independently as Work Angel and Ceridian—that joined forces in 2016.

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2. Make Professional Development and Leadership Training Top Priorities

Sommer Sherrod is human capital partner at UnitedHealth Group based in Minnetonka, Minn., which has more than 200,000 employees in 33 countries. She intends to focus on employee development during this coming year. "Our company has many amazing tools and resources that can help employees in their career paths," she said. "I want to help people understand and use these resources so they can take advantage of them."

Sherrod would also like to improve employees' assimilation into the company. Because the company is so large, "new employees can feel lost or overwhelmed," she said. "We have great practices like assigning new hire coaches, but I would like to continue implementing practical ideas that make new employees feel at home more quickly."

Leadership training for managers is also at the forefront of HR leaders' priorities for 2017.

At John Deere, Clausen plans to "focus more efforts on helping our managers be more effective leaders of others, especially those with larger spans of control."

Clausen said that the company has tried to reduce the number of layers of the organization to become more "flat."

"In that process, sometimes managers gain more direct reports, but not all managers have the same level of experience in managing employees, so more training for managers is important," she said.

This past year Dan Hoppe, director of human resources at the American Library Association in Chicago, spent considerable time educating managers about the potential for new federal overtime regulations.

"Working with our managers to provide even more training is near the top of my list [for 2017]" Hoppe said. "By 'training,' I mean providing education for managers on topics like the Fair Labor Standards Act  and Family and Medical Leave Act, so they have a better understanding of the decisions that we make."

3. Keep Employees Engaged

One of Clausen's priorities for 2017 is to "increase employee engagement in our production workforce to drive higher levels of productivity, safety, quality and delivery" and to "take more time to make sure employees feel valued."

One way John Deere is currently fostering engagement is with stay interviews—meetings between employees and their managers that allow employees to provide feedback about their jobs.

Gathering employee feedback to improve engagement is also a priority in 2017 at Workday, a provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources with more than 6,000 employees based in Pleasanton, Calif.

"It is an exciting time, and we need to keep a finger on the pulse of fast-moving changes, opportunities and exciting advancements in the human capital space," said Greg Pryor, vice president for leadership and organization effectiveness at Workday.

4. Make 2017 the Year of Innovation

Innovation is on the radar for many HR leaders.

"I'd like for 2017 to be the year of 'why not?' in HR," said Ashley White, executive director of human resources for APQC (The American Productivity & Quality Center), a nonprofit organization in Houston, focusing on benchmarking and best practices research.

White said that her organization works to understand how other companies get work done. APQC gathers data about processes and improves processes for other organizations, but "in over 40 years of work, our culture has evolved to a point that we 'process' everything to death."

"We don't allow ourselves to just say 'Why not?' and actually consider an out-of-the-box idea," she said. "In the HR world, we are boxed in by culture, laws [and] company policy … leaving little room for bold moves. The risk of admitting failure should be thought of as a small price to pay for creating something meaningful, engaging, innovative and exciting. Remember [that] … HR stands for human resources, not hired robots."

An evolving workforce demands innovation, and HR leaders recognize this.

"I'd like to focus on changing broad HR practices to match the evolved workforce mindset, values and pace," said Rachel Ernst, HR director of employee success at Reflektive, a performance management technology company in San Francisco.  "Specifically, this means setting up work environments to encourage and honor human growth. At our core, we are working to feel like we serve a purpose and strive to make an impact."

Elaina Loveland is a freelance writer based in Natick, Mass.

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