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Five critical imperatives for HR leaders in 2021

Greg Pryor Profile picture for user Greg Pryor December 21, 2020
As companies recover from the global pandemic and experience a continued fight for social equity, Workday's Greg Pryor identifies five business and talent imperatives for human resources for 2021

Unlock leader potential and talent represented by wooden figurine and hand with key © Jirsak - Shutterstock
(© Jirsak - Shutterstock)

The global pandemic and the fight for equity have converged, forcing dramatic changes in the way businesses operate and creating new and enhanced challenges for human resource leaders. 

Even before the pandemic — and the challenge of moving workforces remote — employers faced a widening and critical skills gap, changing workforce expectations, and ongoing technological advances impacting everything from recruiting to hiring and talent retention.

All of this adds up to a once-in-a-generation, if not a once-in-a-lifetime, shift in the way we think about human capital management away from simply managing people to enabling them to greater heights. No doubt, the pandemic and social justice movements of 2020 accelerated and amplified this shift.

As such, managing talent — that is, helping people grow, contribute, and feel like they belong — has become more important than ever.

At Workday, we've identified five business and talent imperatives, which we think about as the IDEAS for a changing world of human resources. IDEAS is an acronym for the five imperatives — inclusion, digitalization, enabling experiences, agile organization, and the skills imperative. Here's why each one matters, now more than ever.

1. Inclusion

We know organizations that innovate, serve customers, and deliver critical outcomes better than their competitors have employees who feel a deep sense of belonging and commitment. Unfortunately for many organizations, outcomes have not matched intentions.

According to a June 2020 McKinsey report, almost half of the survey respondents do not feel very included in their organizations. That same report found that most employees, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, said they encountered barriers to a sense of inclusion.

Inclusion is about creating workplace principles and practices that nurture a sense of belonging and psychological safety where all people can do their best work. When people feel included, they're more willing to take risks, which leads to innovation and contribution. So the key challenge for any workplace is to enable people, first and foremost, by making sure they feel a deep sense of inclusion, belonging, and psychological safety.

2. Digitalization

In the context of human resources, digitalization will help enable personalized talent management at scale. The good news is that we've only begun leveraging the democratization of data with the power of machine learning to automate and augment talent practices so that we can elevate essential human capabilities. This includes use of bot technology, machine learning and other types of behavioral nudges in the flow of work. Employee experiences should echo our consumer experiences, which are about nudges, whether it's Amazon, Google, Netflix, and so on. It's the idea of predicting the insight, learning, coaching, role, or connection that's relevant to helping enable success and curating that content in the context or flow of your work.

3. Enabling experiences

This is the idea of engineering experiences that unlock and unleash employees' contributions, connections, capabilities, and career to deliver remarkable results. Just as our consumer experience has evolved, the digitalization and democratization of data now positions us to reinvent the enabling experiences we need to provide to employees. Increasingly, employees will apply their consumer experiences to the workplace, expecting to be surprised and delighted with a learning recommendation, mentoring connection, or internal gig assignment that will help them grow their highest-priority skill. According to LinkedIn's 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn.

Employees will also expect the workplace to enable their performance with alerts, recommendations, and reminders. They will expect workplaces to coach, inform, and enroll them in programs based on their job, skills, and experience level. Similar to a consumer experience, this experience will be both push and pull, considering both organizational and individual needs.

Another big part of this is moving from measuring activities to measuring outcomes. At Workday, we survey our entire company every Friday, on what we call 'Feedback Friday', asking them a few questions that take about 30 seconds to complete. This employee feedback helps us understand what a people leader needs to do to create or enable performance for their team, and was essential in enabling our employees following the pandemic.

4. Agility

To compete in a more dynamic, fast-paced world, we increasingly need to think about how quickly we are adapting to changes in the competitive landscape, at the individual, team, and organizational levels. Automating and augmenting work by extending expertise enables the level of agility required in the new world of work.

Organizational needs at the start of the pandemic provide a good example. Companies needed to understand the skills and capabilities of their workforce to redeploy workers against the most critical work, or even new work, such as shifting from building cars to building ventilators overnight. An agile organization taking advantage of a multi-pronged approach could fill the skills gap with hiring, retraining employees, adding external contractors or automation — or a bit of each.

5. Skills

Skills are the new currency in our changing world of work. Skills are about transforming capabilities into this new currency to accurately and equitably evaluate, find, and develop talent, providing everyone with an equal opportunity to succeed, advance, and excel. According to the World Economic Forum, due to changes in technology and also economic drivers, 42% of jobs will require different skills in the next two years. And more than 1 billion workers will require re-skilling by 2030.

Through the democratization of data and machine learning advancements, we have a much clearer window into an employee's skills. Imagine understanding what skills people have versus what skills they want, and then curating specific work for them. For example, a machine learning algorithm could review a patient's health record and predict the healthcare team that has the capability and connections to treat that patient. We can use the same foundation to understand the capability and training to grow required skills.

Fortunately, these advances are coming at the right time, as we face a growing skills gap imperative. In addition to helping to address the skills shortage, we're optimistic about the democratization of skills and work-matching capabilities to empower a system that values skills over degrees and results over roles, and creates opportunity onramps for historically disadvantaged talent.

Enabled by technology

No doubt, the pandemic has accelerated transformation and punctuated the need to reevaluate and reinvent certain human capital management practices. Given that and other events of 2020, we've now got a beneficial perfect storm that's creating this virtuous cycle. Businesses and organizations need it, employees expect it, and the technology will enable it.

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