Gartner Top 3 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2020

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.

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.

Gartner Top Priorities for HR Leaders in 2021

Insights on HR’s goals, challenges and initiatives for the year ahead.

Download eBook

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. 

Workplace Trends in 2020

What HR leaders need to know and watch for

Watch Webinar

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

Reinvent Talent Strategies

The digital-age mandate for HR

Download Free eBook

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: How Connector Managers Create Star Performers

The Connector Manager Performance Advantage

And why other manager approaches do more harm than good

Download eBook

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.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.


More detail on 2020 priorities will soon be available to Gartner for HR clients, who can also register here for a December 6th webinar about the 2020 Priorities.

Get Smarter

Follow #Gartner

Attend a Gartner event

Explore Gartner Conferences

How to Use Analytics to Predict Skill Needs

Proactively identify where skill gaps will emerge and what critical...

Learn More


Get actionable advice in 60 minutes from the world's most respected experts. Keep pace with the latest issues that impact business.

Start Watching