4 Key Trends in Workforce Transformation: Reflecting on 2019 and Looking Ahead to 2020

The new year will bring profound changes to the way we work. Companies who see change as an opportunity will need to adopt new approaches to talent management in order to actually seize the opportunities.

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There’s a lot to look forward to in talent management in 2020. New innovations transforming the world of work, increased use of data analytics in recruiting and hiring, development of new leadership competencies to support transformation and a greater focus on upskilling employees to build talent ecosystems that will help to bridge strategy execution gaps. 

To help identify emerging trends in 2020, it’s important to first reflect on what happened in 2019 to see how these insights inform the opportunities that lie ahead. 

When I look back at all of the work we’ve done and the people we’ve worked with, there are narrative threads that run through all these experiences that create a kind of road map to the upcoming year.

At LHH, we are critically concerned about workforce transformation as a strategy to not only improve current performance but also future-proof companies for the inevitable change that is to come.

Through insights gained from speaking with some of our top clients, we performed a deep dive on workforce transformation challenges that has revealed the good, the bad and the occasionally toxic in company culture and transformational capabilities.

Tales from the front lines of transformation

We spent quite a bit of time over the last year profiling senior HR professionals who are leading the charge to transform human capital to meet new business needs. It is hard to overstate the value of studying the culture of companies that are walking the walk of transformation.

We spent quality time with organisations like Intelsat, one of the world’s leading satellite communication solutions providers, and Fellowes Brands, inventor of the ubiquitous banker’s box, which showed us how very successful companies of all sizes can transform to stay ahead of their competition. Meanwhile, Recology, one of San Francisco’s leading solid waste managers, showed us how engaging employee owners can forge a path to transformation. And leaders at Swiss-based Clinique la Prairie, one of the world’s most exclusive spas, showed us how a venerable company can change to conquer new geographic frontiers.

We also dug into the strategies that successful companies employ to build the workforce of the future. When you look back at Transformation Insights in 2019, what emerges are the top four trends in workforce transformation we will see in 2020.

Learning Will Make or Break Your Future Business Plans

In December, I wrote about how our understanding of workforce learning has changed dramatically over the past year. Now, successful organisations are focusing learning investments on connecting people who will need jobs with jobs that need people. 

Although that seems like a pretty simple idea, it has proven to be elusive for many employers that find they have too many people with outdated skills and not enough people with new skills to fill the jobs of the future.

We know that today’s employees expects more training and development opportunities from their companies. We know they are looking for new, more engaging ways to learn. To dramatically accelerate development, companies are starting to give more employees access to a personal coach. By combining leading technology and professional development coaches via a video platform, we’ve made learning more relevant and personalised, allowing companies to better meet the development needs of their employees and fill their talent pipelines.

The Dawn of the Renewable Workforce

In the past, when human capital was seen as easily replaceable, employers could fire thousands of workers and hire thousands of new employees who had the skills needed for future challenges.Today's global shortage of skilled workers has made it abundantly clear that this approach is doomed to fail.

Turning to some of the best and brightest thinkers in this area, we made a strong case for viewing human capital as a renewable, rather than replaceable, resource. We’ve also argued that human capital must be viewed more as an asset, so that money spent on learning is viewed more as an investment and less as an expense.

Matt Such, our global practice leader for assessment and analytics, pointed out how few companies perform quality assessments of their current workforce before planning future changes. And, in partnership with the Adecco Group, our parent company, we also looked closely at accounting practices and how few companies are setting aside money specifically for reskilling and upskilling, keeping employers in a vicious and expensive cycle of firing and hiring to find the people with the right skills.

Developing a New Generation of Leaders

An up-to-date and skilled workforce is never going to live up to its full potential without good leaders. As a result, we spent quite a bit of time looking at the importance of effective, accountable leadership in executing business strategies.

The changes in talent management we saw last year will require companies to develop a new generation of leaders going forward. Our research shows this will be a very challenging task.

Vince Molinaro, author of The Leadership Contract, summarised several years of global research to provide a fascinating and somewhat worrisome picture of the state of leadership today. Future leaders will need to be more accountable to drive business results and as Molinaro’s research shows, organisations are simply not doing enough to develop those leaders.

We also studied the issue of mediocre leadership and how it can suck the life out of your organisation if left unchecked. Molinaro's colleague, Alex Vincent, followed up with a scathing assessment of leaders who create psychologically unsafe working environments. Both of these issues must be addressed in 2020 if organisations are to meet or exceed their expectations.

The Rise in Importance of Organisational Culture

This year, we will see a new emphasis on learning, renewable workforces and leadership. But we will also need to focus on culture. 

In an interview with Ricardo Vargas, the executive director of the Brightline Initiative, we struck deep at the heart of execution strategy, the process by which businesses take their best ideas and put them into practice. In particular, we uncovered why so many good ideas never come to fruition. 

“People turn ideas into reality,” Vargas said. “They are the embodiment of strategy. We need to understand our people and how they relate to each other better if we’re going to bridge this gap.”

Meanwhile, Michael Haid, LHH SVP and managing director of talent development for the U.S., took a long look at the perils of overlooking organisational culture when planning any transformation initiative. In particular, Haid noted that it was essential that businesses take stock of the good, bad and ugly of their current culture before mapping out a transformation. 

No doubt, 2020 will bring profound changes in the way we work. Companies who see change as an opportunity will need to adopt new approaches to talent management to maximise those opportunities.  
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