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Averbook: Why 2021 is the Year of ‘Re-‘

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Jason Averbook
Jason Averbook is HRE’s People Side of Digital columnist. Averbook is a leading analyst, thought leader and consultant in the area of HR, the future of work and the impact technology has on that future. He is the co-founder and CEO of Leapgen, a global consultancy helping organizations shape their future workplace by broadening executive mindset to rethink how to better design and deliver employee services that meet the expectations of the workforce and the needs of the business. He can be emailed at [email protected]

The year 2020 was already supposed to be a harbinger–the most important year since 2000, harkening back to the magical milestone of Y2K. Once that moment passed and we realized we were all still breathing, we started talking about this thing called Workforce 2020 and the promises it foretold. It was going to be made of remote workers and defined by distributed models. It would be comprised of full-time workers, contract workers (“gig” hadn’t been coined yet) and teams. Between 2000 and 2020, this was all going to happen–we had 20 years to work on it. Were we ready? Were we prepared? Had we gone “digital” in our thinking?

When we kicked off 2020, I stated a few key priorities for the year that I predicted would play out:

  1. the shift from HR technology to digital HR;
  2. a true focus on worker experience, reimagining how we deliver experiences with design at the center; and
  3. a much better focus on how we’re going to manage our talent, from recruiting through learning, and finally realizing why sequencing and roadmaps were so important–not just implementing modules, but truly deploying capabilities.

This is the way we started 2020 … and then 2020 happened. We got hit. We got hit with multiple pandemics: a global health emergency and a social justice crisis among them. Both of these pandemics took our priorities, everything we said was so important for the past 20 years, and made them NOW events. They became immediate and necessary to get through 2020. We had to realize that digitization had accelerated overnight, we needed to realize that worker experience was good to talk about before, but humanity-infused workforce experience was now mission-critical. We needed to pump empathy into everything we were doing. More than ever, we needed to realize that all the design work we had been doing was all wrong for the Now of Work. Everything we designed we designed for HR, not for our people as they were going about managing, leading and trying to run the business. We had to realize–and we definitely did realize–that the function and role of talent management was based on old practices and would not work going forward; our practices weren’t designed to enable the workforce; they were designed to monitor the workforce. And lastly, our roadmaps were old. They were dated. They were three- to five-year project plans. Instead, what 2020 made us realize is the need for agility.

So, we were hit upside the head, and now we get to use that hit as a wake-up call, beginning in 2021. I’m calling 2021 the Year of Re-. What does that mean? Re- means retraining, remodeling, refreshing. We need to do some rethinking. We need to focus on reengagement.

How do we do that? The value of the HR function is forever. To reflect its true and proper value, does “HR” actually need renaming? Maybe. Does it involve resequencing? For sure. Does it involve rethinking? Yes. Does it involve revisioning? Of course. If we approach 2021 as our Year of Re-, it becomes our rallying cry to sit down, think about our strategy, think about our vision and realize digital is here to stay. Employee experience is here to stay. And a different kind of talent management is here to stay.

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The most critical thing to understand is that humanity is here to stay; we’ve just been reminded of it (another re-). Infusing humanity in new ways requires remaking HR into a function we’re proud of in 2021 and beyond; it’s our time.

Throughout 2021, I’ll focus on a new “re-“ concept every month. We’ll be called upon to act on these concepts in an ever-changing world. 2021 is our most important year.  It will define the rest of the decade for the function of HR.  So, let’s look in the mirror and commit together: “It is our time, let’s make a leap.”