10 predictions for HR in 2017

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The Christmas tree is (finally) up, Fairytale of New York and Stop the Cavalry are on the radio, the dog has his yuletide tinsel collar on and it’s time to throw restraint out of the window and make some wild (and likely inaccurate) predictions on where HR is headed in 2017.


Here are ten predictions that will no doubt come back to haunt me in 12 months:


1) Adoption levels will continue to rise, but 2017 will not be the tipping point for People Analytics


Having predicted for each of the last three years that the practice of people analytics will go into orbit during the subsequent 12 months, it is time to be less optimistic for 2017. Whilst adoption of people analytics will continue to rise, I believe this will be steady rather than spectacular. This pessimism is based on the continued levels of fear (too much), knowledge (not enough) and courage (on a level with the lion character in the Wizard of Oz) prevalent in the vast majority of HR leaders I come across. With disruption everywhere and business in a state of flux, HR needs to adopt analytics and a data-driven approach more than ever, so I hope I am wrong (for a fourth consecutive year!).


See also – If anyone needs inspiration to get serious about people analytics, please feel free to dive into these 20 case studies (see Parts I and II), lovingly collated by this humble writer.


2) The gap between those adept at people analytics and those that aren’t will widen


Whilst the majority of HR functions will continue to dither about analytics, the ones who have embraced the practice will continue to reap the benefits. These organisations will be able to move towards a world where i) personalised data will be placed at the finger tip of the employee so they will be able to understand and improve their productivity, work-life balance and happiness as well as better manage their career, and ii) analysis on real-time employee feedback and sentiment will help drive company culture, employee engagement and productivity.


3)HR programs begin to shift from the individual to focusing on teams


We all know that HR programs have traditionally focused almost exclusively on the individual (performance management, recruitment, learning, reward etc), but we should also be equally aware that it is teams – rather than individuals – that actually get work done. Consequently, in response to this (and other disruptions such as digital) organisational design methodology is evolving from the traditional static bureaucratic, hierarchical and top-down approach to one that is continually evolving and focused on teams or as described by Bersin “networks of teams”. Our HR programs need to catch up and instead be focused on measuring, maximising and rewarding team performance, and critically on understanding and improving the way teams work together. People Analytics can help achieve this – see this excellent article from the New York Times on Google’s Project Aristotle, which sought to answer the question ‘What makes a team effective at Google’.


4) Culture and engagement continue to dominate


CEOs regularly cite culture and engagement as two of their biggest priorities when it comes to people, and this will continue to be the case in 2017. The importance of culture cannot be underestimated with countless studies showing that companies with a strong sense of purpose and clearly defined set of cultural values outperforming their peers (Source: Bersin by Deloitte). Whilst not to be confused with culture (they are not the same), engagement will also continue to rise in importance as it morphs from a singular annual survey with limited value to something that is always on, multi-source and underpinned by analytics. Companies habitually use consumer feedback to inform strategy, innovation and organisational design. Employee feedback and sentiment will increasingly be used by companies for similar reasons, as well as to help guide leaders through transformation, M&A and scaling.


5) AI makes a big splash in HR


Granted there has been more hype about AI in HR than there was about Sigue Sigue Sputnik in 1985 (yes, I really am that old), but this is something that is already happening and will have an increasingly significant impact on the function in 2017. I’m an optimist, so believe that whilst these technologies will see old jobs disappear and new ones emerge, the emphasis will be on augmenting what HR professionals do rather than wholesale automation. I’m obviously biased, but I’m really excited by IBM bringing Watson to HR to help improve its business impact and the experience HR offers to employees across the lifecycle from recruitment and onboarding through to engagement, mobility and learning as well as HR operations – and all underpinned by analytics.


6) In the interests of balance, these HR Tech firms are also set to fly in 2017


It’s a great time to be in the HR Tech space. Investment in HR Tech firms continues to be high and there seems to be an acquisition announcement every week. Six companies that can help HR teams implement some of the aforementioned trends are (in no particular order):


  • TrustSphere –analyses meta data from enterprise communication and collaboration systems (without accessing communication content), enabling data driven decision making in areas such as accelerating onboarding and organisational design as well as identifying key influencers and collaborators.
  • Workometry – a tool that enables executives to ask for ideas or feedback from their employees on key strategic questions and uses machine learning to identify the critical issues and patterns from the tens of thousands of multi-language open-text responses they receive in real time.
  • Saberr – helps teams “work well together” through research, technology and consulting. Technology solutions include a predictive team profile and launching in 2017 a digital coach for teams.
  • hiQ Labs – curates public data to map employee skills, predict employee flight risk and actions to keep them engaged
  • OrgVue – helps build organisational excellence capabilities, to enable effective transformation through thoughtful, holistic, data-driven organisation design.
  • Humanyze – a social sensing and analytics platform that drives team effectiveness and engagement.


7) The Consumerisation of HR heightens debate on ethics, privacy and trust


People now expect to have a similar experience at work to that they enjoy as a consumer. The ensuing ‘Consumerisation of HR’ has already fuelled the shift from employee engagement to employee experience (see prediction #4), and is driving many of the AI products flooding the market (see Predictions #5 and #6). Tools built on apps that provide recommendations to employees on career and learning opportunities need employee data to work. Moreover, accurately measuring employee sentiment and or understanding/improving productivity requires analysing data from sources such as email meta data, social media and internal collaboration platforms. Understandably, employees are nervous about employers having access to this data and want to know what’s in it for them. Most people are willing to share data, if the benefits are clear and the parameters clearly defined. Companies and HR have plenty of work to do in this area, so expect plenty of debate around ethics, data privacy and employee trust in 2017 – it has increasingly become a hot topic at conferences I’ve attended in the second half of 2016.


9) The rise of HR ‘Open Source’ collaborative platforms continues


With the level of disruption and number of challenges facing HR reaching unprecedented levels, the function needs to collaborate, co-create and share with their peers to survive and thrive. 2016 saw the #HROS initiative of Ambrosia Vertesi and Lars Schmidt deservedly make a significant impact – check out the 20+ case studies if you don’t believe me. Google’s re:Work and the CIPD sponsored Valuing your Talent are two other examples of inspirational content sources for the profession. Expect more to emerge in 2017 as HR leaders realise they are stronger together than alone.


See also – The Future of HR is Open Source


9) HRN takes San Francisco


Before anyone asks I haven’t been paid or encouraged to say this, but I confidently predict that HRN’s expansion into the United States with HR Tech World San Francisco on June will be a roaring success. From what I’ve experienced at conferences in the country, America desperately needs HRN’s blend of inspirational speakers, disruptive technology, fantastic production and fun. It could prove the perfect antidote to a Trump presidency!


10) HR as agent of change


It didn’t really happen in 2016 (in most organisations), but I’m going to end in a flurry of optimism by repeating my final prediction of 12 months ago. As disruption causes the pace of change to intensify and as the old ponderous bureaucratic ways of doing things continue to fail (why else would over 50% of the Fortune 500 from 2000 no longer be in existence?), HR needs to move from change blocker to change agent. Yes, it needs to consistently talk the language of the business and change its mindset of being a cost centre, but more importantly HR needs to be brave. It needs to embrace the opportunities offered through flux, changing employee attitudes, neuroscience, people analytics, digital and technology to create real and lasting change in how talent is identified, recruited, activated and retained. Will this happen in 2017? Probably not, but at least let’s start the New Year with a modicum of optimism.


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all.

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