4 Critical Challenges Facing HR Leaders Today


More than 720 companies responded to our High Impact HR Research® survey from almost every industry possible, and we have completed over 40 personal interviews with HR Leaders around the globe. The participation in this research has been great.  With this research we will be providing insights into what improves the effectiveness of an HR function? What roles are critical to the overall impact of HR and where should they be spending time? How does the HR Leadership and philosophy affect your ability to meet business needs? What best practices are taking shape in globalizing HR functions today?  We will be releasing our full findings from this research in April, at our 2010 IMPACT Conference (http://impact.bersin.com), session “What Makes a High-Impact HR Organization?”  

To help start the dialogue on this topic, I wanted to post a few early findings and share some interview examples  we’ve been gathering that may help you address your own leaderships sleepless nights, or at least provide an opportunity to begin the discussion. Initial survey data shows that HR organizations are faced with a wide range of challenges that vary drastically based on an organizations size, maturity, industry and especially globalization.  Within our research there were a few challenges that have risen to the top in both the data and interviews we held with HR senior leadership:

  • HR Measurement, especially in relation to business metrics
  • Providing workforce planning and analytics services
  • riving internal mobility & career development as an HR function and within the entire organization
  • Enabling a strong self-learning culture, tied to innovation and engagement

These internal HR struggles overshadowed other concerns such as talent segmentation, motivating high performance cultures, and developing future HR leaders.  Why are these challenges rising to the top today and more importantly what are some organizations doing to address them?

HR Measurement:

HR Measurement has been a hot topic for some time, and the importance of tying this measurement to business financials continues to elude many HR functions. Business leaders have been sold on the value of talent management, and now they want to see the impact to their business. 

In the last few weeks I’ve spoken with several organizations that have made the internal investment required to connect HR metrics to financial and talent metrics a top priority. In a large global manufacturing firm with over 70,000 employees the Global Director of Organizational Research, Analysis, and Planning outlined how they’ve spent the last three years growing their internal analytics function. They first began to manually develop leadership level dashboards for specific business units.  These dashboards combine HR and Business metrics; such as site location production metrics compared to performance data, hiring data, and even talent mobility data. Finally as the success of their efforts grew they were given more resources to expand their successful dashboards and annual analytic efforts. In the last 2 years they have focused on partnering with their IT function to build an internal data warehouse and single portal environment that connects to their HR, talent, and business systems. This is a critical milestone in their journey to better prepare their business leaders with the data needed to make important resource, production, and even market decisions.  

Delivering workforce metrics and analytics:

Almost every organization I’ve interviewed has commented that this is an area they are working on improving and expect to work on this even more in the coming year.  Executives are beginning to expect a better understanding of the overall human resource needs at an enterprise level. This goes beyond the traditional annual head count exercise. They want to understand the critical roles, how difficult those roles will be to fill, what skills are needed, and where the organization expects to fill this need from.  

One organization, a large insurance company with over 10,000 employees has spent the last few years organizing their Talent Management functions (including workforce planning) around an employee’s life cycle. Their first function which manages the processes from pre-hire to 1st year includes a workforce planning function. This takes an enterprise approach that uses both skill gaps, open positions, data provided by HR Business Partners, employee relations, and compensation and benefits to help develop their workforce plan. They also connect this closely to their acquisition function to understand both internal and external opportunities for meeting this plan.  

Internal mobility & career development:

Although, every HR function I’ve spoken with tracks internal mobility and career opportunities in a slightly different way, it seems to rise to the top in almost every conversation with HR senior leaders. This metric seems to be considered a critical leading indicator of the health and wellness of an overall talent management function for many organizations.  One HR leader I spoke with from a large manufacturing organization with over 125,000 employees has created a new Global Mobility function focused on increasing internal mobility opportunities through formal and informal programs. Another large aerospace firm has developed a great program which creates 2-year mobility positions within in all key business functions and supporting business units for newly recruited high potential candidates as well as a program for seasoned high potential leadership roles. Some rotational positions are critical support roles for organizations such as HR, Engineering, Quality, etc. or lead roles in business critical cross-functional teams.    

Finally enabling a strong-self learning culture:

I won’t steal the thunder from David Mallon who will soon be launching his industry report on developing a Learning Culture within your organization, but I will highlight one of the organizations that I interviewed and their approach to enabling a learning culture.  An HR strategy team member for one of the more innovative airline companies I spoke with discussed the fact that they were struggling with many HR and Talent processes; but they promoted internal innovation and development consistently. She felt that their organizations culture allowed all employees, including HR, to offer ideas and challenge the current approaches to doing business.  This allowed them to engage their employees fully resulting in a greater opportunity for growth and a deeper connection to the organization. A big component of developing a learning culture is allowing employees the freedom to make mistakes, to take chances, and try new roles within an organization.  In this organization the HR function supported this culture with formal collaboration and idea programs, as well as implementing incentives that encouraged this behavior.

What struggles are keeping your business leadership up at night? What challenges are facing your HR Leadership today?  HR executives and professionals are seeking ways to deliver ever-greater levels of service and support.  In today's business climate – with its rapidly changing workforce, economic challenges, regulatory requirements, and evolving technologies – how can you make sure your HR organization is optimized for effectiveness, efficiency, and remains business aligned?  

Join me at our IMPACT 2010 conference to learn more about how HR organizations are transforming their functions and developing new approaches to doing the business of HR. If you’d like to share your HR organizations recent transformation efforts or just highlight practices you feel create an effective HR function please feel free to comment on this topic or call me for further discussions.


Robin Erickson

Robin Erickson, Ph D , directs Bersin by Deloitte's Talent Acquisition research practice, and writes about various topics in talent acquisition including integrating with talent management, improving quality of hire for critical jobs, leveraging social recruiting to build talent pools and building a global recruiting function Robin brings to her role broad experience in talent strategy, retention improvement, workforce planning, organization design, mass career customization, diversity and inclusion, leadership alignment, change management, workforce transition and project management.

6 thoughts on “4 Critical Challenges Facing HR Leaders Today

  1. Hi Bruce, Thanks for the post. I haven’t had a chance to read Pink’s work yet, but I’ll put it on my reading list. I do think that demographic changes as well as a changing view of the relationship between employer and employees are just a few of the reasons for the rise of these current challenges.

    We love to hear your feedback, so please keep posting.



  2. Stacey:

    Have you had an opportunity to read Daniel Pink’s "Drive" and if so, could part of the reason that the challenges you noted are "rising to the top today" be the unprecedented demographic change which Pink highlights (the Baby Boomers starting to express "Motivation 3.0" tendencies)?


    Bruce Kneuer

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