10 unavoidable trends relevant for HR

We recently ran a workshop with the HR Executive Team of a large multinational on the Future of Work and the Future of HR and I thought to share the summary.

One of our clients asked us where most companies are with regards to preparedness for the future and we took the liberty to paraphrase Dave Ulrich; 20% is getting it, 60% is trying to understand and wants to get there and 20% will never get it. Speaking to consultants and thought leaders, they express that HR in 5 years from now will be quite different; CHRO’s are more cautious.


Unavoidable trends relevant for HR
  1. Labour markets are gradually and almost invisibly shifting from jobs to task; work can move around, jobs are much more difficult to move. Stop thinking country or border. Workforces will become blended and shape-shifting. The company as a vehicle to organize work will evolve from a hierarchy to a very complex marketplace where supply and demand of jobs, people, capabilities and tasks need to find each other, both virtually and onsite.
  2. Technology will slowly transition from employer to worker-centricity. This is most visible today in talent acquisition. One beautiful example is Wingfinder a free online personality profile developed by Red Bull. Most HR technology inside companies is way behind a “digital experience”.
  3. COVID-19 will accelerate many developments that are already long-time in the making; working from home, the relevance of health and wellbeing, new models of leadership, purpose-driven, wrapping work around life (and not life around work)
  4. EX, as a bottom-up intervention, will become, slowly, more important and is currently still in its early days of development. It will step-by-step replace engagement as a vehicle for top-down interventions.
  5. Ongoing career management is in; once per year discussions are out
  6. The current set up of most HR organisations is good enough for today and yesterday, not for tomorrow.
  7. Tech for learning is still young and will explode in the years to come. Wait for the first companies to develop a direct-to-consumer approach to learning. Classroom becomes niche. Ongoing re-skilling will become core
  8. Tech in TA will continue to evolve, become increasingly candidate-centric, focusing on engagement; eliminating bias in algorithms will continue to be a challenge. Most claims with AI in tech for TA have not been scientifically validated yet
  9. Employees will behave more as nomads and the psychological contract between employers & employees will be very different from today; most (senior/executive) people leaders grew up differently and still live in the world of the “loyalty contract”
  10. Workforce segmentation is emerging; high touch & low tech & totally individualized for the most value creating roles/individuals; low touch & high tech & largely standardized for most of the workforce and something in between for leadership roles. This is a precursor for further personalization.


Some thoughts about what this means for HR
  • 90% of the employees never see HR and most of the people in the HR leadership team only work with the top of the house, but 90% of the organisation is impacted by the things these seniors create or decide. If we want to build a truly engaged workforce, we will need to learn to listen a lot more to the needs of the 90% and a lot less to the top 10% that manages them. There is a business case for organisational empathy and learning to listen. HR can learn this from marketing. The HR Service function is ripe for a consumer-centric approach, moving away from a process and compliance
    Build an EX business case with clear targets on retention, engagement, productivity. If you do EX well, it is a true competitive differentiator, but …..it easily becomes an “HR-thing” if not approached correctly. Think of it as the transition of HR from the steward of employment towards the steward of work and experience. The output of people will gradually become a joint accountability of people managers and HR
  • Build, buy, partner and acquire or access new capabilities in tech (for HR), data science, analytics for HR, behavioral economics, video production, data visualization. And….HR needs capability building around the “technology of work” in order to understand how the nature of work outside HR is shifting (RPA, robots, cobots, etc)
  • Start experimenting with the future of work inside the HR function: virtualize, externalize, unbundle jobs, start networking, live the gig economy by example, partner up with multiple providers, crowdsource. Design a workforce strategy for HR. Revisit the set-up of HR and bundle capabilities fluidly (with a blended workforce) around initiatives, rather than around functions in HR; It is more important to have access to people than to have people on your payroll. Or, in other words, it is tough to be credible consulting business leaders about the changes in work if HR does not internalize any of this inside its own function.
  • The HR function needs to decide who their clients are; are they only employees on payroll and are they predominantly focused on permanent employees or do they also include temp workers? Do they also include the off-payroll workforce? Are they senior leaders predominately or are they largely focused on people leaders or is it all of the workforce? In our view it is everybody who works for a company. This article underpins the view to consider the workforce at large
  • A strategy about the “virtualization” of work is necessary and this includes a clear point of view on the blended workforce, both for HR and the organisation at large. With all of the available knowledge about the future of work, technological developments and the future of your industry, it will be necessary to develop a comprehensive workforce transition strategy. HR is uniquely positioned to lead this in partnership with the strategy function. And one of the design principles needs to be around the democratization of work
  • Build an increasingly personalized and individualized learning environment, where work is learning and learning is work. Can your learning ecosystem be externalized and made available to everybody inside and outside your company?
  • People managers (especially at the top of the house) will need extensive support to re-wire their paradigm about the workforce, otherwise they will run the risk to get disconnected. Think of replacing Leadership Development with “How people experience me as a manager”
  • Be cautious with tech for HR and understand how software companies’ “tick”; they do not find solutions for your problems, their business is to sell software or licenses that can be scaled. They try to wrap your “problem” into their solutions. There is nothing wrong with the large cloud providers, but they will make HR inflexible at a time when agility is required.


Our research

Over the last 5 years we have extensively researched and published 3 times on this topic. We have also done about 50 workshops with HR Executive teams and, in our work in executive search, we speak annually to hundreds of candidates and we almost always ask about the “state of HR” in their organisation in those conversations.

Most recently KennedyFitch has initiated a new research project. We are interviewing CHRO’s and industry experts (Dave Ulrich, Josh Bersin, Ravin Jesuthasan etc.) on their view of “HR in 5 years from now” compared to where we are today. We will complement this in Q4 with a large-scale online questionnaire to our clients and candidates.

Reach out to the KennedyFitch partners and consultants if you want to run a workshop with your (HR) leadership team about the Future of work and the Future of HR in your company. There is no one-size-fits-all; we do not recommend you benchmark too much; we rather advise you to develop solutions that work for your company. We will co-create with you your way into the future, starting where you are today, co-designing where you want to go and helping you understand what it takes to get there.

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