January 17, 2023

New year, new priorities: 5 common CHRO themes

If the last few years can be summed up in a word, “pivot” just might be the mantra for talent leaders. HR leaders have been under immense pressure to quickly deliver against a mountain of shifting priorities that include virtual work, record hiring demand, growing resignations, promoting well-being, DEI enablement, and so much more.  

During several conversations at recent events in New York City, Houston, and Charlotte, N.C., we heard many of the same themes emerge from HR leaders, along with an appreciation that these challenges are proving to be shared experiences among colleagues.  

As we enter this year, economic uncertainty requires that HR leaders be ready to pivot again. The current trends most impacting them vary by industry and are shaped by changes emerging from the past two years. These include:

  • Industries that saw high growth during the pandemic, like online retail, home entertainment, online exercise services, publishing, and digital products, now face workforce reductions due to declining revenue. 
  • Financial services companies are cautiously monitoring the economy and taking action to protect their margins with targeted reductions. They are also preparing for several potential economic scenarios.
  • Oil and gas companies are seeing healthy growth and investing in hiring — which is challenging in a climate of low unemployment — while acknowledging that boom times could quickly change. (Ed note: Here’s what recent Eightfold AI research reveals about hiring and upskilling in the oil and gas industry.)
  • After aggressive hiring in 2021 and early 2022, many high-tech companies are pulling back and cutting workers, creating a prime opportunity for other industries to hire high-demand tech talent. 
  • Pharma continues to grow talent to support research and innovation, which played an essential role in meeting healthcare needs during the pandemic.
  • Healthcare is still under intense pressure as the industry faces burnout and attrition. As a result, these organizations are strengthening talent acquisition to fill much-needed roles, some working to retain and engage talent through mobility and learning. Others are addressing shortages by redesigning roles to leverage vital trained medical skills. (Ed note: Research from The Josh Bersin Company, powered by Eightfold, highlights this role redesign.)

While the challenges vary, the focus on talent and skills remains the same for HR leaders. No matter the industry, skills intelligence will be the foundation for setting talent priorities by allowing HR to see what they need and how to pivot to address those shifting needs. In addition, as skill priorities change with industry trends and business strategies, it gives leaders the critical information they need to pivot with those changes.   

Here are the five main themes impacting HR leaders this year: 

HR has increased responsibility for driving business outcomes

HR has always been critical in processes related to managing people and shaping organizational performance. Over the past two years, as some of the highest priorities fell to HR, it’s clear business leaders realized just how important talent is — and how critical HR is to deliver on talent priorities.

CHROs also recognize that more investment in capabilities is needed. Historically, HR has underinvested in data, systems, processes, and AI to meet the growing demands. More so than ever, innovative HR solutions are growing, and investments are being made in HR capabilities. If your organization has not prioritized investing in HR, educating leaders on why innovation is necessary to remain competitive in cultivating the right talent is critical.

There must be a holistic approach to talent strategy

With talent as a rising priority, HR is approaching talent strategy more holistically.  Instead of tackling priorities in silos like talent acquisition, mobility, learning, workforce planning, and diversity, more organizations are thinking about holistic approaches to talent strategies.  

For talent strategies to work, HR functions need to use them consistently. For example, organizations can run both candidate selection and employee development through the lens of which skills will drive business results. Likewise, employee learning, hiring, and arranging contractors should all incorporate skills-driven workforce plans.

As we talk to talent leaders about transformation, I see multiple HR leaders joining to represent their areas. Often there’s a leader for end-to-end transformation and more CHROs leading transformation discussions with this holistic view.

The growing importance of employee experience

With resignations continuing at a high rate of 3 percent a month in the latest survey on job openings and labor turnover from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, HR is approaching priorities with a lens on employee experience. This has been a growing trend over the past five to six years, but high resignation rates place even greater emphasis on employee experience today.

Many parts of the employee experience have become more challenging with the intense shifts over the last few years. How do you onboard people who aren’t on-site? How do you foster belonging and engagement in a virtual or hybrid workforce? How do you sustain an inherently group-oriented culture when people aren’t together?

New year, new priorities: 5 common CHRO themes

One factor the pandemic made clear is that people want and expect to be fulfilled in their careers and have choices in their career path that keeps work interesting for them with opportunities to learn. This has led to a new emphasis on internal mobility and enabling nontraditional and nonlinear career paths across the organization. 

Supporting internal mobility in a meaningful way requires significant changes. Employees need clear role definitions, transparency around growth opportunities, and a career development plan mapped out for them to progress. Leaders must be comfortable allowing their best talent to move to new roles. This is a critical culture change — if people leaders don’t let their best talent move internally, they will end up moving externally. Nontraditional career pathways are also important, not just moving vertically in a similar role but also moving horizontally and growing emerging skills.

Related: Read about DICK’S Sporting Goods’ employee-first, skills-based talent acquisition strategy for hiring, promoting, and advancing its 50,000 ‘teammates.’

These cultural changes are necessary for a strong employee experience but have not traditionally been supported due to limitations with HR data and automation capabilities. These capabilities can now enable transparency on job requirements, matching employees to jobs, and an ecosystem of training with mentors and projects that support a learning pathway so employees can move to desired future roles. 

Digital transformation is still a critical business priority —and the right skills are fundamental to success

When the pandemic hit, digital transformation became an almost-instant necessity. Organizations had to figure out how to move several business processes online — and do it fast. In today’s world, it’s critical to drive almost all performance metrics of any organization enabling strong and timely internal decisions.

Having the right skills to deliver on digital transformation is the foundation for success. Of course, HR plays a vital role in establishing that foundation by bringing on and elevating people with the right digital skills to improve an organization’s competitive advantages. 

Skills intelligence again comes into play here, helping business and talent leaders identify and grow the right skills at scale. 

Related: Learn how to digitally transform your organization with skills-based practices in this fireside chat with leaders from Chevron and The Josh Bersin Company.

Workforce talent planning is a rising priority

All signs point to workforce talent planning as the top focus across industries. First, leaders want to understand the skills of their employee base and how they compare to their industry. Then, they want to grow the right skills to drive business success — and do it at scale.

To achieve this, talent leaders are organizing job families and the skills required by the job. Making sense of job descriptions and hierarchies that have developed over time in a decentralized fashion with no underlying job architecture is daunting. However, it is a prerequisite for shaping a workforce talent plan. Thinking about talent strategically based on modern and future skill requirements and the pathways for effectively building and deploying those skills is where HR executives will focus this year. 

Andrea Shiah, Head of Talent Strategy and Transformation at Eightfold AI

Andrea Shiah is the Head of Talent Strategy and Transformation at Eightfold AI, working with senior leaders on talent transformation strategy, solutions, and implementation. Before joining Eightfold, she had a 25-year career at American Express, where she was most recently the Head of Global Talent Acquisition.