Halfway Through the Year, Let’s Consider Josh Bersin’s HR Predictions for 2014

A brief review of the HR expert’s research paper published by Deloitte Consulting LLP.

I was already more than twenty years into my human resources career before I decided to seek the professional designation PHR – Professional in Human Resources. I wanted to be able to say more than just how many years I’d worked in the field, I wanted to have objective proof that I demonstrated mastery of a body of professional knowledge.

As I studied for the exam (which I passed), I ran into several references to the all-too-common misperception of HR as simply an administrative function, a necessary evil populated by bureaucrats who processed payroll, insurance enrollments, staff leave, attendance tracking, vacation tracking and so on. HR has struggled for a long time to earn a seat at the table, so to speak. In fact, that’s one of the reasons the Society for Human Resource Management developed its PHR and SPHR designations – to illustrate that there’s a vast body of knowledge out there, and that those who master it are particularly well-equipped to contribute to an organization’s strategic planning.

Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte
Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte.

More organizations are acknowledging HR’s value and treating it as an equal partner on organizational leadership. That trend can only continue in the foreseeable future, according to Josh Bersin’s Predictions for 2014, written for Deloitte Consulting LLP. A host of factors are combining to make talent management – including acquisition, development, compensation and retention, among other factors – a critical component of continued success for many firms. Bersin made several predictions for HR’s evolution through 2014, and I was most struck by his observations regarding hiring, training, and performance management and evaluation.

We Need More People – Put Out the “Now Hiring” Sign

That’s really all it took to fill most positions when I was HR director at a New Jersey vitamin factory. Our production departments required semi-skilled labor and we were located on a well-travelled road. Within half-an-hour of putting out the sign, applicants would start to come in. We’d interview the likeliest candidates, hire those we needed, and keep the other applications on hand for a few weeks. If other jobs opened up, I could go into that stack of retained applications call applicants we’d liked – we hired several good people that way.

The higher the skill level required, though, the less likely the “Now Hiring” sign was to attract viable candidates, which we knew. If we needed a chemist for our Q&A department, we’d turn to more reliable methods of recruiting scientists. As a factory, though, we had only a small number of professionals, supervisors, and managers, and turnover for those jobs was low, so it wasn’t a particularly onerous job to hire professionals or supervisors.

That’s not the case any longer, according to Bersin. Many professionals have stayed in one place for several years because of the uncertainty of the economy and the labor market. Now that the economy is recovering, however fitfully, from the recession of 2007, professionals and managers are once again testing the waters to see if there’s a better deal available. Another significant factor is the Affordable Care Act. Employees who were once wedded to their jobs because of the health insurance no longer have to worry about losing coverage and being unable to afford, or ever qualify for coverage.

“Back in the day,” when we hired someone, we presented them with the standard employee benefits package – health and life insurance, voluntary contributory retirement savings. 2 weeks of paid vacation annually a couple of sick days and eight paid holidays. Today’s environment has changed dramatically since then. For one, employers have figured out that that benefit package could also be called the retention package. When we gave them their benefits information, we were telling them that that was the best they could expect from working for us – and we didn’t even bother to tell them what other jobs they might qualify for in a year or two.

Workers today expect to see more on the table – not necessarily gifts or freebies, but certainly a greater indication that employers are thinking of their workers as people.

According to Bersin, many employers today are identifying personal and career development opportunities for prospective employees when they’re recruited, or no later than their initial job interview. They’re selling the company as a great place to work because they’re realizing that at least some of their competitors really are great places to work, and they don’t want to lose talent to those competitors. Bersin recommends that those responsible for talent acquisition partner with the chief marketing officer to develop a branding strategy for the company as an employer in each geographic location.

They don’t stop there, either.

Many companies, especially the new tech firms, are justly famous for creating workplaces their employees really want to get to in the morning,

workplaces that are fun, challenging, and engaging. Places like the vitamin factory represent an old style of doing things, and if they haven’t changed their relaxed retention policies, I’m sure their professionals and managers are actively scouting about for better offers.

Talent Management

Bersin’s predictions for 2014 revolve around the idea that while HR may be central to business’ future success, there’s no one HR program or even system of programs that’s key to success. Instead, he says that HR will continue its push to integrate all of its different programs – recruitment, career development, training, succession management, workforce planning, and so on – into a single, seamless approach tailormade to the organization.

If past history is any indicator, the most successful companies will continue to invest in leadership, in learning, and in developing deeper and stronger specialized skillsets among their staffs. They will also source their talent from far and wide and not restrict themselves to local recruiting.

Successful companies will also strengthen their commitment to learning, or what Bersin calls capability development, and treat it as a long-term program that brings together content, programs, and management practices. Companies should offer their courses on a single easy-to-use interface with which employees can easily incorporate learning into their everyday lives.

A welcome development is Bersin’s call for the reworking of the performance appraisal or management system that afflicts too many companies today, replacing the concentration on competitive evaluation with a focus on enabling high performance through coaching and development. Let’s face it – the idea that every year, a manager has to classify one of her direct reports as “the worst” in the group has led to a lot of useless angst, especially in small groups.

Bersin also sees a move away from annual attempts to gauge employees’ engagement and toward sincere efforts to build passion.

This starts in the hiring process – companies should hire people who not only have the requisite skillsets and credentials, but who believe in what the company does. Every element of the talent management system should focus on building passion. Bersin suggests that companies with high turnover might not have a management problem, but a recruiting problem – they’re hiring people who are indifferent or ambivalent about the company.

This isn’t to suggest that companies should ignore employee engagement — just the opposite, they should constantly monitor it through various means, including blogs and wikis, exit interviews and other communications on an ongoing basis. Don’t relegate employee engagement to a single annual survey.

Bersin proposes a multi-faceted redesign of HR functions that emphasize a highly competent service-delivery framework that’s easily accessible by all employees. This is the paperwork function most frequently associated with HR, not a “necessary evil,” and it should be delivered to all stakeholders swiftly and most competently. He points out that the systems provided for employees’ use should be simple and easy to understand and use – feature-rich systems that require special training generally repel employees.

With respect to technology, he urges companies to provide their people with an integrated set of tools. With respect to social media, companies should develop realistic policies and come to grips with the fact that employees will bring their mobile devices with them. Firms that are trying to build passion are trying to develop engaged employees, and engaged employees want to collaborate while they’re on the job and off. Promulgating restrictive or unrealistic social media policies will have a stifling effect on the building of passion.

In addition, Bersin sees HR shifting its role within the organization from business partner to strategic advisor,

and converting its generalists into strongly trained specialists with special expertise in recruiting, employee relations, compensation and organizational development. He sees the emergence of a new discipline called talent analytics to analyze HR’s various activities like recruiting, engagement skills, etc. At the helm of the redesigned HR function Bersin sees a visionary, innovative, business-oriented CHRO to drive the firm’s people strategy.

Our People Are Our Greatest Resource

What Bersin envisions is a Borg-like HR department with a presence of some sort in all components of a successful company – collaborating with department managers on the hiring and career development of individual employees, working with managers and executives on succession planning, developing learning and capability development courses that will impact every employee, working with the other chiefs on strategic planning and global talent acquisition . . . And yet, for any firm that really believes that its people are its greatest resource, could it be any different?

Don’t misunderstand — I can see what he’s saying working in large organizations that have, or are capable of, a global presence. I can also see the global paradigm working for smaller tech companies that really don’t need people to come into the office daily, but can work with teams in far-flung locations. I can definitely see it working in the vitamin company and the telecom, and even the NYC non-profit, a nationwide membership organization that fielded hundreds of staff across the country.

Two things about Bersin’s predictions that especially struck me are his notions about learning and capability development, and performance appraisals.

