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Top 6 HR Trends to Watch in 2017

(posted: February 13th, 2017)

HR and data

While human resources trends, like other industry trends, often move slowly, at HR Solutions Partners we've identified major themes running through the industry, and several trends that we expect will continue to grow in 2017.

The themes that connect all HR trends right now are, not surprisingly, technology-based. One is the intersection of technology and rational thought, or decision-making. The need for HR staff to harness and use technology to its advantage is becoming evident. This capability is enabling HR to do many more things and deliver much more value than it has in the past.

The second theme is the broadening scope of HR, beyond traditional employees, traditional HR programs, and traditional communication channels. This is enabled by technology, and based on increased business demands and expectations.

HR Solutions Partners' Top 6 HR Trends for 2017

1.) Data, Big Data, and Predictive Analytics
Do you remember when we used to wish we had good, clean data? Well, now we've got the data, but the technology, including data storage, the sheer quantity of the information, and the sophistication of analytics has generally surpassed the ability of HR departments and organizations to make sense of it. This year, HR will do some catching up, and start to use data for looking back at what has happened, looking ahead to predict what might happen, and making better decisions.

Many HR organizations are bringing in non-HR talent in the areas of economics, engineering, or finance to take on some of this data analysis work. In addition to this skill augmentation within the department, HR business partners will need to do a better job of helping their clients by presenting data that can be helpful in running the business. Interpreting data, and telling stories with data will be key to influencing and guiding senior leaders and client groups through their current and future business challenges.

2.) Contributing Strategic Value
HR's role has traditionally been described as "keeping the trains running on time." Now, however, I am seeing CEOs and Boards expecting a lot more of HR, in the same way that they did with the finance and IT departments in the recent past. Executive teams are expecting HR to play a support role and be an equal partner in running the business, discussing people-related concerns and issues as they tie in to strategic planning and implementation. Especially for companies that are on a growth trajectory, are making a pivot, or are going through some other major transformation, Human Resources plays a key role in guiding the work and contributing to the success of those efforts. In the past, only the best HR executives have set such expectations for themselves, and others have simply met the needs of the executive team, which was a much lower bar. What many HR organizations will see now is that they need to both "keep the trains running on time," and design an entirely new transportation system (end of analogy)!

3.) Integrating Agile Workers
Human Resources has traditionally only had regular employees on its radar, sometimes including interns and temporary employees. HR needs to now expand its purview to include all contingency employees, no matter how they are paid. Agile, external, flexible or freelance, however they are classified they need to be included in HR systems, and need to be managed in a way similar to that of "regular" employees. About 50% of our workforce will be "agile" talent in the next 5 years, so HR needs to figure out a way to get a handle on workers who traditionally were only "known" by the purchasing department. Integrating the agile workforce into standard teams, and allowing them to participate in development opportunities alongside those teams, will help increase the value of these flexible resources.

4.) Employee Experience: The Consumerization of HR
Jeanne Meister has written several articles for Forbes recently about the "consumerization" of HR and shifting to an employee experience perspective that parallels the consumer/customer experience. This goes beyond the use of social media for recruiting, development and engagement. The concept shifts HR's employee perspective to a consumer experience-style model. Some companies are not looking at employee engagement, but instead tracking and measuring their employees' experience, just as they would with customers or consumers. This involves being consistent with how you handle employees, candidates, and customers. HR Solutions Partners often remind our clients of the need to "sell" their company to employment candidates, but that is just the beginning. Lines are blurring between HR and marketing, and employees are becoming valuable advocates for the company brand.

5.) Mass Customization: Benefits, Careers and Training
Robust HR systems also have enabled the customization of a lot of programs and offerings to employees. This includes:

  • benefits geared to what each employee values, going well beyond the traditional "cafeteria plans;"
  • flexible work schedules to meet personal employee needs while still getting the work done, working anywhere, anytime, to attract and retain employees in a competitive marketplace;
  • customized career choices (more below), where there are multiple directions an employee can take their career, rather than just move up the "corporate ladder;" for example, moving from a technical role to one in marketing, or to a client-facing position;
  • and customized training, at a time when people don't really have time to go offline for the traditional training classes. This has been described as three 'justs': just enough, just in-time, just for me.

6.) More Coaching and Development
Much has been written in the past five years about performance management, as a process and as a concept. It is being decoupled from salary and promotion considerations as companies take a more manager-centric and nuanced approach to both. Some companies have done away with performance management all together, some have streamlined the process, and others have put in place structured feedback conversations between managers and employees. All of these various approaches are moving in the direction of more proactive and ongoing coaching and development for employees, rather than just once-a-year ratings. The demands on HR departments for a systematic yet customized solution will increase over time. Traditional classroom learning will become a very small part of employees' development, as they navigate a customized road map for their career development and advancement, incorporating both in-person guidance and digital learning and development systems.

A lot of what I've talked about above is a new frontier for traditional HR organizations, and I want to be clear that it does not replace the traditional good work that HR is currently doing. However, the broadening of the scope of HR's purview, and the increased depth of the initiatives and impact of the work will place great demands on HR departments. Organizations will need to be prepared for the new demands. HR will need to focus on what matters, what makes a difference, and what has the most impact on the business. Technology is a great enabler of this increased scope, and a prerequisite for the value-add capabilities discussed here. At HR Solutions Partners, we recommend that HR organizations embrace new technologies where appropriate, and 'up-skill' their staff to meet these demands in a way that contributes to successful business outcomes.

Resources:

More from Patty Woolcock:

Patty Woolcock is HR Solutions Partners' Executive Director of HR Search & Interim Staffing. She has seen many HR trends come and go in her 20+ years in HR and talent management, and co-authored the paper "Identifying and Developing HR Competencies for the Future: Keys to Sustaining the Transformation of HR Functions."

Email Patty or connect with Patty on LinkedIn


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