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Of the top 2021 HR priorities, building essential skills and competencies is number one. What else is on the list as companies move toward post-COVID operations?

With the COVID vaccine rollout, company leaders are preparing to move beyond their temporary work environments toward longer-term, sustainable operations. Human resource leaders are on the front line of reentry strategy and operations, charged with managing the policies and programs that align a company’s workforce performance with its strategic directives. What are the top priorities for HR leaders this year? 

Building Essential Skills and Competencies

Global research and advisory firm Gartner recently surveyed more than 800 HR leaders about their top priorities for 2021. Their number one priority? Building critical skills and competencies topped the list, with 68 percent of HR leaders planning to focus on this objective this year. 

It’s no surprise that this objective has topped the list of HR priorities for three consecutive years. Business, industry, and world changes are more dynamic than ever – creating an ever-evolving demand for new skills as emerging needs arise. 

To sustain or improve operational excellence, HR leaders will need the collaboration of executives and managers across the organization. A well-implemented competency management program, supported by a flexible competency management system, can support leaders and stakeholders who are learning to work together to identify and address shifting skill needs. 

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion

The death of George Floyd and surrounding events (finally) sparked a national conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. Last year, hundreds of companies scrambled to hire DEI leaders to help shape new, better, more inclusive ways of doing business. They are looking at the full employee lifecycle, from hiring, developing and engaging employees to promoting and retaining them. Many are charged with helping to shape a welcoming culture for all. And they are modeling how to more intentionally embrace diversity in a customer and partner base.

The DEI movement isn’t simply a feel-good response to deep-seeded institutional racism. It’s also good for business. As this article reminds us, “Research shows that a cohesive work culture boosted employee performance to 56% and decreased turnover risk to 50%.”

HR leaders understand the pivotal role they can and must play to help foster a positive, inclusive experience for their employees and the broader community.

Cultivating Future Leaders

In the Gartner survey mentioned above, HR leaders pegged “Current and Future Leadership” as their third most important initiative for 2021. In fact, 44 percent of HR leaders identified current and future bench strength as a priority. Especially, HR leaders are calling out a need for more diverse leadership talent. 

As Gartner has emphasized in earlier articles, the barriers that impede advancement among underrepresented talent apply equally to the leadership pipeline. Potential leaders from diverse groups often face unclear career paths and steps to advancement, get too little exposure to senior leaders, and lack mentors or career support.

Building leadership diversity requires intentional efforts, such as networking and mentoring opportunities designed to connect high-potential and diverse younger professionals to leaders who are ready, willing, and able to support their growth and advancement. 

Managing a Flexible Workplace

For many white-collar workers, March 2020 was marked by a sudden and sweeping move from the office to remote work. Others donned masks, stocked up on hand sanitizer, peered through plexiglass, and kept a solid six feet away from colleagues and customers. 

HR leaders will have a loud voice as businesses decide whether and how to enable employees to work remotely, how to bring employees back to the workplace, and which safety measures to keep in place. Many expect that employees will want continued flexibility – of place and of time. A 2020 Gartner ReimagineHR Survey revealed that organizations with a traditional 40-hour work week counted only 36 percent of their employees as high performers. Organizations with flexibility over when, where, and how much employees work see 55 percent of their workforce as high performers. 

The time is ripe for business and HR leaders to consider jobs and performance metrics that focus on employee output rather than the number of hours and locations worked.

Investing in Employee Wellbeing

COVID-19. Working remotely. Working in masks. Working reduced hours. Furloughs. Home schooling. Racial inequity. Racial violence. Stress is rampant among workers who are juggling the demands of work and life. In an American Psychological Association survey of more than 3,000 adults, 78 percent of participants said the pandemic was a significant source of stress.

More companies are stepping up to enhance the health and wellbeing of their employees. Marriott, for example, has a holistic wellbeing program they call TakeCare that’s designed to provide employees with the opportunity to build skills, develop relationships and make a positive impact on the world. 

Hiring and Developing Talent for the Future

As this Human Resources Today article reminds us, “While the skills-gap crisis isn’t new to HR leaders, it has intensified with the progression of COVID-19. And reskilling a workforce in a virtual space adds an additional layer of complexity. Learning and development programs aren’t just a valuable “perk” to offer employees for their personal growth, but an effective strategy for scaling your business in an ever-changing market.”

HR leaders are looking to implement a flexible learning and development approach focused on developing the skills of today – and those of the future. It’s a win-win approach. Current employees are more likely to stay engaged when they have meaningful learning and development opportunities. And top talent will be attracted to an organization that becomes known for having a learning culture.

What are your top HR priorities for 2021? As you work to align employee skills and competencies with strategic directives, check our Competency Management Toolkit for some practical tips and best practices. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can support your effort. 


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