Business Leaders Want Less Talk, More Action From Advanced HR Tech

HR Technology Starting Line

Executives are getting tired of talking about disruption and becoming impatient to begin executing. That’s our takeaway from the 2018 Global Talent Trends Study, published yesterday by Mercer.

HR Technology Starting LineThe report said that 91 percent of American companies have innovation at the core of their 2018 agenda, and that 95 percent plan organization design changes round them. At the same time, employees want more control over their personal and professional lives, with more than half asking for more flexible work options. This means that whatever changes employers make, they’d better keep their workers’ preferences in mind if they want to succeed.

In that context, it’s notable that one of employees’ top desires is for leaders to set clear direction.

“This year we saw palpable excitement from executives about shifting to the new world of work,” said Ilya Bonic, president of Mercer’s career business. “They are pursuing an agenda of continuous evolution—rather than episodic transformation—to remain competitive. They recognize that it’s the combination of human skills plus advanced digital technology that will drive their business forward.”

Of course, no report would be complete without a buzzword, and Mercer’s is “human operating system,” as in: “In pursuit of new technologies, executives must focus on the ‘human operating system’ to power their organization.”

This strikes us as a subtle but different attitude than we’ve heard from employers in the past. Previously they wanted to know all about the capabilities of advanced technologies and what they could do with them. Now, they seem to have realized that if the technology’s users, whoever they may be, aren’t on board, adoption will be long, expensive, frustrating and even self-defeating.

HR Tech Trends to Watch

Mercer identified five workforce trends to watch for this year:

  • “Change@Speed:” How companies prepare for the future of work depends on the degree of disruption they anticipate. Those expecting the most disruption are working agility into their operating model and placing bets on flatter, more networked structures. For example, 27 percent are forming more holacratic work teams. However, HR leaders feel less prepared to reskill existing employees (51 percent are confident they can do this well) than they are to hire from the outside (72 percent). Then there’s the question of learning: Since 53 of executives predict at least one in five roles in their organization will disappear within five years, being prepared for job displacement and reskilling is critical. Yet, only 49 percent of companies are increasing access to online learning courses and even fewer (28 percent) are actively rotating talent within the business.
  • Working with Purpose: Some 76 percent of “thriving” employees—those who feel fulfilled personally and professionally—say their company has a strong sense of purpose. To find purpose, employees crave movement, learning and experimentation, Mercer says, and if they don’t find it with one employer, they’ll look for it somewhere else. For example, 34 percent of employees who are satisfied in their current job still plan to leave because of a perceived lack of career opportunity.
  • Permanent Flexibility: Employees want work arrangements that put them in control of their personal and professional lives. For example, they want more flexible work options. Their employers are listening, Mercer says, with 79 percent of executives seeing flexible work as a core part of their value proposition. That said, here’s a number to ponder: Only 3 percent of HR organizations consider themselves to be industry leaders when it comes to enabling flexibility. Meanwhile, 41 percent of employees fear that choosing flexible work arrangements will impact their promotion prospects.
  • Platform for Talent: Given that 92 percent of executives expect the competition for talent to intensify, employers realize they must expand their talent ecosystem and update their HR models for today’s widening digital age. Nearly two in five companies plan to “borrow” more talent this year. Fortunately for them, 78 percent of employees would consider working on a freelance basis. A solution is to adopt “a platform mindset,” said Kate Bravery, global practices leader in Mercer’s career business. She acknowledged that “requires a radical mindset shift, embracing the notion that talent can be accessed for the benefit of all rather than ‘owned’ by one manager, department, function, or even organization.” Executives seem to be buying in, however, with many telling Mercer that improving the ability to move jobs to people and people to jobs would have a sgnificant impact on business performance this year.
  • Digital from the Inside Out: Though they’re improving, American employers still lag India and the UK when it comes to delivering a consumer-grade HR experience. Only 23 percent consider themselves a digital organization today. While 67 percent of employees say state-of-the-art tools are important for success, just 56 percent have the digital tools necessary to do their job. 43 percent have digital interactions with HR.

However, business leaders are confident in HR’s ability to be a strategic partner in setting the course for the future. Nearly three-quarters—76 percent—say HR aligns people strategy with the strategic priorities of the organization.

“Intuitively, we know success involves riding the crest of change and this requires a healthy risk appetite and a willingness to break and re-make talent models,” said Bravery. Organizational leaders seem to be developing that appetite.

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