5 Priorities HR Can’t Ignore in 2015

How employees get their work done has changed remarkably quickly; not surprisingly, HR needs to change too.

This post originally appeared on CEB Global on November 3, 2014. Current Gartner research may include updated and/or alternative positions on these issues. 

It is obvious to anyone who works in a global organization that their work has changed dramatically in the past few years and will continue to evolve.

Even if the job title and description remain the same, the number of people employees have to work with, the amount of information needed to make decisions and the technology they use have all changed more quickly than at any time in their careers.

Smart organizations spend time and money on messages that are relevant to the most important talent segments

Research shows the changing nature of work is one of five trends that will shape global business in 2015. Heads of HR and their teams should take five steps in particular to help their organizations make the most of the new work environment.

Attract and retain “enterprise contributors”

To hit the revenue and profitability targets set by senior executives, the average organization has to improve employee performance by 27%. Conventional performance management measures are inadequate, so HR teams should instead develop a team of “enterprise contributors.” These are employees who not only perform well individually but also work effectively with and through others.

61% of applicants say they are more skeptical of what organizations say than they were three years ago

Research shows that organizations with enterprise contributors outperform their peers by 5% and 11% for year-over-year revenue and profit growth, respectively. This means that the average Fortune 500 organization can increase profit by $144 million and revenue by $924 million if they nurture more enterprise contributors.

Employees are often willing and able to become enterprise contributors but their organization lacks the structure and culture required.

Don’t appeal to all job candidates, just the good ones

While the volume of job applications has increased by 33% in the past three years, the quality of applicants has remained the same. In response, many organizations have launched corporate branding campaigns to establish their company as “a great place to work” and to attract higher-quality candidates.

However, even this so-called “branding for appeal” strategy produces pools of applicants from which only 28% are relevant candidates. This is because most organizations struggle to communicate a consistent message. As a result, 61% of applicants say they are more skeptical of what organizations say than they were three years ago.

Smart organizations spend time and money on messages that are relevant to the most important talent segments. In this way, they can almost double the proportion of applicants that can be classified as high quality.

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Teach employees how to learn, not just what to learn

Today, most employees recognize that constant upskilling is a part of everyone’s career, and 84% of them are satisfied with the learning and development (L&D) solutions available to them. For organizations, though, the return on L&D investment is weak. Of the estimated $145 billion spent annually on training, our research suggests less than half results in tangible returns, and nearly three in four line managers report that employees who participate in L&D initiatives still lack the right skills. Every day, managers say, employees waste about 11% of their time on unproductive learning.

 Assess employees based on their ability, aspiration, and engagement with the firm

Leading organizations teach employees how to learn (not just what to learn). They use learning technology to help employees develop learning behaviors and not just consume content. This approach doubles the number of employees with high learning capabilities, and makes it more likely that employees will be ready for the new work environment.

Make the HR team more valuable

HR teams still struggle to communicate effectively to employees how important they are to the business — despite attempts by senior executives to make the point continually. Less than one-fifth of line managers rate HR as an effective partner on this count.

Heads of HR have tried to improve performance but often invest too much in individual employee performance and not enough in workplace culture. HR teams should try to identify and remove organizational barriers that prevent HR business partners from doing their jobs effectively.

Don’t mistake high-performing employees for high-potential employees

Research shows that firms with more effective leaders enjoy twice the revenue and twice the profit growth. Yet high-potential (HIPO) employee programs, designed to develop future leaders in an organization, are statistically more likely to fail than succeed. Data show that 50% of HR managers lack confidence in their HIPO programs, and a staggering five out of six HR managers are dissatisfied with the results.

The trouble starts when organizations assume that a high performer is also a HIPO. In fact, only one in seven high performers are HIPOs. The reason mistakes are so often made is that there is rarely an objective selection process in place for HIPO programs. Those involved in the selection process should assess employees based on their ability, aspiration, and engagement with the firm.

Gartner for HR Leaders clients can read more tips in Top Insights for the World’s Leading Executives.