10 Essential HR Skills to Thrive in 2020 and Beyond

By PeopleFirst on January 2, 2020

Take a man from the Bronze age 2,000 years into the future, the Iron age - and things wouldn’t be all too unfamiliar even with the introduction of sturdier tools and sound buildings. However, if you take a man from the Industrial Revolution 200 years into the future into the present, he would be at a loss. Our world where aeroplanes, smartphones and skyscrapers are commonplace would seem almost magical to him. 

This was futurist Ray Kurzweil's most noted observation, when he detailed the Law of Accelerating Returns. He wrote in 2001, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” The speed of progress snowballs every decade, and we will witness the greatest change of pace yet in the 2020s. What implications will that have for businesses and HR?

Looking for the latest outlook on what HR teams should prepare in 2022? Check out  our comprehensive HR 2022 Outlook report here

2020s: A Decade of Strategic HR

You would already have felt the changing HR landscape this decade with the rise of the knowledge economy, the gig economy and the growth of business technology. And you would not be alone, 82% of HR leaders believe that their jobs are changing so dramatically it would be unrecognisable in 10 years. 

However 43% admit that their companies are not going to keep up with the technological changes as part of the transition and that is risky. The future is a competitive one where companies that do not constantly adapt risk becoming obsolete. Capgemini research has found that half of the Fortune 500 in the year 2000 have already ceased to exist! Furthermore, companies in the S&P500 index has dropped from an average lifespan of 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years as we approach the 2020s. 

On the flipside, this also means that HR will become an increasingly important function that determines success in the next decade. As the knowledge economy matures, the right people and the right tools can make all the difference. This means HR would have to take on a more strategic role, deploying new practices that not only embrace change but leverage on them to get the best return-on-investment in people. 


10 Essential HR Skills to Thrive in a Decade of Uncertainty

In a decade of rapid change, these are 10 crucial skills that allow HR leaders to steer businesses to the forefront of the competition.


1. Retraining New Skills

According to the World Economic Forum, 133M jobs will be created by 2025 through robots and rapid technological developments, jobs that do not even exist today. What employees are equipped with today may quickly become obsolete in the next 10 years. For example, instead of managing databases, employees might need to learn how to manage artificial intelligence that can more effectively manage a database. In such a landscape, it is more important than ever for the workforce to “learn, unlearn, and relearn”

According to Michael Hughes, managing director and leader of West Monroe’s Operations Excellence practice, “It’s often cheaper to retrain current employees than find and hire new ones, as the consequences of turnover can be felt at the bottom line.” And the good news is that employees are actually up for it! So the pressure is on HR leaders to bridge the skill gap and maintain a team that is always equipped.


2. Aligning the Team 

Being able to align members to the interest of the team has always been a goal for HR. However, this will become increasingly important given that the average time to productivity in a ‘knowledge-economy’ job is 8 months up to 1 - 2 years. Fact is, people no longer stay at a job as long as they used to. The average time someone spends in their job has dropped to 4.4 years, and people are expected to change employers more than 10 times throughout their career.

This is where strong team alignment comes in. A team that works towards a common vision and is engaged towards the same goals, stays together longer. Help your employees see the “why” of their work and turn temporary talents into permanent powerhouses amidst a decade of flighty hires.


3. Understanding People Analytics

In the third Industrial Revolution, people promote by excelling at their previous role and would often have a strong understanding of the jobs of the people they come to manage. However, in the 2020s, many managers would not have done the jobs of the teams they manage and these teams could be much larger too.

The good news is that managers don’t have to have done every job in the company to understand their teams. A good understanding of people analytics is a data-driven approach to understanding employees and how they impact business performance. It is no wonder that according to Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends report, 71% of companies see people analytics as a high priority. It is an area that many companies are still trying to figure out and that would ultimately give HR leaders a clear picture of how members of the team power a company’s success.


4. Continuous Performance Management

Many Fortune 500 companies are noticing inefficiencies in the traditional performance management and are moving towards a more fluid model. Instead of annual, quarterly or even monthly reviews, things are happening in real-time and require continuous performance management to ensure that the manager is always in touch with the team. These systems allows managers to capture multiple inputs from team members and promote collaborative efforts, making it an indispensable tool in the next decade.


