6 Trends That Will Define HR in 2018

2018 will be a good year to be in HR.

At least, that’s what we heard from the analysts, customers, partners, and experts we reached out to in order to get a sense from the HR community of what to expect in the next year.

Anna Tavis, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Academic Director of HCM at NYU, notes that the strategic role of HR continues to rise.

“HR is not only at the table but in the engine room of every organizations,” Tavis says. “There are a lot new beginnings for HR as what used to be called the “soft” stuff breaks down hardwired brands.”

Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, would agree.

“I believe 2018 will be one of the most important years for HR in decades: we have a growing global economy, unprecedented focus on diversity and inclusion and transparency, a global discussion about pay equity and fairness, and the need to re-skill, hire, and keep people engaged,” Bersin says. “All these are existential business issues for which HR leaders must take ownership.”

With all the changes in the workplace, though, HR can be an overwhelming role. How do you decide what to focus on? Let’s dig into each trend to see.

1. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) may take some jobs and change others — it’s not a question of either/or, but both. The big priority for HR is figuring out how to reorganize teams and processes to make best use of new technology.

“The robots are coming, AI is ubiquitous and humans need to understand how to collaborate with the machines,” Tavis says. “This is a new and exciting frontier. Machines alone will not do it, and humans alone will fail. This new partnership with technology will drive the business. Everybody needs to learn fast.”

AI is ubiquitous and humans need to understand how to collaborate with the machines Click To Tweet

HR must learn and prepare to instruct others on the benefits of technology and how to use it to improve productivity and business results. Employees are using more and more innovative tools in their daily lives — think Uber and Amazon’s Alexa — and coming to outdated tools in the workplace will leave them frustrated and disengaged.

“The rise of AI will be the biggest challenge for HR in 2018 and beyond. It changes the employee experience fundamentally – away from traditional enterprise software screens to chat based or even voice based assistants,” Holger Mueller, VP and Principal Analyst for Constellation Research, says.

2. Leveraging Digital

If AI still sounds far in the future for your organization, remember that many workplaces are still not using digital to the full extent. The greater trend in business is the shift to service-focused, customer-centric solutions, and with this, business models that are always on and digital. According to Bersin, this means a flatter organization with dynamic roles. This huge shift in organizational structure means people need to be reskilled.

“HR’s biggest challenge in 2018 will be the shift from thinking about ‘HR solutions’ to ‘productivity,'” Bersin says. “HR’s role in all this is to design and facilitate productive people practices that make the digital business organization work.”

HR’s role in all this is to design and facilitate productive people practices that make the digital business organization work.

What does that actually look like? Jo Dennis, chief people officer at Omada Health, notes relying on digital allows her team to focus on higher-value outcomes.

“Predictive analytics will be something for us to continue working towards – and using our data to help inform investments. Ranging from ‘new managers’ flagged to engage in training, to high attrition in certain teams requiring deeper HR engagement, or resignations of new hires and insights from our recruiting team,” Dennis says.

The accelerating change requires HR’s involvement from the start.

“All the changes in technology, tools, and infrastructure going on in the company have to be done with HR’s help,” Bersin says.

3. Reshaping HR

“Instead of thinking of HR as human resources, professionals in this space need to think of themselves as being in the business of human transformation,” author, speaker and futurist Jacob Morgan says.

These changes in the organization also redefine the role of HR. The reactionary route of eliminating performance reviews or making them more frequent is being replaced with a total rethinking of the purpose of performance management.

“After almost a decade-long crusade to transform performance management, HR is finally coming around to addressing the bigger challenge of transforming talent management itself,” Tavis says.

It’s not about the right solution, but ensuring we are asking the right question. The good news is, the rest of the leadership team is starting to see the business challenges and connect the need for strategic HR leadership.

“Rather than trying to convince upper-level executives of the need to address the quality of relationships among employees and between supervisors and employees, business and organizational leaders will be coming to HR professionals and asking for input on how to make the workplace culture healthier,” author and consultant Dr. Paul White says.

In 2018, HR will start to be seen as a solution rather than a cost center.

4. Investing In People

Engagement with others in senior leadership is key to addressing the main concerns of a head of HR, Bersin says.

“How do we hire the best people in a tight global job market? How do we engage and retain top talent? How do we reskill people and build a new generation of leadership? How do we engage the more senior ‘tenured’ professionals in our company? And how do we modernize our performance management, rewards, wellbeing, and engagement programs? Underneath all this I believe the biggest issue is that of building a refreshed, energized, ‘digital’ HR function,” Bersin says.

HR has to deliver a compelling response to the demands of the modern employee.

All these concerns revolve around talent. Both business leaders and HR need to embrace that company growth goes hand-in-hand with employee growth, and companies need to answer to the needs of employees at all levels to stay competitive.

“HR has to deliver a compelling response to the demands of the modern employee: “How is working for your organization going to help me develop as a human being and advance my career at the same time?” Seasoned HR leaders knew this day was coming, but I don’t think anyone thought it would come this fast and with this much intensity,” Jonathan Raymond, author and CEO of Refound, says.

On the ground level, this requires a fresh and authentic approach to talent management. Engagement surveys, feedback tools, digital collaboration through tools like Slack all contribute to clear communication between managers and their reports.

“In 2018 we’ll focus on furthering our culture, reinforcing our bonds to each other and our mission; as well as continuing to invest in development for everyone where the foundations are strong through great clarity on expectations, as well as high quality, real-time feedback throughout the year,” says Dennis.

5. Company Brand and Culture

As we wrap up 2017, it’s impossible to ignore the series of news headlines regarding workplace harassment. Examples from major brands prove a healthy workplace environment is not just a “nice to have” — it can make or break a brand.

“More than 80 percent of US stock market valuation is based on brand, IP, and services – which is all dependent on people. Companies that falter, slow, or fall behind always have people or culture problems under the covers – so HR’s role as the curator and sponsor of culture and values is more important than ever,” Bersin says.

More than 80% of US stock market valuation is based on brand, IP, and services Click To Tweet

“The exposure of sexual harassment as a real issue that needs to be addressed – and hopefully, not just from a legal liability point of view,” White says. “Rather, being able to discuss the power dynamics of work-based relationships and give both supervisors and team members practical actions they can take to prevent sexual harassment, discuss the various ways concerns could be addressed, and provide support to those who have been victims (and are maybe just now coming forward).”

Brand also matters for the skills gap.

“Creative recruiting, investing in the presence of our external employer brand, developing networks, and assessing new talent markets for some our hardest to find and retain talent are ways we are addressing the skills gap,” Dennis says.

What about on-the-job learning and development enabled by a growth-minded culture?

Employees need to assess formal and informal learning from the six-minute microlearning to the in-depth face-to-face instructor-led course and everything in-between. They need opportunities to find just that nugget of learning that will help them do the job they are doing right now. This brings work and learning together,” says Claire Schooley, independent consultant.

6. Staying Above Water

With all these trends and changes, it’s no surprise HR teams feel overloaded, managing everything from talent pipeline to culture to keeping up with the latest legislation and its impact on employees.

“The most frequent concern I hear (and it is somewhat under the surface) is the incredible demands HR professionals have to manage now – from talent acquisition to onboarding, to soft skills training, to dealing with sexual harassment charges, and then exiting employees appropriately,” White says.

The importance of applying best practices of work/life balance to one’s own life cannot be understated.

This breadth and depth of responsibility also means HR can have a huge influence on business success in 2018.

“For most enterprises people are the biggest asset, investment and cost. Moving the needle on any HR metric – attrition, engagement, satisfaction, performance, or skills has massive impact on the overall success of the organization,” Mueller says.

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