By Patrick Gallen, Partner, People and Change Consulting, Grant Thornton Ireland

Patrick Gallen
Patrick Gallen

It’s at this time of the year, when we reflect on the past 12 months and plan our priorities for the year ahead. In the People and HR space this has become even more important with the impact of COVID on the workforce and the transition to Brexit and all that entails.

One of the most comprehensive reports in this area is a recent report by Gartner, on how HR leaders see their business priorities for 2021. Gartner surveyed over 800 HR leaders across various industries and regions to identify their priorities for 2021.

As you would expect, building critical skills and competencies tops the list, followed by organisational design and change management; current and future leadership bench; future of work and employee experience at number five. It is interesting to note, that whilst HR leaders expect there to be a focus on growth in 2021, cost optimisation as a business priority is up significantly on a similar survey from the previous year.

Building critical skills and competencies was a top priority for around 68% of the HR leaders in the survey. The challenge for HR leaders and those in the Learning and Development side of the organisation, is that it is difficult to ascertain what the current skills gaps are, as things are changing so quickly.

Traditional ways of predicting skill needs don’t seem to be working as employees need more skills for every job and many of those skills are new. One of our own studies in this area, highlighted that many employees had not received sufficient training in the skills around remote working. Most of the training that had been delivered was on using software and policies, but little on the critical social, leading remote teams, and communication skills.

Gartner suggests that what is needed is a dynamic approach to reskilling and deploying talent, in which all impacted stakeholders work together to measure the shifting skill needs and find new ways to develop skills at the time of need.

In our practice we say, “training needs to be just enough, just for me, and just in time”. Unfortunately, a lot of our existing training provision doesn’t reflect that type of agility, often as a result of outdated content and the methods of delivering being impractical in a much more dispersed working population.

HR leaders and learning professionals cannot address these priorities on their own, and the problem as highlighted in the survey is that only 21% of them say peers share accountability or partner with HR to determine future skills needs.

Change management and helping organisations to deal with that change has always been an important area for organisations as they grow and evolve. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise to see that organisational design and change management was the number two priority for 2021 for HR leaders.

It was interesting that Gartner noted that the following two challenges; “our managers and leaders aren’t equipped to lead change” and “our employees are fatigued from all the change”.

We see both of these surface on a regular basis in our work with clients’ across various sectors. Work design, focused for years on efficiency; and has left many organisations with rigid structures, workflows, outdated job roles, and networks that don’t meet today’s needs or flex with fast-changing conditions as we have experienced over the last year.

I’ll finish with my number one mantra in this area; and that is that you can help protect your people/employees through this, but you can never protect jobs in the medium to longer term, no matter what the unions may say. This is a period of unprecedented change and an exciting opportunity to shape the future of work – make it your number one priority for 2021!