HR leaders trying to navigate a rapidly changing workplace environment now have a clear set of objectives to focus on: digitisation, talent, and the future of work. That is the central finding of a new report Creating People Advantage 2021: The Future of People Management Priorities by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA).
BCG and WFPMA have collaborated on similar studies dating back to 2008, and this year’s analysis is the most comprehensive one yet. The authors surveyed more than 6,600 respondents in 113 countries and interviewed more than 30 executives at leading companies and startups worldwide, including South Africa.
The report ranks 32 people management topics on two dimensions: the future importance of each topic, and companies’ current capabilities for addressing each one. Looking at the combination of current capabilities and future importance has highlighted three clear areas where the need for innovative action is most urgent:
- Digitisation, including the use of new technologies such as people analytics, cloud-based applications, AI, and robotics
- Talent, comprising strategic workforce planning, leadership development, upskilling and reskilling, and working with an ecosystem of employees, contractors, and other types of labour
- The future of work, including more agile HR, the incorporation of “smart” work, and change management
The South African landscape: where people and HR strategy, shared services and smart work meet
“South Africa, like its global counterparts, ranks health and safety as the most important under current capabilities. However, that ranking drops in terms of future importance, with people and HR strategy becoming the most critical consideration, reflecting an awareness of the need to think strategically about people management and indicating the need for HR to adapt quickly to rapidly evolving workplaces,” says Rudi van Blerk, Principal and Recruiting Director at Boston Consulting Group, Johannesburg.
The importance of focusing on people and HR strategy in South Africa is further highlighted because South Africa ranks its current people and HR strategy capabilities much lower than the global average – coming in at 22nd compared to a ranking of 4th globally.
As such, South African organisations are going to have to prioritise aligning their people and HR operations with overall business goals as this topic becomes more critical going forward. The growing relevance of people and HR strategy is no surprise given the increasing pace of change companies face. Many companies are shifting to “always-on” processes for their overarching business strategy, which allows them to continuously monitor key trends – such as climate and environment, and social and community expectations – and adapt their strategy accordingly.
“This places additional pressure on the people and HR strategy, requiring it to adjust much more frequently. That includes rethinking the strategic workforce plan in order to obtain the new skills needed to deliver on frequently changing business strategies and priorities,” says van Blerk.
South Africa – and the rest of Africa – also differed from their global counterparts in their view of current staffing and placement management capabilities, both ranking much higher than the global average. This refers to the coordination, encouragement of and support for short- and long-term project assignments such as international transfers, assignments to squads, or special projects for employees – and South Africa ranked its current capabilities 5th, while Africa ranked it 14th and the global ranking was 23rd.
In terms of future importance, South Africa also showed a notable difference to the rest of the world around the value of shared services implementation, which refers to the adoption of shared services centres to centralise administrative, legal, or IT functions in order to improve efficiency and reduce costs. The country ranked the future importance of shared services implementation 15, compared to a bottom ranking of 32 globally. This indicates that South African companies believe that there is value to be obtained from further sharing resources and centralising functions.
Both South Africa and the rest of Africa indicated a strong need to act on smart work and HR IT architecture and operation. IT architecture and operation looks at the strategic management of the organisation’s HR IT architecture, including implementing suitable HR IT systems and tools to ensure optimal performance of HR operations. Smart work meanwhile refers to a new model of work that uses technologies to improve performance, increase flexibility – for example, through virtual or hybrid work models – and enhance independence, all heightening employees’ satisfaction overall.
This differs again from the global average, which prioritises a strong need to act on leadership behaviours and development, as well as upskilling, reskilling, and learning and development.
Putting employees at the centre
However, an area where the findings were unanimous was around the need to create personalised experiences for employees.
Among survey respondents, 85% say that focusing on employee needs and expectations is a key success factor in the intensifying competition for talent. That figure represents the highest level of agreement in the entire study, underscoring the importance of an employee-centric approach.
To enable these kinds of personalised experiences, HR must better understand the needs and aspirations of individual employees, which requires closer engagement.
Going forward, organisations must think of their employees as essential customers and understand their needs in order to help them along the journey and enable them to succeed in the future. More broadly, HR needs to overhaul existing structures, processes, and tools and capitalise on digital innovations to interact with employees in a more targeted manner.
“Companies today need to navigate an ever more complex business environment—and strong, proactive people management is the only way to ensure that they have the right talent in place to succeed. Defining the future of work, achieving digitisation, and adopting a comprehensive approach to talent management can help HR leaders allocate scarce resources to the most urgent priorities and equip organisations to thrive regardless of what the future holds,” says van Blerk.
A copy of the report can be downloaded here.