2024 HR leadership: Beyond AI, focus on culture, listening

This year, HR executives encountered tighter budgets, smaller teams, an avalanche of information on generative AI and new challenges managing the dramatic shifts in how today’s employees work—issues that are all forecasted to persist into 2024. That means, experts say, that HR leaders will need to double down on culture, collaboration and employee listening, among other areas.

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To provide insight into these 2024 HR leadership trends, HRE spoke to a range of industry and thought leaders.

2024 HR trends in leadership

Brad Bell, professor of strategic human resources and director of the Center for Advanced Human Resources Studies at Cornell University

Culture transformation will be a key responsibility for HR leadership in 2024, Bell says.

“As companies are going through a lot of change—rolling out new work models: flexible, hybrid, remote work—many of them are transforming their businesses and thinking about how to transform culture to align with some of those changes,” Bell says. “I think cultural transformation will be a big trend in 2024.”

Brad Bell
Brad Bell, Cornell University

Rising employee activism is another 2024 HR trend leaders will need to navigate, particularly as the nation moves into the next election cycle, Bell says, as candidate preference can create more tension in the workplace. Meanwhile, global conflicts in the Middle East are also spilling over into discussions in the workplace, he notes.

“I think these are all issues that will continue to be front and center in the New Year,” Bell says.

Shari Chernack, senior principal of people strategy and transformation at Mercer

In 2024, HR executives will benefit from leaning into “corporate athleticism,” broadening their knowledge of and voice on business strategy, Chernack says. An HR corporate athlete thinks like a generalist, speaking outside of their domain topic to address important business issues, she notes.

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Shari Chernack; 2024 HR trends: Changing leadership priorities and capabilities
Shari Chernack, Mercer

To drive this point, Chernack referenced a recent Mercer survey. While 86% of CHROs and 79% of first-time CHROs feel well-prepared for their role, 40% wish they knew more about other areas of the business, like finance and operations.

“If you think about all of the things that CHROs need to do—be a leader at the executive level, engage with the board on topics that are significant to the business and sparking their interest, and participate in the continued business transformation around technology and analytics—it really points to the need for CHROs to be corporate athletes,” Chernack says.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School

HR leaders, as well as other company executives, will need to master collaboration and active listening in 2024, predicts Kanter.

Today’s employees are increasingly likely to want to “express themselves at work by revealing more about themselves,” extending beyond race and ethnicity to factors like parenting status, she says.

“Leaders must know how to listen and recognize the differences that matter to people,” she advises.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard University

Fostering collaboration through differences, including across functions, will be key to building a common culture—and to avoid operating in silos.

“[HR] must be able to speak with and learn from their colleagues in technology, community relations and other areas for help in sourcing talent, understanding differences and enabling employees to express their values,” Kanter says.

Art Mazor, global human capital practice leader at Deloitte

Given the rapid pace of AI adoption this year, Mazor envisions two key trends emerging for CHROs in 2024: the need for “AI fluency and the ability to harness workforce data strategically and responsibly.”

“AI presents an undeniable opportunity for CHROs to help steer the organization by advocating AI fluency and adoption, establishing an AI-centric organization and fostering a culture that employs AI ethically,” he says. “However, CHROs must first develop their own AI fluency before championing AI adoption at the enterprise level.”

Art Mazor; 2024 HR trends: Changing leadership priorities and capabilities
Art Mazor, Deloitte

As companies embrace novel tools and technologies to garner workforce data, the debate around measuring productivity will likely continue. In particular, some leaders are being driven by “productivity paranoia”—concerned that workers, particularly those working remotely, aren’t doing enough—while some employees are leaning into “productivity theater” or focusing on tasks that demonstrate that they’re actively working, Mazor says.

However, Deloitte’s research suggests executives and employees do share a surprisingly optimistic perspective that workforce data—incorporating elements beyond productivity like safety and employee satisfaction—can mutually benefit the organization and its workforce.

In 2024, Mazor says, it’s crucial for CHROs to collect workforce data responsibly and strategically use it to drive positive outcomes for the workforce. This is becoming a critical capability for HR leaders, he adds.

“As we see the use of generative AI rapidly expanding, it’s clear that CHROs who deeply understand its applications and how it can be integrated into their organizations enterprise-wide will be in a strong position to advance their careers,” Mazor tells HRE.

Rubab Jafry O’Connor, professor of management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business

Rubab Jafry O'Connor; 2024 HR trends: Changing leadership priorities and capabilities
Rubab Jafry O’Connor, Carnegie Mellon University

Accelerated stress levels among employees are likely to surge in 2024 as fears of a recession persist, and inflation continues to linger, O’Connor says. It’s up to HR leaders to help quell those concerns, she notes.

“People are afraid, wondering if my job is going to go away. Is AI going to do everything that I used to do?” O’Connor says. “Hard skills will be taken by AI, but soft skills, such as creativity and communication, will not. We need more humaneness to manage AI. This is something leaders should be thinking about.”

Dawn Kawamoto, Human Resource Executive
Dawn Kawamoto
Dawn Kawamoto is HR Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered technology business news for such publications as CNET and has covered the HR and careers industry for such organizations as Dice and Built In prior to joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected] and below on social media.