Top 15 HR and Talent Articles: 2020 Year-End Round-Up

Workforce Trends

As we close out 2020 and get ready for the new year, I wanted to recap the top articles that I have posted and shared over the past few months.

These top fifteen articles (there are actually 21 since I reference a few bonus articles) are in no particular order, but they do represent those articles that have received the highest engagement (i.e., views, shares, likes, and comments) from posts that I have made on various platforms.

The articles center on at least one of three broader themes:

  1. HR Effectiveness – the changing role of HR, CHROs, and HR priorities
  2. HR Practices – optimizing practices such as talent reviews, learning, people analytics, and workforce planning
  3. Workforce Trends – future of work, women in the workplace, diversity, and remote work

The articles include:

  • Superhuman Resources: How HR Leaders Have Redefined Their C-suite Role | strategy + business | David Reimer and Adam Bryant of Merryck & Co.
  • The CHRO’s Team: What Matters Most | The Talent Strategy Group and The Shanley Group | Marc Effron and Jim Shanely
  • Accelerating the Journey to HR 3.0: Ten Ways To Transform In a Time of Upheaval | IBM Institute for Business Value and Josh Bersin Academy
  • Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2021 | Gartner
  • 21 HR Jobs of The Future Report | Cognizant
  • Resetting the Future of Work Agenda: Disruption and Renewal in a Post-covid World | World Economic Forum With Mercer
  • 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends | Deloitte Insights
  • Reimagining the Postpandemic Workforce | McKinsey Quarterly | Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Mihir Mysore
  • 2020 Women in the Workplace Report | LeanIn. org
  • Getting Serious About Diversity: Enough with the Business Case | Harvard Business Review |  Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas
  • Care to Do Better – Building Trust to Leave Your People and Your Business Net Better Off | Accenture
  • Six Steps to Great Talent Reviews | The Talent Strategy Group | Marc Effron
  • How to Be Great at People Analytics | McKinsey | Elizabeth Ledet, Keith McNulty, Daniel Morales, and Marissa Shandell
  • From Workforce to Work-task Planning | Talent Quarterly | Dave Ulrich
  • Three Steps to Turn Your Company Into a Learning Powerhouse | BCG | Andrew Dyer, Susanne Dyrchs, J. Puckett, Hans-paul Bürkner, Allison Bailey, and Zhdan Shakirov

While this resource isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the top posts, it does represent a sample of the topics and articles in which readers have been most interested.

I hope you find these references to be useful as you prepare for the new year.

If you find value in content like this and are not already subscribed to my FREE Talent Edge Weekly Newsletter, you can sign up here and begin to receive it every Sunday, 6 pm EST.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021 and I look forward to continuing to exchange ideas with you all in the new year!


Superhuman Resources: How HR Leaders Have Redefined Their C-suite Role | strategy + business

Chief human resources officers (CHROs) are at the forefront of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. And as CHROs continue to address unprecedented challenges that are coinciding at scale, it raises the question: What sets the great CHROs apart as they help their firms convert these challenges into opportunities for improving work, the workplace, worker experience, and business results? 

This article identifies five priorities that establish new benchmarks for the changing CHRO role. It looked at the performance of CHROs in today’s corporations using interviews with leading practitioners from top organizations.

  • Priority 1: Put strategy first, function second. 
  • Priority 2: Optimize the organization, not just processes. 
  • Priority 3: Bring a viewpoint to the boardroom. 
  • Priority 4: View culture as a business driver. 
  • Priority 5: Model leadership excellence. 

The five priorities “serve as a solid starting point for constructive conversations among HR executives, CEOs, and board directors.”


The CHRO’s Team: What Matters Most | Talent Strategy Group and The Shanley Group

By many measures, CHRO’s have elevated the importance and impact of their role over the past several years.

And as pointed out by Marc Effron and Jim Shanley, CHROs must now rely less on their personal strength and more on their ability to build high-quality teams to sustain their progress.”

This article has five questions that CHROs can use to determine the overall effectiveness of their HR Team:

  1. Does my HR team deliver at a level better than 75 percent of other HR groups in organizations my size? What facts support this?
  2. Can my direct reports hold their own with the best external HR talent?
  3. Do my directs have the capacity and capability to deliver at a high performing level, today and the next 3 to 5 years?
  4. Do the CEO’s direct reports trust their HRBP with their corporate life?
  5. Do I and my HR team have strong credibility with the Board, CEO, and the CEO’s direct reports?

Other ideas are discussed, such as three factors that differentiate high performing CHRO team members:

  1. A High Performer’s Mindset
  2. Capability Built through Experiences
  3. Executive Advisor and Influencer

HR leadership teams can also evaluate themselves against the three criteria and chart a path forward for their own development.


Accelerating the Journey to HR 3.0: Ten Ways To Transform In a Time of Upheaval | IBM Institute for Business Value and Josh Bersin Academy

The HR function has significantly evolved over the past decade. And as noted in this 38-page report,  HR’s evolution can be categorized in three ways:

  1. Traditional HR 1.0 (Industrial) – focus on compliance, administration, and highly efficient service delivery.
  2. HR 2.0 (Internet) – move toward integrated centers of excellence and focus on training and empowering business partners to deliver solutions at the point of need.
  3. HR 3.0 (Digital) – which represents about 10% of organizations – turns HR into an agile consulting organization, one that not only delivers efficient services but also practices design thinking to push innovative solutions, cognitive tools, and transparency into the organization.

This research explored 53 HR-related practices and narrowed them down to the top ten (p.7) that most significantly drive seven business outcomes, including financial performance, customer satisfaction, workforce engagement and retention, and societal impact.

The ten practices are categorized into three buckets:

  1. Health and Wellbeing:  creating a support structure for families and the entire life of the workers,
  2. Business Agility and Change: adoption of tech to develop new products and services,
  3. Adaptive Transformation:  leveraging contingent workforce while simplifying performance management.

As HR organizations continue to evolve to HR 3.0 and beyond, this report provides ideas for accelerating the journey and maximizing its impact.


Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2021 | Gartner

CHROs and their HR teams continue to refine and finalize their 2021 priorities as we are about to enter the new year. To help HR functions with this effort, this report reflects survey responses of 800-plus HR leaders on their top priorities for 2021. 

The top five HR priorities are:

  1. Building critical skills and competencies
  2. Organizational design and change management
  3. Current and future leadership bench
  4. Future of work
  5. Employee experience

While the overall themes of these priorities haven’t changed much over the past couple of years, how the priorities manifest themselves will look somewhat different in 2021 given the current context.

In exploring why building critical skills and competencies top the list, it is likely due to this lever’s ability to impact multiple business priorities ranging from growing the business and executing business transformation to improving operational excellence.

For each of the five priorities, the report provides a problem statement and a “new imperative” to address the problem. For example, sticking with the priority of building skills and competencies for the future:

  • The problem today: COVID-19 has worsened the reskilling challenge.
  • New imperative: Take a dynamic approach to reskilling.

For each imperative across the five priorities, recommended actions are provided. A useful resource for all HR practitioners.


21 HR Jobs of The Future Report | Cognizant

This 60-page report provides insights into 21 HR jobs that will evolve HR’s role over the next decade. It is based on feedback from nearly 100 CHROs, CLOs, and VP’s of talent and workforce transformation.

The 21 roles are arranged on a 2×2 grid (on page 6), where:

  • the X-axis depicts time, and the order in which the job is expected to appear over the next ten years
  • the Y-axis represents technology centricity or the degree to which these jobs will require a grounding in computer science.

The 21 jobs range from Algorithm Bias Auditor, Distraction Prevention Coach, to Chief Purpose Planner. Each of the jobs embodies five core themes, including data literacy, organizational trust and safety, and human-machine partnerships, to name a few.

For each job, the report includes a:

  1. Position Summary
  2. Overall Requirements
  3. Specific Responsibilities
  4. Skills and Qualifications

The value of this work is less about whether all of the predictions come true, but rather that it is expanding our thinking on how the HR function will continue to evolve in ways that will drive business and workforce strategies of the future.

HR leaders can use this reference as they think through and plan their future HR organization. And with this as the backdrop, I am also including here a 225-page Willis Towers Watson report that provides insights into how technology is reinventing HR jobs and work.


