There are a number of significant trends occurring in HR, and 2017 promises to be an exciting and important year, writes Josh Bersin

Around the world, we are having conversations about income inequality, immigration, economic growth, and the role of AI and cognitive computing on jobs. In fact the phrase “future of work” (more than 42 million hits on Google) has spawned an industry of books, conferences, and discussions about how jobs and work will change.

One thing we see this year: everything is becoming digital. Not only do we carry, wear, and use digital devices at all hours of the day, organisations themselves have been transformed by “digital thinking.” Organisations now operate in agile teams, learning has become critical to business success, and leadership models have shifted away from top-down direction toward a focus on collaboration, coaching, and alignment.

As we discuss in our 2017 predictions report, the entire ethos of HR is expected to change this year.

First, HR should focus on enabling and empowering a new organisational model. Companies no longer operate effectively in top-down hierarchies, and we in HR should facilitate organisations to be more agile, dynamic, and team centric. Atlassian, a fast- growing software company, and also an Australian company), hires people into roles based on their skills and cultural alignment. But once they join the company they are free to do whatever work seems best suited for their skills, and they can easily change roles and teams even in the first year. Making your company dynamic should be on your agenda this year.

“We in HR should facilitate organisations to be more agile, dynamic, and team centric”

Second, HR should focus on understanding and improving the employee experience. Over the last decade, the focus has shifted from “engagement” to a focus on “culture” and now a focus on the “employee experience.” As we describe in our Simply Irresistible framework, driving a productive and meaningful employee experience is more complicated than it may seem. It involves looking at the management, job design, learning and career, and of course the physical and emotional environment. In 2017 HR should segment the workforce and start to survey and identify every part of the employee experience, focusing on improving productivity, alignment, and employee happiness.

Third, HR should take the work of diversity and inclusion seriously. As the political environment becomes more attuned and employees work in more dynamic work environments, we should make sure people feel comfortable speaking up, sharing their ideas, and being themselves. Our research shows that more than 2/3 of HR leaders now believe inclusion is one of their top priorities for the coming year, and that means we all should take it seriously. The issue goes farther than just training, by the way: our research shows that effective inclusion takes a leadership focus, a focus on measurement (identifying patterns of bias in hiring, promotion, and pay), accountability (holding all leaders accountable for diversity and inclusion), and training.

Fourth, this is the year of digital HR. While cloud computing has revolutionised the back office in HR, we should now automate the front office (the actual employee experience). Every single program in HR (from performance management to training, onboarding, and payroll) should become as easy to do as clicking on a mobile app – otherwise people simply won’t do it well. A new breed of “mobile first” apps for HR is emerging, and these focus on feedback, goal setting, wellbeing, and communication. In the networked organisation of 2017, your HR department should be as digital as everything else.

“We should now automate the front office (the actual employee experience)”

Finally, 2017 is the year to look seriously at AI, cognitive computing, and bots. Yes, while we are not the IT department, technology impacts us in a big way. One large company I talked with is now using an intelligent bot to radically automate its employee service centre, and people are thrilled. Another is using AI tools to automate its self-service centre, and a third is using it to better identify qualified candidates. AI tools are here, and we in HR should explore them in all areas and consider using them wherever possible. (One tool even identifies bias in job descriptions and helps us remove gender and racial bias from job postings.)

2017 is the year when “everything becomes digital.” I encourage you to read our predictions in detail and think about how you can reimagine your HR organisation to facilitate the open, networked, dynamic company of the future.

Five key considerations for HR in 2017

  1. Organisation design: rethink your company as a “network of teams” and think about how you can redesign your leadership, performance, learning, and collaboration programs to facilitate team communication, team leadership, and career mobility.
  2. Employee experience: go beyond engagement surveys and open up your organisation to pulse surveys, stay interviews, exit interviews, and a sober look at your external employment brand to really understand what works (and what doesn’t) in your own employee experience.
  3. Inclusion: look at the unconscious bias tools in the market and make sure you have them available at work. Reinvigorate your training and take time with leadership to discuss and set targets for diversity and inclusive talent practices.
  4. Digital HR: as you look for new HR solutions, consider mobile-first solutions, apps that are fun and easy to use, and test new HR products with your employees before you buy them. Every new HR tool should be designed for productivity and ease of use, not just process completion.
  5. Get smart on AI: cognitive computing, bots, and natural language tools are here today, and you can apply them throughout HR. Learn about them so you can discuss their use with business leaders too – and help leaders redesign work (and jobs) to help people use AI to augment their experience at work in a productive and meaningful way.

Image source: iStock