December is here, and the holiday season is officially upon us! As companies eagerly look ahead to 2021, a recent report published by Gartner provides a glimpse of the top five priorities for HR leaders heading into the new year. Here’s my take on what matters most when reviewing the results:
An expanded focus on cost optimization
We all know the impact that the pandemic has had on our businesses and our economy. That’s why companies are making a concerted effort to more effectively manage costs. As stated in the Gartner report, about 13% more respondents listed “optimize costs” as a primary priority in this year’s survey when compared to last year’s numbers. But cost optimization doesn’t have to mean cost reduction. In 2021, look for HR leaders to leverage data analytics to develop a more curated view of their workforce. The key lies in building a more efficient operating model. Ultimately, the companies that succeed in the year ahead will be the ones that learn the nuances of building a talent optimized strategy.
A greater emphasis on reskilling
While innovation has become the norm in the twenty-first century, employers are struggling to keep up with the constant demands of reskilling their talent. The dramatic shift to a remote workplace required Herculean efforts from organizations around the world. Training employees on how to utilize collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams while subsequently reducing staff to sustain operations during the pandemic proved to be a tall task for many organizations. Our clients have felt the pain illustrated in the Gartner’s report sharing that the total number of skills required for a single job is increasing by 10% year-over-year. As companies plan for 2021, their focus has centered on operationalizing Learning Management Systems (LMS) and training programs to meet the needs of the virtual learner. Reskilling talent requires a customized approach that breaks up learning into more bite-size pieces and drives discussion and coaching. Look for companies to move away from the one-size-fits-all training approach and transition to a focus on cohort and master-class learning.
A need for adaptability and responsiveness
Centuries ago, ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus coined the phrase, “The only constant is change.” Our collective need to adapt to evolving circumstances isn’t new—rather, the stakes are much higher for organizations who fail to adapt to a changing business environment. According to the report, only 19% of Gartner’s respondents believe their workforce can effectively change direction based on shifting workplace needs or changing demands. In essence, this infers that more than 80% of organizations are weighed down by rigid bureaucratic processes, overburdened teams, and poorly aligned resources. Over the past year, business operations had to learn how to pivot quickly, which has proven to be challenging. In 2021, look for HR departments to formalize and reinforce both change management and agile principles to help overall adaptation processes. Leading innovators will focus on understanding the talent, technology, and process factors that can make—or break—a successful pivot.
A commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
The overwhelming call to action for racial and social justice in the United States and throughout the world will find its footing in corporate America in 2021. The Gartner report highlights what we already know to be true: the lack of representation in senior-level corporate positions by women and men from a racial or ethnic minority is systemically unjust. Employers are building internal awareness on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) topics and are redesigning policies that disproportionately impact minorities and women. According to a report by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Companies that embrace a holistic, authentic, and systemic DEI strategy will better position themselves for business growth and success.
A desire to maintain company culture despite remote work
While many companies have been pleased by the unexpected spike in productivity due to remote working arrangements, concerns about workplace culture remain prevalent. Many executive leaders have asked themselves, “How do we maintain our corporate culture without a physical office space?” And with 48% of employees expecting to work remotely in our post-pandemic world, this idea remains a major topic of discussion. The world of work will be forever changed, introducing more flexibility into work arrangements, expanding the hiring pool for candidates, and improving virtual team collaboration. In the new year, expect businesses to re-examine their cultural values and explore new ways to build more effective team alignment in virtual, remote, and in-office settings. Leveraging team development and collaboration tools can help leaders resolve conflict, improve communication, and drive business results in a way that bridges the in-person/virtual divide.
Difficult times—both in life and in business—often catalyze the most significant and meaningful growth. There is good reason to believe that the lessons learned throughout the past year will help our organizations in shaping competitive advantages in 2021 and beyond. I look forward to watching businesses embrace flexibility, leverage talent optimization strategies, enhance their cultural values, and promote a more equitable and just workforce. If executed properly, these approaches will enable business growth and lead to enhanced performance for years to come.