Resetting the Future of Work Agenda: Disruption and Renewal in a Post-covid World | World Economic Forum With Mercer

The pandemic continues to alter how and where we work, the ways in which work, workplaces, and workforces are organized, and the employee-employer relationship. And as organizations reset their future of work agendas, this 31-page report provides five imperatives for doing.

  1. Transform organization design and work design. Transition into a more simple and agile structure.
  2. Align new technology and skills. Embrace the necessary integration of technology and skills to transform the workplace.
  3. Cultivate health and well-being. Support employees with targeted programs for physical, social, financial, and mental well-being.
  4. Build a human-centric leadership culture. Adopt a people-focused approach when connecting with workers.
  5. Embrace stakeholder capitalism. Ensure equitable sharing of risks and rewards between employees and firms.

HR organizations can use this framework to “reimagine how work, the workplace, and the workforce will look in the medium to long term to begin making the necessary adjustments and investments today.”


2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends | Deloitte Insights

Deloitte has released its latest study on the global human capital trends for 2021, highlighting the five key trends reshaping work, the workforce, and the workplace. The five trends are:

  1. Designing work for well-being: The end of work/life balance.
  2. Beyond reskilling: Unleashing worker potential.
  3. Superteams: Where work happens.
  4. Governing workforce strategies: Setting new directions for work and the workforce.
  5. A memo to HR: Accelerating the shift to re-architecting work.

For each of the five trends, the report urges organizational leaders to make a “fundamental mindset shift: from a focus on surviving to the pursuit of thriving.”

For example, the trend Designing work for well-being: The end of work/life balance refers to firms taking well-being beyond work/life balance by designing well-being into work and life:

  • A “surviving” mindset concerning this trend is to support well-being through programs adjacent to work.
  • “thriving”  mindset is to integrate well-being into work through thoughtful work design.

The report includes many practical insights for how firms can position themselves and their workforces to thrive in a new world of work.

For reference, I am also including the 2020 report here.


Reimagining the Postpandemic Workforce | Mckinsey Quarterly

As many organizations continue to plan for a new combination of remote and on-site working (hybrid work models), this article contains insights for firms to consider as they make decisions.

The article suggests that the model selected should be the one that best optimizes the factor(s) most important to an organization, such as real-estate cost, employee productivity, access to talent, and employee experience, to name a few.

Since each model will optimize certain factors while detracting from others, organizations will need to make tradeoffs. Further, since the various models’ influence the types of interactions between leaders and teams, as well as company culture, these are important decisions to make.

The six models include:

  1. Limited remote work, large HQ – Company leaders and employees are centralized in 1–2 big principal offices
  2. Partially remote work, large HQ – Company leaders and most employees spend the majority, but not all, of their time in 1–2 principal offices
  3. Partially remote work, multiple hubs – Multiple proportionate-size offices with leadership and employees dispersed among all offices
  4. Multiple microhubs – Leadership and employees dispersed across small footprint “microhubs” located in various geographies
  5. Partially remote work, with flex space – No permanent offices; rented flex space; used for periodic in-person collaboration (but not connectivity)
  6. Mostly remote work, no office sites

Each model shows its impact on different outcomes, such as productivity. The framework can help organizations make informed decisions about which model enables the outcomes they deem most important.

As a bonus article, check out the MIT Sloan Management Review article, Four Principles to Ensure Hybrid Work Is Productive Work, which helps firms think through the impact of hybrid work models on four elements of productivity (energy, focus, coordination, and cooperation).


2020 Women in the Workplace Report | LeanIn. org

Although the COVID-19 crisis has been challenging for most employees/workers, one worker segment that has faced unique challenges is women–especially mothers, senior-level women, and Black women.

According to the annual Women in the Workplace study from LeanIn.Org, one in four women is considering downshifting (working in a reduced capacity) their careers or leaving the workforce due to the pandemic.

This year marks the first time in six years of the annual report that the researchers found evidence of women intending to leave their jobs at higher rates than men.

  • Concerning senior-level women who said they are considering stepping out of the workforce or downshifting (beginning on page 24), almost 3 in 4 of them cited “burnout” as the main reason.
  • Women with children were three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and child care amid the pandemic.
  • The report also indicates that Black women are less likely to feel supported at work during COVID-19. “Black women are less likely than women overall to report that their manager has inquired about their workload or taken steps to ensure that their work-life needs are being met, and only about a third say their manager has fostered an inclusive culture on their team.”

