10 Predictions for HR in 2018

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As Christmas fast approaches, with mince pies being consumed by the dozen and Jona Lewie’s yuletide classic ‘Stop the Cavalry’ blaring out from the stereo, thoughts turn to what lies ahead for HR in 2018.

My track record of predicting what would happen in 2017 (and for that matter 2016, 2015 and 2014) was, to put it mildly, a little bit hit and miss. So, with fingers crossed and tongue firmly in cheek, its time to put one’s little neck on the block once again.

1) People first – from one-size fits all to one-size fits one

The main takeaway for me from the UNLEASH shows in 2017 was the recognition that HR needs to follow the path trodden by marketing and create bespoke experiences for employees. This is a radical shift from the typical ‘one-size fits all’ HR programs of the past. Companies like Cisco, IBM and Salesforce are already doing this by combining people data with machine learning to provide personalised experiences for employees in areas such as onboarding, learning and internal mobility. Many more companies are using Chatbots to enrich the employee experience (as well as to streamline HR operations). Employees expect consumer-like experiences at work, technology coupled with data enables us to provide them and critically the more astute business leaders recognise that improving experience and better understanding employee sentiment leads to better results.

2) Productivity, teams and Organisational Network Analysis (ONA)

In Bersin by Deloitte’s HR Technology Disruptions for 2018 report, Josh Bersin writes about the shift towards systems of productivity as well as a growing desire to understand and improve team effectiveness. Deloitte’s earlier Global Human Capital Trends report revealed that 48% of companies are experimenting with Organisational Network Analysis. This matches my own experience of speaking to people analytics leaders, where ONA is the innovation they are most interested in. As we seek to understand the power of social capital, networks and connectors within organisations, so the rise of ONA will continue.

3) Adoption of people analytics begins to spike

Up until now the rise in adoption of people analytics has been steady rather than spectacular. I expect this to change in 2018 as analytics is integral to creating personalised employee experiences (prediction #1), properly harnessing ONA (prediction #2) and is the centrepiece of digital HR transformation. Whilst HR continues to struggle with people analytics particularly in areas such as creating an analytical culture, I sense a breakthrough is near (and no I haven’t been on the Christmas brandies).

4) The scope of people analytics broadens

Not only will adoption in people analytics likely start to spike in 2018, but the scope of work covered by the discipline will also broaden. For the most part the bulk of people analytics projects largely focus on employees and driving better business outcomes. This ecosystem is set to expand to incorporate contractors, freelancers and automation (hand in hand with strategic workforce planning and skills analysis). Moreover, expect to see more projects concentrated on improving employee experience and wellbeing as well as team performance (in concert with ONA – prediction #2).

5) GDPR moves the ethics and privacy discussion in the right direction

The general consensus thus far about the impending EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which comes into effect in May 2018, is that it will place yet further restrictions on organisations when it comes to handling people data. But is this an overly negative mindset? I think so. A more positive way of looking at GDPR is that it will force companies to put employees first when it comes to collecting, storing and analysing data. If you can’t articulate the benefits to employees of collecting and analysing their data then don’t do the project could become the mantra. So, whilst there will undoubtedly be short-term pain for HR in complying with the GDPR, the mid-long term gain could be that it moves the ethics and privacy discussion in the right direction. Is that really such a bad thing?

6) Employee wellness is no longer a taboo subject

Perhaps it is the renewed focus on productivity and creating employee experiences. Maybe it is the increasing weight of evidence linking employee engagement and wellness to business results (see example here from Thomas Rasmussen). Whatever the answer it is refreshing to see that the subject of wellbeing and mental health is no longer taboo. In Josh Bersin’s blog highlighting the HR Technology Disruptions for 2018, he describes the market for wellbeing tools as “the next big thing”. With much of the commentary around the future of work centred on humans being displaced by machines, this is uplifting to see. Expect to see more companies providing their employees with the tools, data and “nudges” to support exercise, mental health, work/life balance and consequently motivation and happiness.

7) Behavioural economics enters the workplace

Another example of the “people first” approach companies are increasingly adopting with regards to employees comes in the area of behavioural economics. Once again, HR is playing catch up with marketing here as companies have long sought to understand and influence consumer behaviour. Whilst examples in HR are still in short supply, I know a number of people analytics teams that are experimenting in this area. One of these is Google (watch Prasad Setty speaking here) where much of the focus of the people analytics team is on research that helps educate Googlers on how they make decisions and to help them make better decisions over time. Expect to hear more about companies researching the impact of behaviour on employees, teams and organisations.

8) HR Tech continues to be ‘hot’ for investors

The HR Tech space continues to be awash with investment and innovation and there are numerous vendors and players worth keeping an eye on. Here are five that have caught my eye throughout 2017, who all look set for rapid growth next year and can help address some of the trends highlighted in this article:

  • TrustSphere is at the forefront of the growth in passive ONA and relationship analytics
  • Peakon is a next-gen employee engagement platform that quadrupled in size in 2017 and is set to expand into the US in 2018
  • Alderbrooke Group helps companies decode culture and understand the behaviours that drive innovation and performance
  • Cultivate helps improve team effectiveness through measuring digital engagement and identifying areas of communication bias
  • Workometry is an employee feedback based on open questions that helps organisations understand employee sentiment in real-time

9) We need to talk about Blockchain

Yes, I was a little skeptical too when I first heard the words ‘Blockchain’ and ‘HR’ in the same sentence but Andy Spence, who is rapidly becoming the go-to person on this subject has convinced me otherwise. Read Andy’s ‘How will Blockchain impact HR’ article and make up your own mind, but I sense amongst other things Blockchain could help us answer the thorny question of data ownership, with the power passing significantly to the individual employee. Nothing to quibble with there.

10) UNLEASH goes into orbit

Given I was emphatically right last year when predicting that ‘HRN would take America’ with its inaugural show in San Francisco, this is the 2018 prediction I am most confident about. Fresh with a new name, with its position as undisputed HR technology show Champion of the World enhanced, and with a host of new and exciting ideas, UNLEASH looks set to dominate once again in 2018. Even Anthony Joshua is sidestepping this bout.

Finally, I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous data-driven and employee focussed 2018.


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