Looking for a ‘Future Fit’ amid Coming Disruptions

A new survey finds HR executives are concerned about managing future talent challenges.
By: | March 1, 2019 • 2 min read
future fit

When U.S. business executives look into the proverbial crystal ball, what they mainly see on the talent front is disruption. But what scares them ever more, according to a new study, is the current inability to meet that challenge.

Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends study, which surveyed more than 7,300 global senior business executives, HR leaders and employees from nine key industries, found that 65 percent of American business executives predict serious disruption in the next three years—a significant 30 percent jump (35 percent) from the same survey last year.

Why so much? For one thing, says Ilya Bonic, president of Mercer’s career business says, as those same executives seek to “future-fit” their significant human capital risk—mainly closing today’s skills gap and overcoming growing employee change fatigue—today’s strategies can impede transformation progress. Yet, the Mercer study found, managing those concerns is critical: Just 37 percent rate their company’s ability to mitigate human-capital risks as “very effective.”

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“Over the last few years, organizations have moved from anticipation to action in preparing for the future of work. But they risk bewildering people with too much change, ignoring the values individuals admire, and inundating them with endless process,” said Bonic in a statement.

In today’s uncertain environment, Bonic said, employees crave stability. Indeed, Mercer’s study found that job security ranks among top three reasons that employees join and also stay with their employer. On the flip side, 20 percent are concerned that AI and automation will replace them. According to Mercer’s Career Global Solutions Leader Kate Bravery, the way to help employees feel secure is to foster human connections. Thriving employee—those prospering in the areas of health, wealth and career—are twice as likely to describe their role as “relationship focused” and their work environment as “collaborative.”

“The future of work is about connectivity, creating a work environment that appeals to today’s workforce by building a coherent sense of identity, sparking connections, and using data to personalize the experience,” Bravery said.

Mercer’s study also identifies four top trends that leading companies are pursuing in 2019: aligning work to future value; building brand resonance; curating the work experience; and delivering talent-led change.

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For example, in the aligning work to future value area, AI and automation continue to transform the competitive landscape—59 percent of U.S. companies plan to automate more work in the next 12 months. HR’s challenge is to build an integrated people strategy (an approach deployed nine times more frequently by high-growth companies) and leverage the right talent analytics to inform decisions on the future size and shape of the organization. But today less than one-third of companies have good insights into the business impact of their buy, build, borrow and automate strategies, the survey found. “The key is aligning jobs and people to where value is being created, and enabling a mechanism to reward future-fit skills and behaviors,” Bravery said.

HR should have a voice in business transformation, specifically on delivering on the talent-led change front, in order to keep talent at the center of change. This year’s Mercer study found 61 percent of HR leaders are involved in planning the roll out of major change projects and 60 percent involved in executing those plans. Only two in five HR leaders, however, participated in the idea generation stage of transformation initiatives. Also, HR sees employee morale as roadblock to making changes stick. For example, “employee attrition” and a “decline in employee trust” are two of the top four 2019 challenges.

“These findings point to the need for transformation efforts to focus on people-centered design and better talent metrics to understand how people are experiencing and embracing change,” Bonic said.

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected]