The past year has seen workforce troubles within many organizations. These include conflict over return to the office, productivity anxiety, fears of job loss due to Artificial Intelligence, and low engagement among managers who often feel caught in the middle between their executives and employees.
Here are five winning HR strategies to achieve in 2024.
No. 1 Focus on developing agile, thriving, and collaborative cultures aligned with your organization’s mission.
Too much of the year has seen executive versus employee conflict over Quiet Quitting, Quiet Firing, and Returning to the Office. Rather than focus on issues that divide managers from employees, executives should focus on a strategic issue that unites management and employees: a culture that enables employees to align with your organization’s mission to serve customers and achieve a higher good for humanity.
The research on the positive effects of developing culture is overwhelming. Longstanding empirical research demonstrates how agile corporate culture improves organizational innovation, productivity, and profit. Evidence is emerging that healthy organizational cultures are also the best way to beat the Great Resignation. This includes research from Harvard’s John Kotter, James Heskett, and C. Brooke Dobni Ph.D. of InnovationOne. (Full disclosure: I am a Managing Partner of InnovationOne, LLC.).
Earlier this year, MIT researchers discovered that a toxic organizational culture drives employee turnover 10 times more than pay. This is startling news during the Great Resignation when employers have significantly improved pay and benefits to reduce employee turnover.
We know from empirical evidence that in organizations that have agile cultures (transparency, collaboration, and trust), not toxic cultures (yelling bosses and competition among employees), workers are more productive and happier.
Research shows that building thriving cultures is a sure way to reduce turnover, subdue quiet quitting, and improve productivity and innovation.
Learn more on how to assess and develop your organization’s culture for improved workforce harmony and innovation, productivity, and financial performance.
No. 2 Fix manager malaise
Gallup reported in September 2023 that only 31 percent of managers are engaged at work and 55 percent are actively seeking a new job. This is a massive problem for executives because you cannot successfully implement new strategies, lead change, or even hold your employees accountable for meeting quarterly objectives when management feels squeezed, burned out, or is looking for a new job.
When Gallup asked managers what changes their organization made in 2023, 64 percent said, “Employees were given additional job responsibilities,” 51 percent cited the “restructuring of teams,” and 42 percent reported “budget cuts.”
In short, managers have more work to do on a tighter budget with new teams. Economic uncertainty has led to layoff fears in some industries. While only 12 percent of leaders and managers report that their company is reducing its workforce in 2023, specific industries such as technology and finance have been disproportionately affected by layoffs at rates higher than the national average.
Gallup has found that managers play a critical role in employee engagement and wellbeing. Managers account for 70 percent of the variance in team engagement. For managers to positively influence employee engagement, they must continue to build trust and do more coaching so they can have honest and meaningful conversations about development with their team members. When employees do not trust their managers, Gallup observes, no wellbeing program can be effective. Gallup recommends that employers foster employee wellbeing by developing their strengths, fostering careers, creating family-friend policies, and encouraging healthy eating and exercise.
Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says that managers are motivated by intrinsic skills, like having autonomy, mastery (being at your best), and purpose in their role. Organizations that want to improve manager engagement can do so in the following ways:
- Reduce the number of approvals managers need to get before making a decision,
- Clarify how their role supports the company mission and reward them for it.
- Bolster manager mastery by assessing mangers’ skills to determine if the overall skill set is aligned with the organization’s needs and provide whatever training and coaching may be needed.
I believe that ending the divisive issues such as Quiet Firing and successfully implementing hybrid work will go a long way to resolving manager malaise.
No. 3. Invest in AI for HR systems and become an expert in people-centric AI implementation.
Many human resources organizations have been slow to invest in AI due to cost and legal issues. For example, the use of AI in recruiting to make selection decisions is fraught with discrimination issues if the technology is not validated to ensure it does not discriminate. Most HR organizations have basic payroll and HRIS systems that do not match the technology needs of their organizations.