5. Integrating Non-Traditional Employment Categories

Traditional employment categories like “Employed”, “Underemployed” and “Unemployed” are only part of the picture now. With increasing demand for autonomy leading to loose arrangements like “permanent part-time” work and freelance work, the marketplace has become increasingly complex.

The better HR leaders are at leveraging these various employment structures to diversify and allocate talent, the better they will be at creating a more adaptive workforce.


6. Moving from “Outsource” to “Best Source”

Upwork estimates that Americans who freelanced in 2019 represent 35% of the U.S. workforce. There is no doubting the rise of the “gig economy”. This means a larger pool of “gig workers” to tap on, but this also poses the question – how to pick the right people from an increasingly larger pool? 

HR will move from simply outsourcing to “best-sourcing”, developing decision-making processes and new ways to curate and identify the best candidates for the task at hand. From verifying “gig workers” to building your own network of trusted go-tos, the HR leader needs to filter the enormous gig market to bring in the right people in a crunch.


7. Applying agile working frameworks

Companies who recognise that teams are increasingly fluid will have the advantage in the next decade. With flexible teams that form, disband, and re-form depending on business need, a company must be a lot more agile. Such a diffusion of expertise across traditional hierarchies would suggest flatter organisational structures.

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey, “Hierarchical organisational models aren’t just being turned upside down – they’re being deconstructed from the inside out. Businesses are reinventing themselves to operate as networks of teams to keep pace with the challenges of a fluid, unpredictable world.” Leaders will have to evolve the ability to be truly agile. Applying agile working frameworks like SCRUM across more areas in the organisation will also contribute to greater organisational agility. 

This comes with its own set of HR challenges. As seen from Google’s Project Aristotle, every team is different, creating unique micro-cultures that each require their own sets of management styles. However, the project arrived at a common conclusion suggesting that ultimately an environment that makes the team feel safe to be themselves fosters a collaborative and cohesive process.


8. Mastery of Digital Tools

Digital will no longer be just the domain of the IT department. With the rise of new HR technologies and platforms, HR leaders need to be able to have a good grasp on the latest developments to help their company stay competitive. 

Beyond new tools, the World Economic Forum reported that robots and rapid technological developments would displace up to 75M jobs by 2025. This means that automation and artificial intelligence will become an increasingly important part of the workforce – one that the HR leader has to integrate into the company, requiring a mix of soft skills and hard skills.


9. Coordinating Across “Loose” Workspaces

From co-working spaces to remote working, the “workspace” is no longer confined to the office. Teams can be scattered across the city or even the globe. This has been enabled by the use of communication technologies and HR needs to facilitate the collaborative efforts of geographically dispersed teams. Beyond communication technology, collaborative working or task management platforms will also play an important in how HR bridges the physical gap and maintain a team across long distances.


10. Consistently Building Culture 

While many of the key HR skills may change depending on the technological landscape and how they impact worklife, some core skills remain a pillar of HR no matter which decade. Building a positive culture has always been at the centre of creating an engaged and motivated company and that has not changed.

However, new digital tools like gamification, reward systems and motivation drivers  could be integrated into worklife to design the culture you want to create in your workplace. Instead of large company events and outings, culture should be consistently built into the everyday aspects of work and now more so than ever, HR leaders have the capacity to achieve it.


Key Takeaways

In a future where the pace of change is increasingly fast, the idea of a team continues to be stretched and challenged with new work arrangements, changing technology  and global teams. HR serves at the core of the company, bridging the gaps between members and teams for best possible output.

The next decade requires HR to continuously learn so that they can be adept at many technology-based components of business, from analytics to operations. However, these new technology-based skills should build and amplify on a foundation of soft skills that has always been at the core of HR’s function – culture, employee experience, organisational psychology and design in order for HR to take its place as a key strategic function.

Tags: Leadership, Performance Management, Employee Experience