Several other ideas are discussed, including the impact of the pandemic on women with disabilities.

This 63-page report should propel organizations to take bold and proactive actions to address the heightened challenges that many women are facing during this time.

Here is a bonus article by Pew Research Center, that speaks more broadly of the unique challenges that working parents continue to face during the pandemic.


Getting Serious About Diversity: Enough with the Business Case | Harvard Business Review

As Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) continues to be a focus of organizations, this article argues that firms need to shift from merely articulating the business value of I&D to implementing impactful actions.

The authors ask the question: “Why should anyone need an economic rationale for affirming any group of human beings’ agency and dignity?” They argue that “firms should make the necessary investment because doing so honors our own and others’ humanity and gives our lives meaning.”

The article provides four actions that business leaders and managers can take to unlock the potential of I&D:

  1. Build trust
  2. Actively work against discrimination and subordination
  3. Embrace a wide range of styles and voices.
  4. Make cultural differences a resource for learning.

The article reinforces that increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented people in your workforce does not automatically produce benefits; what matters is how an organization harnesses and fosters I&D. Several other ideas are discussed.


Care to Do Better – Building Trust to Leave Your People and Your Business Net Better Off | Accenture

During a time at which organizations want to unlock more of their employees’ potential, increase trust, and drive business performance, this Accenture report provides ideas for doing so.

The research introduces a framework called Net Better Off that centers on six distinct and connected dimensions that leaders must focus on.

A key finding shows that 64 percent of people’s potential at work, defined as using and developing skills each day, is influenced by whether they feel better off across the six dimensions, including:

  1. Emotional and mental – Feeling positive emotions and maintaining mental wellness such as a sense of accomplishment, compassion, happiness, fulfillment, and optimism,
  2. Relational – Feeling a strong sense of belonging and inclusion and having many strong personal relationships, 
  3. Physical –Being in good physical health and equipped to take on normal daily stress
  4. Financial – Being financially secure without undue economic stress or worry and having an equitable opportunity for future economic stability and advancement
  5. Purposeful – Feeling that one makes a positive difference in the world and that life has meaning and a greater sense of purpose beyond oneself
  6. Employable – Having marketable, in-demand capabilities, and skills that make it easy to obtain good jobs and equitable career-advancement opportunities.

Page 12 includes a question for each dimension that organizations can ask themselves. For example, for the Relational component – organizations can ask: How do we create a sense of belonging in virtual teams? How do we ensure every voice is being heard throughout the organization? 

Other ideas are discussed, including five “Sweet Spot” workforce practices (Figure 4 on p.17) that pay dividends for both individuals and the organization when taken together.


Six Steps to Great Talent Reviews | The Talent Strategy Group

For many organizations, the pandemic has underscored the importance of understanding the skills, career aspirations, and potential of their talent, and then using this information to make agile talent decisions (e.g., quickly redeploying talent where and when needed.) As a result, organizations are reevaluating their talent review practices to ensure they can deliver this capability.

But as pointed out in this article, many challenges still exist when it comes to executing effective talent reviews. These challenges range from “overly complex processes, vague definitions of potential, ill-equipped HR leaders, no follow up, and other ills that undercut this potentially powerful process’s effectiveness.” 

This article provides insight into six factors that create an impactful talent review;

  1. A crisp, company-specific definition of potential
  2. A light process
  3. Manager accountability
  4. Savvy facilitation
  5. Development decisions for all high potentials
  6. Flawless follow-up

Each of the six is important, and most organizations can leverage one in particular to make an immediate impact – #2: A Light Process. This factor ensures that only practices and information that disproportionately impact the talent review’s ability to drive value are included; the rest is eliminated.

QUESTION: What extraneous practices and/or types of information can you immediately eliminate from your organization’s talent review process? What other things can you change about your talent review process (e.g., frequency, how potential is measured, etc.) that can add disproportionate value? What are your next steps for beginning to make these changes?