A Gartner Survey released in July 2023 found that only five percent of HR Leaders Report that their function has implemented generative AI (algorithms that generate brand-new output such as text, photos, videos, code, or data from the vast data on the internet that the Ai is trained to use). HR leaders responding to the Gartner survey said that HR operations – administrative tasks, policies, document generation – and recruiting, including job descriptions, are the most prioritized use cases within their organizations currently. I would encourage HR to prioritize using chatbots to answer employee questions and for onboarding.
Among 177 HR leaders surveyed by Gartner, 84 percent believe that generative AI will make existing HR activities more productive, while two-thirds think generative AI will eliminate redundant activities within the function.
I recommend the following steps for HR leaders planning to implement AI:
- Define your goals based on the strategic needs of the business. Do these needs lean toward recruiting employees, retention, or becoming more efficient?
- Know the risks. If your priority is recruiting, use validated AI tools that have been tested not to discriminate. Also, be careful that you are protecting employee data from cyber security risks.
- Ensure quality data. Collaborate with your IT team to evaluate the vendor landscape and how to implement procedures to ensure your AI tools have access to high-quality and reliable data. Then, audit your data to make sure it is not corrupted.
- Take a human-centric approach to implementing your AI tools. Begin with determining the readiness of your workforce for this change. Meet with the HR team first to learn their priorities for HR and their fears. Share your strategies with them and work toward common goals. Although using OpenAI generally doesn’t require training, other tools will require it. Provide your employees with comprehensive training.
- Set up measures and adjust based on results. As with any other business implementation, always begin with measures of success and change your implementation based on the learning.
No. 4 Lead change management
The Society of Human Resources Management found this year that 63 percent of leaders believe leading change is the most essential skill for the organization. Gartner has found that only 38 percent of employees in 2022 were willing to support change today, down from 76 percent in 2018. And 82 percent of managers are not equipped to lead change.
Organizations will face disruption in their business models, changing geo-political and competitive pressures, and among their workforce with outdated skills and processes and old technology. Change is essential.
There are many change leadership models in academia. I have found the most success with the eight-step John Kotter model because it includes define the big opportunity all the way through instituting the change and measuring progress. The last step is often overlooked in change management models. Further, managers and engineers love it because it fits neatly into project management software, which makes them feel comfortable. Organizations should use one model so that managers and employees understand a common language and methodology.
No. 5 Invest in employee learning and career mobility
According to Pew Research, only 44 percent of workers are satisfied with the training and development they are offered by their employers for new jobs. When conducting employee surveys, I found that training was a top priority for employees. They want to learn new skills to stay abreast with the demands of new technologies.
As well, the constant change and introduction of new digital technologies further underscore the need for training.
A good place to start is with new-hire orientation. Studies have long found that onboarding that includes cultural adaptation skills and job training greatly improves new hire productivity and reduces turnover. Employers need to be sure it consists of a coach to teach the ropes and provide excellent training on unique job skills and using the enterprise system. New-hire orientation that provides such training and coaching accelerates the time required for new employees to reach job mastery.
Employees also want to develop their careers at their companies, much like a decade ago. In a Pew Research survey, 63% of respondents who left jobs in 2021 cited a lack of advancement opportunities as a reason. And a 2022 McKinsey study noted that a lack of career development and advancement was the most common reason given for quitting a job. Too often, executives ask employees to chart their career paths under the guise of empowerment, but this often only leaves them aimless without a place to start and the learning from past experience.
An article in the MIT Sloan Management Review suggests that employees make opportunities and pathways visible for employees. HR should provide alternative career paths and the skills and experiences to learn to develop their chosen careers. Team assignments and formal job rotations can be beneficial, along with thorough coaching and feedback.
Training and career development also provide an excellent return on investment.
The change we have seen in the past several years will not abate. Change is a constant. Companies that take heed of these five winning HR strategies and implement them in 2024 will have the edge.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and Managing Partner of InnovationOne, LLC. He works with organizations to transform HR and recruiting, implement remote work, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: The Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. He is quoted in business journals such as The Wall Street Journal, Workforce Management, and CEO Magazine. Victor has partnered with The Conference Board on innovation research. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at http://www.VictorHRConsultant.com