Gartner Top 3 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2020

November 18, 2019

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

Surrounded by uncertainty, HR leaders in 2020 will seek to build critical skills, bolster their leadership bench and implement organizational design and change management.

Growing the business remains the top enterprise-level business objective in 2020, closely followed by improving operational excellence, according to HR leaders responding to the Gartner 2020 Future of HR Survey.

Read more: Gartner Top 3 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2021

To support these enterprise ambitions, HR leaders’ top priorities in 2020 will be to:

  • Build critical skills and competencies for the organization.
  • Strengthen the current and future leadership bench.
  • Implement organizational design and change management.

These priorities for chief human resource officers (CHROs) and other HR leaders come amid uncertainty on a range of economic, workforce, employee and environmental issues — and when digital disruption has made widespread and multidimensional uncertainty the new normal.

“ To be more agile and responsive in uncertain times, HR leaders will need to move away from top-down change management”

“HR’s priorities in 2020 reflect the urgent need to get out ahead of today’s uncertain operating conditions,” says Leah Johnson, Vice President, Advisory, Gartner. “Digital transformation has already been creating gaps in skills and straining the capabilities of leadership. Now we see that organizations also lack the expertise needed to restructure their organizations and manage the change that is washing over every organization.” 

Gartner surveyed 404 HR leaders globally. Forty-nine percent of respondents lead enterprise HR and the remainder lead HR at the business-unit or subfunction level, but all respondents were broadly aligned behind the importance of these three initiatives. 

Download Report: The Top HR Trends and Priorities for 2023

Talent development is failing

As organizations increasingly tackle automation and digitalization, the skills and competencies required for success constantly change. Accordingly, 66% of CHROs and 86% of HR technology leaders say that building critical skills and competencies is a top priority for 2020 — and addressing skills gaps is considered key to growing the business. 

HR executives will have to continually partner with business leaders in 2020 and beyond to maintain the proper balance of emerging, existing and legacy skill sets needed to drive the organization as it transforms and responds to disruption. Developing these skills in-house is especially important given that competition remains fierce for critical talent segments, making it difficult to find and acquire missing skills.

“ Involve employees in co-creating change strategy. Engage the right employees at the right time in the right way”

Organizations will need to take a market-driven, predictive approach to identifying skill needs so they can motivate and enable employees to develop the skills that are in demand by the organization and the market. Acquiring these skills will also enable employees to further their own career success.

This type of “connected learner” approach requires HR to think outside the box when it comes to development — for example, by brokering learning experiences and connecting employees with opportunities across the organization and even outside it, and beyond their existing roles. 

Read more: 9 Ways for CHROs to Attract Top Tech Talent

Shortcomings in leadership

Leadership effectiveness remains a challenge across organizations. Many HR leaders cite problems with developing both midlevel and senior leaders, while others are concerned with the lack of diversity in their leadership bench. Accordingly, 57% of CHROs and 63% of learning and development leaders say that developing their current and future leadership bench is a top priority for 2020.

HR has typically filled the leadership pipeline with potential successors for specific positions or roles. That approach can no longer keep up with the demands of today’s uncertain, rapidly changing times. Leaders don’t feel confident in their ability to lead the organization into the future, and yet leadership roles will continue to change — and change significantly — as organizations continue to transform. 

“ Push decision making and planning deeper down into the organization”

One innovative strategy for boosting leadership capabilities is to pair complementary leaders to share responsibilities. “Complementary leadership” intentionally partners a leader with one or more leaders based on complementary skill sets. It isn’t the reassignment of responsibilities or the delegation of unwanted tasks. 

Amid the volatility and uncertainty that many leaders face today, complementary leadership helps to provide the breadth, depth and agility required for both current and future business for which leaders need to acquire new capabilities at an accelerated pace. 

This approach requires HR to help leaders identify others who have a stronger grasp of skills at which they are weak and share responsibilities with them. Each partner leans in and out to leverage their strengths and generate the best outcome.

Read more: 5 Imperatives for HR Leaders to Tackle the Future of Work

Lack of expertise for organizational design

Fifty-six percent of HR leaders say organizational design and change management will be a top priority in 2020. They face a range of problems; many say their leaders aren’t equipped to lead organizational redesigns and change. Others are unsure how to design their organization to support faster/more responsive ways of working. Some say employees are fatigued by all the change.

Today, organizational structures are often poorly mapped to workflows and networks, especially as operating models evolve. Organizational effectiveness is frequently misaligned with enterprise priorities and inadequately measures the quality and prevalence of planning and goal setting, as well as the outcomes.

To be more agile and responsive in uncertain times, HR leaders will need to move away from top-down change management and push decision making and planning deeper down into the organization.

This will require HR to involve employees in co-creating change strategy. Engage the right employees at the right time in the right way — as active participants in making and shaping change decisions. Also, shift ownership of change planning to employees to create personal change implementation plans, refocus change communications on open conversations and encourage peer-to-peer interactions.


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Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:

HR Leader Priorities for 2020

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