Send Them to a Seminar

At one point, I worked for a telecom as the HR manager at a technical facility in New Jersey. They spent millions of dollars on the facility and its equipment, and hired some really top-notch technicians and engineers, as well as some administrative and customer service staff. When they were done hiring everyone, they hired me to be HR manager.

One day I got a call from Catherine, my boss in New York City: “Dale, what happened to all the money we budgeted for staff training?”

Alertly, I replied “Eh?”

“Computer training for the admin staff there. Nothing’s been spent all year – how are they going to learn and stay up-to-date?” Now, this was the late 1990s, and advances were rapidly being made in office productivity software. Catherine was right – if the staff were to keep abreast of new developments in the field, they’d need some training from time to time.

Programmer Training Class at Occidental Life
Programmer Training Class at Occidental Life.

I took the issue to the fellow who was in charge of the facility, and he told me he’d take it up with their supervisor. The following week, I was told that the admin staff had been sent en masse to computer training, and I reported it to Catherine. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I learned, almost by accident, that the “training session” was one of those introductory seminars where they pitch participants to enroll in a multi-session course for a few hundred dollars. Their supervisor thought she was slick, finding a “free” computer training seminar for her staff, and she took credit for saving the company a bundle on training costs. Instead, she sent her staff to an all-day sales pitch for training they knew they’d never get. But hey – lunch was free.

I tell the story because it typifies the attitude held toward HR and its functions,

like training and staff development, that was held even by many tech firms back then. The technical staff got whatever training it needed, but the administrative and customer service staffs were expected to learn on their own. After that one abortive training seminar, no admin or customer service person from that facility ever attended any training for anything – the excuse I was always given was that “it’s not in the budget.” It can’t come as a great surprise that within a couple of years, the company was bankrupt.

I agree with Bersin on the importance of fostering an ongoing learning environment, whether it be mentoring, sharing of expertise by experienced personnel, formal training sessions, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses provided by colleges and universities) or even more formal certificate and degree programs, when appropriate. And nobody can be shut out because they’re not important enough, or their jobs don’t require it. I can’t think of a single job that wouldn’t benefit from periodic training or refresher courses, and I know first-hand that it can be a real morale-booster to learn that your employer values your work enough to send you for refresher training from time to time.

What Is A MOOC?
What Is A MOOC?

Things are much different today, it’s clear, which is a blessing not just for the HR types, but for nearly everyone

Performance Evaluations: The Job That’s So Important, Nobody Wants to Do It

I was still at the telecom about a year later, when the job of global HR director was given to a woman in England. I never met her face-to-face, although I spoke with her a few times by phone and we maintained a written correspondence. After she’d been in the job for a month or two, she got it into her head that we needed performance evaluations, and that it was the lack of performance evaluations that was responsible for so many of our developing woes.

I brought the issue up with the department heads and managers in the facility. You’ve rarely seen such unanimity – the only disagreement was the degree to which they hated the idea. I’m not going to repeat all the reasons here, because I’m sure you’ve heard them all.

My report on the unanimous disdain for performance appraisals didn’t dissuade the new HR boss, whose opinion was only reinforced.

“Of course they don’t like them – they require work and tough decisions!”

Now, in all my time working, I’ve never given a performance appraisal, and I’ve received only one, and that was when I was a counselor-in-training at Scout summer camp in the summer of 1969. When I raised the possibility at the non-profit in New York where I had my first real job, the response was also unanimously negative, even from people who were well-versed on modern management techniques.

My friend Ann at the telecom said

“Dale, performance reviews are a massive waste of time because neither managers nor their staffs take them seriously – the managers just figure out how they’ll be used for salary treatments and score their people accordingly.”

My mentor Charlie at the NYC non-profit said “Dale, they’re a waste of time because a savvy manager will quickly figure out how to game them and spend as little time as possible on them.” Bersin says “Until you create an organization that operates on candor, feedback, accountability, and strong personal relationships, no amount of annual performance ratings will help.”

They’re all right.


Written By

Dale Marshall

Human Resources Manager.