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Blog Post | Beyond Data

5 top HR priorities for 2020

By Sambhav Rakyan | January 22, 2020

Here are five areas we believe the HR function should address in 2020 to help their organizations.
Future of Work|Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Total Rewards|Employee Engagement

In our post on top HR priorities for 2019, we highlighted the need for HR to be proactive and attuned to global market changes. Since then, we’ve seen employee sentiment and behavior shift on a massive scale, forcing many organizations to re-evaluate their purpose and long-term business goals.

With this change, we believe the HR function will play a pivotal role in business transformation throughout 2020 and into the future by helping their organizations commitments to society at large.

Here are five areas we suggest HR prioritize in 2020 to better connect business with people.

  1. 01

    Data analytics and Cybersecurity

    Predictive analytics technology is a great enabler of digital transformation, and when combined with robust and reliable data, it empowers HR to achieve substantial business improvement such as refined talent acquisition methods, improved employee engagement, proactively reviewed salary structures, and innovative pay and rewards design and delivery.

    As artificial intelligence (AI) technology matures and becomes more reliable, critical C-suite decisions will be informed by data analytics. But before we get to that point, AI must have access to the organization’s “big data.” Given today’s heightened awareness of data privacy, that’s easier said than done. Statutory regulations are getting tighter and stricter in the interest of protecting every person’s right to privacy and preventing misuse of private data.

    The benefits of data analytics are tremendous, but this must never be more important than trust and integrity among your workforce. Organizations must always be vigilant and mindful of its responsibility to protect employees’ right to data privacy and data security. Take the time to understand the tools you are using and   be educated on data privacy regulations and its impact on HR processes.

    It’s important to note, the issues of cybersecurity and privacy are more than just technology. There also is the human factor. In fact, The Cybersecurity Imperative found that 87% of organizations globally cite personnel with weak cyber hygiene habits as the greatest risk to cybersecurity. To address this challenge, the same survey found 73% of organizations plan to use analytics to understand user behavior in 2020 and use those insights to improve cybersecurity culture within their workforce.

    For an example of weak cyber hygiene, let’s consider compensation managers, who still typically use spreadsheets to manage critical pay data. During pay review cycles, a manager with weak cyber hygiene might copy the spreadsheet for use outside of company servers, making it vulnerable to cyber risks.

    Creating a strong cybersecurity culture requires a holistic strategy that motivates employees to be part of the solution. Enabling employees to practice good cyber habits by investing in an   integrated data and software solution that makes it easy to secure data is a good first step.

  2. 02

    Employee experience (EX)

    Thanks to a new Willis Towers Watson study on high-performance employee experience (HPEX), we now see a clearer link between EX and financial performance. HPEX organizations outperform their peers by two to four percentage points on average across various key financial metrics, including return on assets and return on equity. More interestingly, in terms of one-year change in gross profit margin, there is a 12% difference between companies with high and low EX. What are HPEX organizations doing differently?

    One of the fundamental drivers of EX is “ purpose.” Willis Towers Watson defines organizational purpose as the reason why businesses exist. It creates a sense of meaning and personal connection for employees. It explains how people can make a difference and increases employee focus, commitment and collaboration.

    For HPEX companies, they take this even further by connecting their purpose with their impact on society at large and operating with a mindset attuned to serving a greater goal. This is ingrained into their employee value proposition, thus shaping how they define productivity and performance management, work processes and environment, wellbeing, culture, learning and development, pay and rewards and technology. In fact, according to Willis Towers Watson’s most recent Artificial Intelligence and Digital Talent Survey, 40% of digital talent globally — a highly sought after segment of the workforce — favor joining organizations in which they could realize a higher purpose and meaning at work.

    Progressive organizations take a multi-disciplinary approach to developing an EX strategy, bringing together multiple stakeholders and ensuring impact on EX is at the heart of decision making. HR plays a crucial role in sustaining EX and fine-tuning it regularly. As with personal medical check-ups, organizations also need check-ups on a defined schedule. Previously, employee feedback would be collected annually or bi-annually.

    Today, there is constant flux in structure, roles and jobs, not to mention the rich diversity within the workforce. HR needs to be thoughtful about when, what and why they are measuring. They can simplify the “health-check” process by using intuitive solutions that automate collection and analytics, so HR has more time to focus on people and purpose.

