Predictions for 2017: How Will the Digital World of Work Transform HR?

According to a new report, organizations are moving away from hierarchies, focusing on improving the employee experience, redesigning training, and reinventing the role of HR.


Business and HR leaders should rethink almost all of their management and HR practices as the proliferation of digital technologies transform the way organizations work, according to predictions for 2017 from Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

This year’s report includes 11 predictions about rapid technological, structural, and cultural changes that will reshape the world of work, including management, HR, and the markets for HR and workplace technology.

In “Predictions for 2017: Everything is Becoming Digital,” Bersin by Deloitte observes that the need to “be digital” is forcing organizations to completely rethink ways to manage, engage, lead, and develop people. As outlined in the “Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016” report which surveyed more than 7,000 companies in 130 countries, 92% of companies see a need to redesign the organization itself as the world moves from a top-down hierarchical model to one of a “network of teams” in which people iterate and solve problems in a dynamic, agile way.

In Predictions 2017, Bersin by Deloitte anticipates that business and HR leaders will be challenged to improve the employee experience, ensure workers remain engaged, and their skills updated. HR also will be challenged to help business leaders redesign organizations, jobs, and the work itself around digital solutions to optimize business performance.

“This shift in structure changes the way we lead, manage, and move people throughout the company,” said Josh Bersin, principal and founder, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “It also pushes us to continuously learn—faster than ever. Companies must try new things, such as crowdsourcing in which you can obtain ideas, content, and services through an online community, rapidly deploy new products and services, iterate, and quickly learn what fails and what works. This customer-centric way of doing business has shifted decision-making to the edges of the company, and requires a new way of thinking about management and HR.”

This year’s predictions include the following:

  • Organizational design will be challenged everywhere. To thrive in the digital age organizations should focus on breaking functional groups into smaller teams, customer-centric learning, experimentation and time-to-market. Organizations should examine the way work gets done and then provide support mechanisms to facilitate cross-functional success.
  • Culture and engagement will remain top priorities. In 2017, organizations should carefully define their organizational culture—defined as the reward systems and implicit behavior that happens when nobody is looking. They should also measure it, and find where and how it may be misaligned.
  • Real-time feedback and analytics will boom. Driven by the need to understand and improve engagement, and the continuous need to measure and improve employee productivity, real-time feedback and analytics will explode.
  • A new generation of performance management tools will emerge. This development already is underway, as dozens of new companies respond to a huge gap in the market. Specifically, they are responding to a shift from a very top-down, process-driven approach to employee performance management—to a more agile, continuous, feedback-based approach.
  • A focus on “human performance” and well-being will become a critical part of HR, talent, and leadership. Despite all of the new tools and technologies available at work, U.S. productivity has slowed in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. One of HR’s emerging roles in 2017 will be to focus on how to help individuals and teams perform through initiatives including employee wellness, employee engagement, culture, and work/life balance.
  • A focus on employee experience will overcome process design in HR. Using the idea of design thinking, HR teams in 2017 will stop designing “programs” for onboarding, learning, collaboration or other purpose, and instead study and design integrated, high-value “experiences” that excite, engage, and inspire employees.
  • Digital HR and learning will help us to reinvent learning and development and HR systems. Digital solutions in HR will mean new approaches, such as embracing hackathons; taking a minimal viable products approach to get new solutions out the door quickly; and increasing transparency by sharing information more freely at work and letting people comment on it or rate it.
  • The leadership market will start a process of reinvention. The “Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016” research shows that Millennials do not aspire to mimic the styles of older senior leaders. At the same time, Deloitte’s new high-impact leadership research indicates that companies should shift away from traditional leadership training programs to focus to culture, learning through interactions and relationships, and continuous feedback and coaching.
  • Diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias will become a top priority. Our high-impact talent management research found that building a culture of inclusion is a top driver of financial performance. HR organizations should make sure they capture the right information, share it formally, and develop a holistic inclusion and diversity program that touches all talent practices.
  • The learning and development function will continue to struggle. Learning and development organizations should embrace self-directed learning and build a learning experience that helps individuals at all levels learn all the time.
  • The future of work is here and HR is in the hot seat. As the rapid commoditization of artificial intelligence (speech recognition, natural language processing, sensors, and robotics) could impact almost every job, the real job of HR leaders will be to figure out what all of this means and to redesign jobs, work, and organizations so the “people side” of work has more importance and focus than ever.

To learn more about these trends, download a complimentary copy of “Predictions for 2016: Everything is Becoming Digital.”

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