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What’s Really Keeping HRDs Awake at Night?

Most research aimed at finding out what’s top of the HRD agenda will usually arrive at four perennial priorities:

  • Accessing talent and skills
  • Retaining and engaging employees
  • Succession planning and pipelining
  • Reducing workplace stress

Increasingly retention and succession are becoming the top concerns. Around half of HR Directors in the recent ADP 2014/15 Workforce View report gave ‘a lack of fresh talent entering the organisation’ as their biggest worry. Engagement is synonymous with retention, and the same report found HRDs using praise and recognition, open leadership and flexible working as the three main methods to try improve this, whilst ‘people working harder for the same or less reward’ was seen as the number one threat. Worth noting that for employees it’s ‘the ability to work when and where I want’ that was the main motivator for workplace happiness.


The story is not dissimilar for CEO priorities, with most research currently also showing that attracting the right talent and skills, plus leadership capability and succession, are the main concerns, with ‘maximising returns and competitive advantage from investment in technology’ close behind.

But does this tell us the whole story? Whilst these are clearly important concerns, what are we doing about them? What’s really keeping us awake at night?

The newly published Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report identified key trends impacting the organisation, from talent and capability to data, analytics and complexity. There are three distinct areas in which the HR team can make a difference…

Culture and Engagement

The attraction, retention and engagement of talent has already been identified as a key pressure for all businesses. Key skills are hard to find whilst organisational culture is increasingly becoming the key differentiator for businesses looking to hire and retain. The concept of ‘organisational nakedness‘ originally appeared in a book from US writer Don Tapscott in 2012, but with the rise of Glassdoor, and the willingness of employees to talk about their work (either intentionally or unintentionally) on social media channels such as Facebook, this transparency is now a reality, with potential job seekers gaining visibility of what it is like to work inside your organisation, whilst also finding out about new roles.

To make a difference now HR should encourage a mind shift away from seeing engagement as an initiative or process that gets surveyed once a year, into an on-going commitment to giving employees purpose. I have already noted praise and recognition being increasingly used, and this should be underpinned by treating employees with respect. Tools are now available that can read sentiment from online conversations. It’s not only engagement though. Many companies are also starting to approach performance management as an on-going dialogue aimed at continuous learning and improvement rather than a one-off annual report. This requires managers to be better equipped to deliver feedback.

In my last post I looked at leadership as a culture and the core competencies that we need to encourage. Engagement traditionally starts at the top, with leaders driving culture, which then impacts performance. Can our managers successfully define the company culture? Do employees understand their purpose and are they aligned with the business vision and values? Can leaders deliver (and receive) feedback in the right way? There needs to be a culture in which great leadership can develop and be seen to thrive.

Data and Analytics

Few topics have dominated the HR conversations over recent years as much as ‘Big Data’, or more specifically how to maximise return from the investment in technology. There are two issues here – firstly that spending on HR technology has been rising without any noticeable improvements to processes or competitive advantage, and secondly we have increasing amounts of data and insights but seem to lack the skills to properly make sense of it to support effective decision making.

Part of the solution is to accept that specialist skills around analytics are not always compatible with HR competencies. HR generalists can get lost in detail and analysts can’t always present. Some of the most effective analytics teams will blend various skills together, so that the data scientist may come from an analytical or science background, whilst HR use the data to bring the findings to life in a compelling way to stakeholders, which requires a different skill set.

The key is to begin with the data and capabilities that already exist and use them to illustrate and improve stakeholder understanding of specific issues within the business. Talent acquisition and retention are two pressing concerns and are usually a good place to start, possibly by profiling high performers or evaluating the most cost and quality effective channels for hiring, or looking at patterns around resignations or sickness.


The Deloitte report highlighted some research around business communication – namely that each day more than 100 billion emails are sent globally, yet only 1 in 7 is rated important, whilst an average employee can spend up to a quarter of the working day reading and answering emails. It was their 2014 report that first highlighted the concept of overwhelmed employees that we have previously referenced, and this year the issue seems to be exacerbated. Three quarters of HRDs now rate their workplace as complex with only 10% actively pursuing a major programme of simplification. This complexity is also impacting productivity.

Technology is becoming more intrusive, and the lines between personal and business are beginning to blur. Whether its late night emails, or an internal HR system that doesn’t recognise them each time they try to log in, employees are becoming more frustrated as business technology fails to mirror the ease of use and responsiveness that they have from technology in their personal lives.

This is an area where HR can make a huge impact, taking the lead in simplifying, or ‘de-cluttering‘ the business of time-consuming and unproductive processes. Employees should be consulted about time-wasting and complex processes, with a much more robust approach to the volume of emails and meetings encouraged – there is research to show that people who use their smartphones for late night emails are less productive the following day. Ease of use should become the main criteria for choosing new technology rather than extra functionality and tools, and internal processes should all be reviewed with the user (employee) experience in mind.

One response to “What’s Really Keeping HRDs Awake at Night?”

  1. […] talent remains a core concern for businesses of all sizes. It’s a topic that keeps HRDs and CEOs awake, and is also top of the agenda for specialist corporate recruiters. Organisational culture is a key […]

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