The HR opportunity: fostering talent in an age of uncertainty

Age of uncertainty
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First, it was Brexit. Then it was Trump. The past two years have left the world stunned with the unprecedented shifts in everything from political leaders to public sentiment. It’s caused a ripple effect of uncertainty that continues to permeate far and wide, leaving consumer and business confidence at an all-time low.

While investors tend to welcome volatility as a chance to increase profits, generally speaking uncertainty is anathema to business. This type of profound and ongoing instability has brought about a period of unparalleled business disruption.

A recent study backed by the Bank of England indicated that businesses are concerned that Britain leaving the European Union (EU) will have a detrimental impact on their sales and marketing.

The fear is that without access to the single market and fair trade deals, unit costs, labour and financing costs will undoubtedly increase – despite the government’s best efforts to ensure otherwise.

Economic shifts, including globalisation, and the UK’s impending exit from the EU are the two areas that will most negatively impact business objectives, according to The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) “HR Outlook for 2017” report.

The good news is the majority (59%) of senior UK HR professionals believe they are in a position to have a positive influence and safeguard their organisation against challenges created by these changes, a clear sign that HR professionals are resilient in the face of adversity.

That said, 72% believe that competition for well-qualified talent will be greater than ever over the next three years. 

As uncertainty becomes the new normal, employee retention, business confidence and stability, as well as culture, will be of even greater importance, something only the HR function can truly initiate.

Data analytics can help HR leaders better understand the effect of policies, programmes and employee engagement.

Cultivating talent despite adversity

Business leaders don’t have a crystal ball that can predict the future and, as a result, are increasingly turning to their directors and managers, including HR teams, for insight. As organisations brace for unprecedented change, there are a number of ways that HR professionals can be the trusted advisor that C-level executive’s need today and in the future.

Embrace data analytics

Data analytics can help HR leaders better understand the effect of policies, programmes and employee engagement. For the cost-conscious senior executive, it can help outline the costs of recruiting new staff, tracking absences or presentism, for example, introducing more evidence-based decision-making into the organisation.

However, in order for it to succeed, the insights generated must be shared outside of the HR team to other associated functions within the business.

The respondents in the CIPD report whose organisations have already embraced technology to harness data cited cultural hurdles as one of the main barriers to wide-spread adoption. Many had not yet fully engaged other departments and lines of business, even in related teams.

For example, over half of risk and compliance professionals and more than a third of finance managers reported that they had no access to reports and dashboards in use by the HR team.

Prioritise succession planning

Recruiting suitably skilled candidates from within the business is an ideal way of maintaining consistency in uncertain times. It also holds less risk than the alternative of making an external appointment, as they’re a “known quantity”.

HR leaders need to work closely with department directors to take a much closer look at individual employees, map out their career progression and invest in the necessary training, so those employees have the best possible chance of thriving as tomorrow’s leaders.

Stay agile amidst change

Stricter labour laws and reduced freedom of movement across the EU, will undoubtedly impact the pool of available talent and increase the importance of the talent management role. Embracing agility and flexibility now means HR teams will be better equipped to respond to whatever changes the future holds.

In addition to greater responsibility, the breadth of the HR role is evolving in new ways. When HR professionals were questioned about their priorities for developing leadership behaviours over the coming years, respondents highlighted performance management (46%), people management (45%), developing staff (44%), and engagement/motivation (40%), as their focus areas.

These will take precedence as they develop, upskill, and reskill all employees’ leadership behaviours and skills over the coming years.

Stricter labour laws and reduced freedom of movement across the EU, will undoubtedly impact the pool of available talent and increase the importance of the talent management role.

There’s no denying that the coming months and years will be characterised by a different political landscape in Europe, the UK and beyond.

Coupled with the rising digital disruption, taking an agile approach will go a long way to set the organisation apart from the competition, especially at a time when businesses need it most

As companies wrestle to keep OpEx and CapEx under control, the cost of talent will have to be closely managed and balanced, even if the investment in the right talent should always outweigh the cost.

Whatever approach an organisation takes to respond to the uncertainty that lies ahead, if business leaders keep talent management at the heart of their HR and people strategies for the foreseeable future, they will come out on top. After all, a business is nothing without its people. 

About Chano Fernandez

Chano Fernandez

Chano Fernandez is EVP global field operations at Workday. 

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