Has Anything Changed? Analyzing the 2016 Human Capital Predictions

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Feb 5, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

I started the new year reading through dozens of lists of New Year’s predictions forecasting trends that will shape the HCM world in 2016 and beyond.

My goal was to identify overall meta-trends and see if any new predictions emerged that are different from things predicted in the past. You can read the full research article here, but here is a summary of the study and findings.

First, I gathered predictions found on more mainstream HR sites such as TLNT,  SHRM, HR Technology, and Forbes. I also included forecasts by well-known HR thought leaders such as John Boudreau, Josh Bersin, Marcus Buckingham, Peter Cappelli, and several others.

I ended up with a list of 131 predictions that were as broad as “talent from within will be realized as a true asset” to as specific as “organization charts begin to disappear.”

Similar predictions from 2004

The second step was to categorize the predictions based on general themes.

To assess if new trends were emerging, I decided to see if I could sort the 2016 predictions using a list of HCM predictions made in 2004. The 2004 predictions were from a paper I wrote 12 years ago that analyzed labor market trends at the beginning of the millennium (S. Hunt, Shifts in the Talent Landscape, 2004).

There was remarkable similarity between many 2004 and 2016 predictions. For example, try to pick which of these predictions were NOT included in the 2004 predictions:

  • A) Staffing processes extend past the initial hiring decision and follow employees to the point where they are fully-socialized and committed to the organization.
  • B) Companies embrace the concept of virtual workspaces and provide managers and employees with the necessary training and technology needed to work with people anywhere in the world.
  • C) Employees switch employers based on their support for telecommuting, co-working spaces, globalization and new technology tools.
  • D) Companies pay careful attention to the unique nature of the interests, motives, abilities and constraints frequently found in older workers

The answer is “C” The other three predictions were copied directly from the 2004 paper. In 2004, people were also talking a lot about telecommuting and flexible work technology but it wasn’t yet viewed as a key tool for staff retention.

Still relevant 10 years later

It is interesting how many of the 2004 predictions are still relevant 10 years later. As they say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

My general view is that because HCM is fundamentally about people, and people don’t change much over time at a fundamental level, yet the problems of HR tend to remain fairly constant over time. Companies were struggling to attract, develop, engage and retain employees in 2004 and they are still are now.

What does change a lot over time is the methods we use to address these challenges.

Although there has not been massive change in HCM trends since 2004, there has been some noticeable change in the emphasis placed on different HR challenges and tools.  The following four (4) trends in particular are far more prevalent now than 10 years ago:

1. HCM Technology Transformation

The focus here is increasing development of professionals and organizational functions that are focused specifically on understanding how technology can be used to increase workforce productivity and efficiency.

This is about creating true cross-discipline HRIT functions where equal understanding and emphasis is given to HR expertise and IT knowledge. Some things to think about relative to this trend:

  • Who in your company is responsible for identifying and recommending technology to improve your HCM capabilities? How do you ensure these people truly understand both HCM process design and HRIT capabilities and constraints?
  • How will you use technology to improve your HCM capabilities over the next two years?

2. Business Oriented Human Resources

A focus on increasing the role that HR plays in operational business decision to ensure that company strategies can be achieved given the capabilities of the workforce and that the workforce is being effectively developed to support future business needs and goals.

HR doesn’t just have a seat at the leadership table — it often leads the conversation. Some things to think about relative to this trend:

  • How do issues related to talent availability impact business planning and operations? What HCM data is used during strategic business planning sessions?
  • What HCM issues should influence how your company plans to achieve its financial targets over the coming years? How are these issues articulated to operations business leaders?

3. Continuous Coaching

This is about creating work environments that provide employees with ongoing feedback and guidance that maximizes their engagement, development and performance.

Managers are finally held accountable for actually being good managers, coaching their employees, and offering effective behavioral feedback and constructive suggestions to their direct reports. Some things to think about relative to this trend:

  • What tools and training do you provide managers and employees to support ongoing coaching and career development discussions?
  • How do you measure whether your managers are actually providing effective coaching to their employees?  How do you ensure your managers are being good managers?

4. Technology Enabled HCM/Easier HR

This is about replacing inefficient, cumbersome and overly bureaucratic HR methods with much easier to use technology applications.

Eliminating or transforming inefficient HR methods that negatively impact employee productivity. Some things to think about relative to this trend:

  • How do you plan to incorporate mobile technology into your HCM processes over the coming years? How are you using it now?
  • What HCM processes could most benefit from better technology in terms of making them easier to use?

What do you do with these predictions?

So what’s next?

While there is value in planning for the future, I would not change a business strategy solely because some HR thought leader made a prediction about things that might happen. But it may make sense to modify certain HCM practices to reflect what is likely to happen over the next few years.

My suggestion is to discuss these trends with your HR leadership so you ensure actions you take today are setting you up for lasting success in the future.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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