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HR Leaders: Data, Engagement and Attracting Talent Are Key in 2017

HR leaders should set their sights on data, employee engagement and attracting top talent in the upcoming year.
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Data, employee engagement and attracting talent will propel successful companies in 2017.

As 2017 approaches, robots — disappointing as it may be — are not a staple in every household or workplace. At least not in the way many had hoped. However, autonomic systems are popping up in places unheard of even a decade ago. What does this mean for HR leaders? Hold onto your hats, because data is the way of the future. And it will be here sooner than anyone can imagine.

Stephen DeWitt, CEO of Work Market, a company that provides solutions to workforce problems, has been on executive teams for big-name companies like Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and Symantec, to name a few.

“It might be a cliché, I don’t really care,” he said, but, “2017 is going to be an extraordinary year for the HR discipline on so many levels.” DeWitt sees 2017 as a year of dramatic changes, all of which hinge on the ever-increasing focus on data and numbers.

This data transformation is not limited to niche areas of HR; it is all encompassing, he said. “It’s going to involve algorithms around labor and tapped success and geographic pricing and economics and the ability to compare labor, internal, external, partner-based, all in one autonomic system that defines the modern enterprise,” he said. But DeWitt said this transformation, even in its early stages, is already visible.

“Take Uber, the most valued transportation company in the world, it has no employees and no fixed assets.” It mirrors the fast-paced, at-your-fingertips work environment. From a few taps on a phone, a car is waiting. There’s no physical exchange of cash, it’s all done via the company’s app. The process is automated, efficient and in high demand, as seen by its popularity.

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Work Market CEO Stephen DeWitt

For those who think data is the only change coming in 2017, DeWitt said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Attracting top talent will be essential to companies that want to succeed in 2017. “I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it is to attract talent at Hewlett-Packard when a mile down the street you have Google, Facebook and god help you if you happen to be Wal-Mart in the middle of that market trying to attract top talent.”

Michael Papay, CEO of Waggl, a new feedback-based tool that promotes transparency and dialogue between employees and executives, said that this struggle is largely due to the fact that the traditional model for attracting talent has flipped.

“The power has shifted to the employee, where 10 years ago it was the employer,” Papay said. Because of the on-demand world we live in where feedback is accessible in real-time on websites like Glassdoor, where employees can voice their thoughts on what it’s like to work at a particular company, potential employees get a real-time look at what it’s like to work at an organization.

“Given the flip of power, there’s a lot of back pressure on organizations to do things right and start leading with purpose, to have the right values of trust and respect in place and to listen to their employees.”

“Employers really need to manage their culture and their brand to really have a shot at attracting top talent, and it needs to be really authentic,” Papay said.

Another area he sees companies honing in on is retaining the employees they already have, which can mitigate some of the pressure to attract new employees.

And companies can do this by promoting engagement. “I think we hear a lot out there about employee engagement, and I worry a little bit that that’s becoming the term. Ten years ago it was all about knowledge management, and these things get a bit amorphous,” Papay said.

But engagement, staying involved and attentive and interested in one’s job, is a big concern for HR leaders and it’s something they’ll need to address if they want to stay competitive. An Udemy survey on employee engagement released in October found that 43 percent of office workers are bored and disengaged at work, making them twice as likely to look for a new job.

“They don’t see the purpose behind their daily work and how it connects to the strategy” of the company overall, Papay said. Although this issue spans the workforce, it particularly affects millennials, who want to be challenged and are constantly on the lookout for room to grow.

Engagement can be addressed early at the training and development stage by altering onboarding practices and learning programs to fit the needs of the employees and company. The traditional training program concept, which takes months to design and build and runs for a couple years is not meeting employees’ or companies’ needs because the work environment is changing by the day, Papay explained.

Competition is requiring organizations to be flexible and agile, and by the time a traditional training program is launched, it is already lagging behind a company’s current requirements. “These static, once-a-year-events” aren’t fitting anyone’s needs, Papay explained.

This falls in line with the ongoing shift away from classroom-based learning styles that have become increasingly popular at many companies. “It’s not going to totally go away,” Papay said, “but a lot less time and energy will be spent in the classroom. A lot more enabling, best practice sharing and learning in the flow of the work” will be the way companies go.

This means undoing the old processes and programs that have been in place for years. Although this step will be challenging for companies, it will allow them to be more flexible and unite their employees under their mission in a more meaningful and long-lasting way.

With 2016 nearly over, there are valuable lessons that the year brought — the need for soft skills and the advent of understanding the impact data can have on organizations. The upcoming year is sure to be filled with changes unimagined, but data, engagement and attracting talent will be at the top of the list.

HR leaders, it’s time to get on board with change and embrace all that 2017 has in store for you.

Alice Keefe is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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