You can also check out Allan Church’s Talent Quarterly article, Think Outside the 9-Box, where he offers three alternatives to the classic 9 Box model used to identify high-potential employees. Also, Allen and Sergio Ezama’s Association for Talent Development (ATD) article, Pepsico’s Formula for Leadership Potential, provides insights into how the firm measures potential through three core dimensions.


How to Be Great at People Analytics | McKinsey

As people analytics (PA) continues to be a capability that many organizations leverage to make better and faster business and talent decisions, this article shares characteristics of effective PA functions.

The authors spoke with 12 teams from some of the largest global organizations about the value that PA brings to HR, and identified a set of six best-in-class practices they employ. The practices fall into 3 categories:

  1. Data and data management, such as having “full ownership of their data repositories, allowing them to rapidly test new ideas, iterate, and reduce dependencies on enterprise-level technology resources”
  2. Analytics Capabilities, including the “ability to translate strategic challenges into analytic questions & use evidence-based practice to interpret insights derived from the analytics, engage stakeholders, and ultimately propel business changes”
  3. Operating Models, where teams align themselves against organizational priorities while maintaining space for open experimentation and innovation

It also includes five questions that PA teams can ask themselves:

  1. Where is the organization on the people analytics stairway? Where does it aspire to be in the next year, three years, and five years?
  2. How does the organizational context influence the mandate of the people analytics team?
  3. What ingredients does the organization possess today, and which does it need to build?
  4. How should the organization determine its priorities in building people analytics capabilities?
  5. If the organization had to get one thing right over the next 12 months, what would it be? What would get in the way of its getting there?

Several other insights are provided, including Exhibit 1 “5 steps of People Analytics Team Trajectory” – which illustrates different levels of the PA journey.


From Workforce to Work-task Planning | Dave Ulrich | Talent Quarterly

Although this article was published earlier in the year, it continues to be a reader favorite as it provides an expanded view of workforce planning by introducing a six-step approach to “work-task planning.”

And while strategic workforce planning approaches usually include the first 3 steps: 1) Business Strategy, 2) Strategic Capabilities, and 3) Critical Roles, the work-task planning concept dives deeper by deconstructing these roles into additional steps, including:

  • Tasks (the core components of what the role does) and then specific
  • Activities ( key activities of accomplishing the tasks in terms of actions and behaviors.)

The purpose of getting to the “activity” level is to isolate which tasks require strategic, creative, and unique solutions that are more likely to be done by full-time employees who become a source of strategic differentiation. For the remaining tasks that are routine and standard, other options for delivering that work are considered, including technology-enabled solutions, outsourced workers, etc.

This framework helps to evaluate and determine which work delivery options are the most optimal.

As a bonus article, check out John Boudreau’s article, Jobs are Melting into Fluid Work, in which he covers how traditional jobs will continue to “melt” into more fluid tasks–presenting implications for HR and Talent practices that have historically been driven from a “job” perspective.


Three Steps to Turn Your Company Into a Learning Powerhouse | BCG

Most organizational leaders understand the critical role that learning and development (L&D) plays in enabling employees to learn, adapt, and acquire the skills they need to achieve company objectives. However, only 15 percent of leaders believe their organization has fully delivered on this capability.

This in-depth article provides a series of tools and questions that can help firms assess and identify opportunities for enhancing their L&D capabilities. Among the various tools is a 5-component framework–consisting of 18 dimensions–that depicts the L&D ecosystem.

Sample questions for assessing each of the five dimensions include:

  1. Strategy. Does your company have a clear purpose—a “why”—for learning? 
  2. Organization. Does your company have a learning culture that the senior executives promote? ‘
  3. Offering. How well does your company assess and address individual and collective learning needs?
  4. Enablers. Does your company have the tools and technology—to measure, support, and continuously improve the learning ecosystem? 
  5. Learnscape Integration. Is your company taking advantage of the entire learning landscape (e.g. external networks)? 

The article also includes an L&D maturity framework that consists of four maturity levels that can be used to further identify improvement opportunities.

As a supplement to this article, I am also including McKinsey’s article, A Transformation of the Learning Function: Why It Should Learn New Ways, which contains insights on how L&D functions can undergo a transformation and adopt an agile operating model to deliver significant value to their organizations.

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