  3. 03

    Environmental, social and governance (ESG)

    Leaders in business and government worldwide are contributing to sustainability objectives that would benefit future generations. Boards and investors are also factoring ESG measures into their investment criteria and governance and decision processes.

    In fact, our global executive compensation analysis team recently found that 61% of S&P 100 corporations incorporate ESG metrics into their incentive plans. For an increasing number of investors, ESG is an indicator of a company’s responsiveness to market and consumer changes and a proxy for innovation, agility and other contemporary drivers of growth and long-term shareholder value. As such, many investors have labelled 2020 “the year of the S” (social).

    Much of this is influenced by today’s majority workforce — the highly sought-after “digital natives” empowered by the fourth industrial revolution. This segment of the workforce is constantly urging brands and corporations to: 

    • Act in the interest of the safety, health and wellbeing of the workforce
    • Promote equality and fairness in pay and opportunities
    • Protect and save the environment
    • Practice ethical governance 

    They are the biggest supporters of organizations that demonstrate commitment to their ESG goals and the loudest critics of those that do not.

    Employees today want their organizations to take an active role as a “citizens of the world.” Missteps in ESG can affect EX and easily make or break employer reputations, turning human capital strategies into hollow rhetoric.

    HR needs to understand the impact of ESG on its organization and how to connect ESG with business and people objectives. Be well-informed of the key social challenges impacting your business and help set the measures for your ESG footprint.

  4. 04

    Focus on skills

    Many employers are realizing a need to cast a wider net in their hunt for talent needed to power digital business models, creating more of a focus on matching skills to work, instead of the traditional approach of matching a person to a job. As a result, we are seeing a rewrite of traditional HR practices like internal mobility and compensation to be “skill driven” as opposed to being “position driven.” In the case of compensation, we are seeing benchmarking shift to better reflect the valuation of skills.

    The digital revolution has created a dichotomy of skills. “Premiere” skills in high demand — such as social, cognitive and advanced technical skills — although in low supply can be adaptable to a wide range of work. “Traditional” skills — such as routine analytical and manual skills — while perhaps in less demand are in high supply and can be acquired through free agents and automation.

    HR managers can lead their organizations in getting to a better understanding of the skills of existing talent and the gaps relative to the future skills required by the evolving business model. This is among the key actions digital leaders need to take early in their transformation journeys. By doing this, HR leaders will be able to identify opportunities to upskill and reskill the workforce, enabling new digital careers and improved flexibility in moving talent. Taking these actions can:

    • Spark a culture of lifelong learning
    • Help workers remain relevant and employable
    • Improve engagement and productivity
    • Boost employer branding
  5. 05

    Organizational agility

    The fourth industrial revolution demands agility. Technology will keep evolving, shortening the half-life of many skills, thus talent requirements will keep changing. 

    Fundamentally, the agile mindset is: 

    • Focused on solutions instead of processes
    • Thrives on collaborative problem-solving 
    • Welcomes the input of diverse perspectives and competencies
    • Understands the value of trying something and failing
    • Learning from mistakes to increase efficiency and reduce waste in subsequent iterations
    • Recognizes that change is constant and that learning never ends

    An agile operating model can help HR to experiment with new ways of working. HR can take inspiration from start-ups and smaller organizations that: 

    • Break the silos of functions, disciplines, and hierarchy
    • Create task-focused teams with members selected based on skills requirements
    • Form communities of practice and resource pools

    Start by creating a small ad hoc squad that works across boundaries. Pull from various HR roles and disciplines to build your team, collaborate on a solution, and then redistribute talent to other projects as needed. Question the current state of dedicated HR talent in centers of expertise.

    An agile HR function can better connect with the business challenges emerging in today’s ever-evolving economy. HR can take a more proactive role in reshaping the organization for agility and increased efficiency, enabling greater flexibility by moving talent into cross-functional opportunities and potentially increasing engagement, collaboration and innovation.

    How are you preparing for the challenges in 2020? We’d like to hear about your HR priorities this year.


Global Business Leader, Rewards Data Intelligence

Global Cyber Strategy and Operations Leader

Managing Director, Employee Experience

Managing Director and Chief Innovation & Acceleration Officer

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