Informative

Top Challenges and Opportunities for HR Leaders in 2024

Jim Cunningham

Jim Cunningham

March 28, 2023 6 min read

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Human resource leaders face a whole host of challenges and opportunities in 2024 and beyond. One top priority will be leadership development for managers but that is closely followed by employee engagement and retention, change management, recruiting top talent, and digital automation. It’s tempting to jump directly into solutions; however, it might be useful to focus on fundamentals so that strategies are informed by a clear understanding of what outcomes you want to achieve. Let’s keep things as simple as possible and ask ourselves what it is we want for our organization, specifically when it comes to its people. There is one overarching answer to this question that often gets lost in our search for solutions. We want our people to find joy in their work. When people find joy in their work, they do more of it and do it better. The side effects of this outcome translate to better products and services, happier customers, and a more successful organization. The challenge for 2024 is how to do it.

We know that front-line managers have the greatest impact on what workers experience in their jobs, so one important challenge will be helping them develop the coaching and leadership skills they need to get the desired outcome. Workers’ expectations are changing; they want to do purposeful work aligned with their values, to work where there is an opportunity for growth, to have culturally diverse colleagues, to be in a transparent and trusting environment, and to be respected for what they bring to the job. Workers view their job as a relationship and will invest no more into it than they perceive they are getting from it. It is fair to say that workers who find these qualities at work, will be more likely to also find joy in what they do. Use these fundamental expectations of workers to build the foundation of your future-of-work strategy.

Awareness

Do your frontline managers know what outcome you are after? If not, begin having that conversation. It might surprise them to know that people finding joy in their work is an organizational ambition that also applies to their own roles. Managers are not likely driving toward an outcome they knew nothing about, so create universal awareness.

Alignment

Workers want purpose in their jobs and that means there has to be some alignment between organizational values and those of workers. Do your company values easily come to mind? Do your managers and their teams know them without looking them up on the company website? It is not uncommon if they don’t. Take a look at your company’s core values and put them to the test. Do they reflect who you are? Can they be difficult to embrace all the time (they should be, otherwise they are table stakes)? Do they match your culture? Are there stories that prove they are lived? Core values should be tested in how you make decisions, what decisions you make, and how people in the organization treat one another. When hiring, managers should know how to seek out candidates that are intrinsically motivated by similar values.

Opportunity

The workforce of today includes people who are acquiring new skills and knowledge continuously, people who want to grow and develop, people who want to be valued for all they have to offer, not just the skills required by a job description, or inherent in a title. