In an article published in January this year, Adam McCulloch of Personnel Today published his own thoughts on those offered by Gartner’s HR lead Emily Rose McRae. The subject was the environmental and technology factors that HR leaders will have to contend with in 2021.

They include the:

  1. Shift to remote and hybrid workforce strategies.
  2. Introduction of’talent triggers’ — what happens when AI-driven software robots signpost changes in performance or ‘situations.’
  3. Emotional and cultural impacts resulting from the move out of the corporate office space.
  4. Re-shaping of employment model innovations resulting from the growth in gig and contingent working.
  5. Need to rebalance priorities around diversity, equity and inclusion.
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Translating Market Understanding into Action

While it’s always to wake up to a New Year with some thought-provoking bullet-points to consider, not all organizations are well equipped to turn this market insight into action. Here’s why:

Change projects—even attitudinal ones—demand sponsorship

Like most topics in business, the most notable inhibitor to HR change comes from the lack of corporate adoption. This is particularly key in HR. As a ‘people subject’ it’s near impossible to enact a positive change in processes, policies or attitudes without the entire leadership board buying into the reasons behind any change, and a likelihood in potential rewards.

Organizational designs can act against HR agility

The move to a hybrid workforce made of of full-time and contracted workers has left many HR leaders responsible for only a portion of their workforce. Few organizations have grasped the nettle and shifted to a Total Talent Management (TTM) approach, where one portfolio holder controls all decisions around talent. This lack of structural continuity is making talent management more challenging in 2021.

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Technology adoption is often hampered by IT short-comings and data quality

While most executives are by now familiar with terms like artificial intelligence, big data, and cloud computing, few organizations have adopted IT strategies that are agile enough to embrace these innovations. No-Code applications development is only just moving to the mainstream, and few organizations have got a grip on their data quality issues by adopting a ‘Digital DNA’ and Master Data Strategy. To shift the pace of IT evolution into overdrive will take most organizations at minimum another couple of years unless they invest in a ‘ready-to-deploy’ Talent ecosystem.

Corporate capacity for change is at an all-time low

It’s always been hard to sketch out time to table changes to organizational systems, policies and attitudes. In 2020, that challenge became even harder, as executive teams became stretched to achieve their operational commitments. One of the biggest complaints from executives in 2020 was that they had no time for strategy, for deep thinking, and for more general management discussions with colleagues. Put simply, change doesn’t happen if leaders have no time.

Executive attitudinal changes are even harder to implement than change projects!

I mentioned earlier the challenge of sourcing corporate sponsorship for change projects: Corporate capacity has made that challenge even worse.

And if only to ‘add more rock to the top of the mountain HR leaders must climb,’ we must recognize that attitudinal shifts are always more difficult to implement when compared to policies and processes. In 2021, it’s likely the more impactful changes will demand attitudinal change. To make a difference, HR leaders will need to be bold, and harness all of their activation energy—hopefully aided by the support and encouragement of their executive colleagues.

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Final thoughts

While we believe all of the topics penned by Gartner are worth HR leaders paying attention to, perhaps the most thought-provoking commentary is one that didn’t quite make their top five because it’s difficult to frame. Macrae suggests that a plethora of surveys have surfaced evidence that workers expect their employer to take a stance on current societal or cultural issues, even if those issues have nothing to do with their employer.

This is a difficult circle to square. For most leadership teams, such topics have traditionally been side-stepped as having nothing to do with business decisioning. That era of closed eyed operational focus looks to be coming to an end at the insistence of their workforce.

Modern workers want to know they are ‘investing’ in businesses that give a damn. For this reason, 2021 will demand an attitudinal shift beyond the boundaries of HR if companies are to respond nimbly to the changing cultural landscape they operate within.

Ian Tomlin

Ian Tomlin

Author

Ian Tomlin is a marketer, entrepreneur, business leader and management consultant. His passion is to help make great ideas happen. Relentlessly optimistic about the potential of technology for good, Ian’s 30+ year career has focused around the intersect of strategy, technology and marketing. He writes on subjects including workforce management, future of work, talent acquisition technology and organizational design.
Ian has written books, articles and guides on brand, digital transformation, enterprise applications, data science, and organizational design. He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.