Top priority for HR leaders in 2021: building critical skills

priorityGartner, Inc.’s 2021 HR Priorities Survey of more than 750 HR leaders claims that 68 percent of respondents cited building critical skills and competencies as their number one priority in 2021. The survey, conducted from June through August 2020, claims the other top HR priorities for 2021 are: organisational design and change management (46 percent), current and future leadership bench (44 percent), the future of work (32 percent) and employee experience (28 percent).

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, HR leaders are moving away from crisis management toward focusing on what will make their organisations strong, both today and in the future, including having the right skills and competencies, building resilience and having a strong cadre of leaders,” said Mark Whittle, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice.

Nearly 875 HR leaders also ranked their top business-level priorities for 2021, and 65 percent selected improving operational excellence. Growing the business and executing business transformations were selected by 64 percent and 54 percent of respondents, respectively. Fifty percent of HR leaders said they would focus on optimizing costs in 2021 – a 13 percent increase from last year.


Taking a new approach to reskilling

Organisations need to take a dynamic approach to reskilling and redeploying talent in which all impacted stakeholders work together to sense shifting skill needs and find ways to develop skills at the time of need. Currently, only 21 percent of HR leaders say peers share accountability or partner with HR to determine future skill needs. A dynamic approach to reskilling enables faster identification of skills needs, and employees apply 75 percent of the new skills they learn.


Redesigning work for responsiveness

Thirty-seven percent of HR leaders surveyed by Gartner report that their organisation’s managers aren’t equipped to lead change. Further, in 2020, the amount of change that the average employee can absorb without becoming fatigued has been cut in half compared to 2019.

“HR leaders need to focus on future-forward work design that eliminates the work friction that frustrates employees today and allows employees to be responsive — in sync with customer needs, in a position to anticipate changes in those needs, and able to adapt their approach and activities accordingly,” Mr. Whittle said.


Solving the leadership gap

More than one-third of HR leaders surveyed by Gartner report that their succession management processes don’t yield the right leaders at the right time, while only 44 percent of employees say they trust their organisation’s leaders and managers to navigate a crisis well.

Confidence and trust in leadership is also undermined by the lack of diversity, as nearly 50 percent of HR leaders report that their organisation’s leadership bench is not diverse. Organisations that implement diversity networking programs are 3.4 times more likely to report they are effective at increasing opportunities for talent mobility.


Identifying the future of work trends 

The future of work is a top priority for one-third of HR leaders, however, 62 percent say their organisation does not have an explicit future of work strategy. The COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on the future of work, accelerating certain trends — more employees working remotely, increased use of employee data — and creating new impacts, i.e. an organisation can distinguish themselves as a top-tier employee brand based on their crisis response.

“The lens through which HR leaders must understand the relevance, impact and opportunity of each future of work trend for the business is critical to strategic planning and scenario planning,” said Mr. Whittle.


Driving employee experience 

Employee experience has become an increasingly important topic across HR – 31 percent of Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) report that employee experience is a priority, as do 46 percent of heads of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Crafting a consistent employee experience has been made more challenging by today’s hybrid workforce, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HR should leverage today’s hybrid workforce model and empower managers and employees to share ownership of location decisions, so employees can switch locations dynamically based on what environment will drive productivity and engagement.

Read the full report here.

Image by Arek Socha