Transforming HR, war for talent top HR trends: Survey

Employers looking for quantifiable, sustainable results
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/18/2013

Transforming HR to meet new business priorities and developing talent are the top trends shaping HR’s agenda in Canada, according to a global survey.

There is a need to shift away from the basics of HR operations and employee relations to build leadership and talent solutions and “break the cycle of ineffective programs that fail to focus on direct organizational benefits or solve business problems,” said Resetting Horizons: Human Capital Trends 2013 by Deloitte, based on a survey of more than 1,300 people in 59 countries (including 82 in Canada).

“The danger is that if HR is not at the strategic table now, it will find it hard to get there if transformation doesn’t occur.”

When it comes to growth or innovation, Canada needs to have the right leaders who will deliver, according to Suzanne Morin, Montreal-based partner in the human capital practice at Deloitte.

“HR needs to be at the table where they execute to anticipate those needs, to understand the business drivers, and then anticipate the impact on the workforce, the talent skills, and be two steps ahead.”

While the basics of operations and employee relations still need to be done, there is a need to add a strategic dimension, to do more hard-hitting analysis of HR programs, according to Richard Long, professor and head of the department of human resources and organizational behaviour at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“If we’re going to launch training programs, how do we know it’s working, how do we know if it’s cost-effective — those sorts of things,” he said.

Sometimes “ineffective” programs actually come from a CEO who decides to focus on a particular area, such as performance management, because another company is doing it, said Long.

“To some extent, I think that that’s happening as well… the HR department doesn’t have necessarily the overall control over some of these to introduce programs they really might think would be effective and that’s part of not being as involved as much in the strategic loop,” he said.

“So if they’re not really involved with the key movers of the company, how do you expect them to understand how things should tie into strategy?”

As the economy recovers, HR needs to increase its strategic importance, said Debbie Bortolussi, president of PHR Resources in Coquitlam, B.C.

“To be successful, HR needs to be a part of the business, not be a partner to it. It should drive strategy and its execution, not be aligned to it. It should be a source of competitive advantage, not a back-office function.”

As for the “war for talent,” one-third of employers can’t find skilled workers, said Deloitte, and the competition for scarce talent has no borders.

“Organizations that are performing well in that area are the ones that are thinking out of the box in terms of talent recruitment, using social media, using the virtual environment… but also developing new skill sets,” said Morin.

There are a lot of people entering the workforce who are potentially qualified for professional areas but companies are worried about investing in them, said Long.

“They’re afraid that then those employees will turn around and be lured away somewhere else, so maybe that’s where part of the war is coming in — they’re afraid to spend a lot of money developing talent if somebody’s going to poach that from you, and (the other employer) can afford to pay higher wages because they don’t have the costs of developing talent.”

Also among the top trends today is “organization acceleration,” according to 62 per cent of the Canadian respondents. This is about employers wanting more from their change initiatives, with quantifiable and sustainable results, said Deloitte.

Really, employers have to work in a much more integrated way, instead of in silos, said Morin. That can mean, for example, the whole organization working as a team in focusing on emerging markets and using the best and brightest employees “to have more results quicker and manage risk.”

“Branding the workplace” is the third top trend, according to 59 per cent of respondents.

Because Canada’s economy is perceived as stronger, the country has a window of opportunity to brand its organizations and talent agenda, said Morin.

“If we are able to seize that competitive advantage compared to the rest of the world, we’re going to be able to attract top talent from the specialized areas, like in mining, as an example.”

But employers have to do even better with their branding efforts, said Bortolussi.

“HR people don’t take enough marketing courses, they need to take more marketing courses to understand how to brand and the importance of branding,” she said, adding if an employer is not on social media now looking for job candidates, it doesn’t have a chance.

Tied for last on the list is “leadership.next,” with 57 per cent of Canadian respondents saying it is a top trend. Today’s agile and disruptive marketplace requires specialized leadership, not a single model, according to Deloitte.

The perfect leader doesn’t exist anymore because businesses today are facing virtually unprecedented challenges and risk, so leaders need to be more flexible, said Morin.

“You have organizations that are really in mature economies with flat growth or declining growth and leaders need to rejuvenate these organizations,” she said.

“It’s still part of the human capital challenge and agenda: How do you recruit, how do you train, how do you develop the next generation of leaders that will be able to face the new and complex global economy that we are facing?”

Companies are not putting enough money into leadership, by seeing the value and pushing people through learning and development, according to Bortolussi.

“What happens in many organizations… is you just keep going on the treadmill, you just keep going and going, and you don’t get off — the next thing you know, another year has gone by.”

Also last for Canadian employers, at 57 per cent, is “how boards are changing the HR game,” alluding to greater scrutiny and oversight of the value delivered by leadership.

“This would imply that HR departments need to be prepared for more inquiry, more measurement and oversight of the value they deliver,” said the report.

Boards are much more demanding in terms of the value HR needs to bring, said Morin, “so it does (put) another pressure on the HR function to be really transforming themselves and seize new opportunities as part of this agenda.”

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