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Here’s How to Set Your 2019 HR Agenda

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Eva Sage-Gavin
HR Leadership columnist Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent & organization consulting practice and as a technology Board Director. She can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

As we dive into a new calendar year, I feel the renewed energy of my peers. It’s almost palpable. The field of human resources is changing rapidly, becoming more essential than ever. I see some massive companies making big strides in the way they manage human capital.

Recently, I had the good fortune to participate in some lively conversations at several board events and CHRO gatherings. Listening to my peers talk about what is foremost in their minds always inspires me. As I look to my 2019 priorities, I am influenced by those conversations and the changes I see occurring. I thought it might be interesting to share some of those hot topics with you as you plan your year.

The overarching theme is navigating volatility and driving growth. CHROs are involved in the business equation as never before. I am reminded of something a friend shared with me-–a line from the Talmud: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’ ” In 2019, CHROs have the opportunity to be that angel for the people they serve.

By setting our people and teams up for success–architecting our areas for new uses–we can play a key role in employee growth, corporate growth and at the boardroom table. Lisa Buckingham, chief people, place and brand officer at Lincoln Financial Group, put it well recently: “A critical component of my platform as a leader, and something that I am very passionate about, is keeping the ‘human’ within human resources, while also truly leveraging technology, data and every innovation that comes our way.”

Inorganic Growth Brings New Questions and Approaches

Last year saw roughly 41,000 M&A transactions worldwide. Growth, whether organic or inorganic, is the end goal as never before. I have no doubt some of you reading this are in the throes of organizational shifts due to your company’s M&A activity. That means culture and teaming become more important than ever–and both fall directly in the CHRO wheelhouse.

As a result, I believe we will begin to answer some complex questions in 2019. How do we preserve an acquired culture of innovation, seeding its entrepreneurial spirit into our legacy organizations? How do we protect an acquired agile culture from the red tape that can quash it? How do we make the formation of high-performing teams a science, from shop floor to board level? An M&A deal can appear to have everything going for it, but if two cultures cannot avoid a seismic collision, all may be lost.

As Peter Drucker said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Get it right and we contribute to growth in a way no other C-suite officer can. I find that incredibly exciting.

Technology Advances Change the CHRO Role

Whether it’s developing high-performing teams or new-skilling employees to prepare them for a work world of humans and machines, technology advances will continue to make our jobs interesting in 2019.

Many of us, in pursuit of high-performing teams, are looking at the use of workforce data to make them more probable. With advances in wearables, Artificial Intelligence and analytics, we have more worker data potential than ever. How do we turn that into actionable insights? And how do we do it in a way that respects our employees’ privacy?

Tapping into our workforce DNA–the informal networks through which work really gets accomplished, the skills employees bring to the table that we may not be aware of, wearables and more–can really help spur our companies and our people to grow. Agile organizations have foregone command-and-control models for ecosystems and information networks. While this is a positive, it means some of the information that can help companies grow may not be in the official knowledge bank. Tapping into this information is key to success. Talent architect is now a key HR role. Dermot O’Brien, chief transformation officer at ADP, addressed this issue in a recent HRE article: “Think of it: Almost all work today gets done outside of org charts. Being able to effectively manage and engage workers in this new construct is and will be more and more critical.”

When we use employee data responsibly and with permission, we can do everything from increase efficiency to break old paradigms for true innovation. For example, Silicon Valley’s Juniper Networks used workforce science to determine where its best employees came from–and where those who left the company went, to better map career tracks and improve hiring/retention.

The CHRO’s team will need to walk a fine line between advocating for corporate growth–being a good team player–and championing employee privacy rights. It’s a tricky area, one which has been generating conversation at the conferences and meetings I’ve been attending lately.

I could go on, of course. Myriad topics will occupy us this year. But, these two topics are so prevalent, so timely, that I think they are enough for now. These are fodder for board-level conversation. Let’s introduce them proactively to our boards.

I hope you and I will continue this conversation throughout 2019–so please, email me your ideas and concerns. We’ll challenge each other to new heights. As I mentioned at the outset of this column, we have a chance to create some good that doesn’t exist yet.

Here we go!