Five Critical Priorities HR Can’t Afford to Ignore in 2015

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How employees get their work done has changed remarkably quickly; unsurprisingly HR needs to change, too

Anyone who works in a global company doesn’t need to be told that their job has changed enormously in the past few years.

Even if their job title – and sometimes their job description – remains unscathed, the number of people they work with, the amount of information they use to make decisions, their day-to-day tasks, and the technology they use have all changed quicker than at any time in their careers.

Five priorities for the HR function

The changing nature of work is one of five trends CEB’s research shows will shape global business in 2015. And, given the function’s role, this shift in how work is accomplished means a lot of change for HR professionals.

Heads of HR and their teams should take five steps in particular to help their firm make the most of the new work environment.

1. Attract and retain “enterprise contributors”

Data from surveys of HR and line managers show that the average company needs to improve employee performance by 27 percent just to hit the revenue and profitability targets senior managers have set.

HR teams should look beyond conventional performance management based on improving individual performance and develop a cadre of “enterprise contributors.” These are employees who perform well individually and who accomplish tasks by working effectively with and through others.

In fact, firms with enterprise contributors outperform their peers by 5 percent and 11 percent on year-over-year revenue and profit growth, respectively. This means that the average Fortune 500 organization can increase profit by $144 million and revenue by $924 million.

HR should not make the mistake of thinking that most employees aren’t ready or willing to be enterprise contributors. They are, but they’re stymied by structure and culture of their firms. Instead of trying to motivate employees to be enterprise contributors, HR should help their firms reconcile four (4) paradoxes at the heart of performance management.

2. Don’t make yourself appealing to all candidates, just good ones

The volume of people applying for jobs has risen by 33 percent in the past three years but the quality of applicants has not improved at all. In response, many firms launched employment branding campaigns to establish their company as “a great place to work,” and attract higher quality candidates.

But this strategy – called “branding for appeal” – produces pools of applicants of whom only 28 percent could be classed as high quality. This is because firms just add yet more to the mass of accessible corporate information. And all these conflicting messages – some of which are false – means that 61 percent of applicants say they are more skeptical of what employers say about themselves than they were three years ago.

Instead, HR teams should take a “branding for influence” approach to attract the best candidates.

Rather than releasing another YouTube video full of smiling faces and an uplifting theme tune, savvy firms spend time and money on messages that are relevant to most important talent segments, and that challenge applicants’ thinking rather than highlight anything good about the company. Those firms that brand for influence almost double the proportion of the applicant pool that can be classed as high quality.

3. Teach employees how to learn, not just what to learn

Given all of the above, firms must keep improving their learning and development activities. Most employees are now well aware that constant development is essential and think that the learning and development provided at their firm is sufficient: 84 percent say their “L&D solutions” are satisfying.

But despite this, and the estimated $145 billion spent annually on training, fewer than half those investments result in tangible returns. In response to these poor figures, many firms provide more opportunities for development, across more channels, and advocate that employees take responsibility for their development.

But it doesn’t work. Nearly three in four line managers report employees with high learning participation lack the right skills, and the extra learning activity creates a lot of waste. Every day, employees waste approximately 11% of their time on unproductive learning.

Leading firms increase employee awareness of how to learn (not just what to learn) and use learning technology that help employees develop learning behaviors, and not just consume content. This approach doubles the number of employees with high learning capabilities, and makes it more likely that employees will be equipped or the new work environment.

4. Make the HR team more valuable

Even though most senior executives are keen to stress how important their “people are to the business,” HR teams still struggle to provide the necessary support. Less than one-fifth of line managers rate HR as an effective partner.

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Many heads of HR have invested heavily in developing their HR teams to improve this sad statistic but most over invest in improving individuals and don’t do enough to change the organizational culture in which their teams must work.

In particular, there are four organizational barriers that prevent HR business partners – those that support the line – from doing their jobs effectively. Remove these and firms can nearly double the number of effective HR business partners they employ.

5. Don’t mistake high-performing for high-potential

CEB data show that firms with stronger leaders enjoy twice the revenue and twice the profit growth. Yet a high-potential employee (HiPo) program, which is many firms’ main investment to develop their future leaders, is statistically more likely to fail than succeed.

Data shows that 50 percent of HR managers lack confidence in their programs, and a staggering five in six HR managers are dissatisfied with the results.

Despite evidence to the contrary, many firms still wrongly assume that a high performer is also a HiPo. In fact, only one-in-seven high performers are HiPos. The reason mistakes are so often made is that there is rarely an objective selection process in place; decisions are rarely backed by any science.

Those involved in the HiPo selection process should assess employees based on their ability, aspiration, and engagement with the firm.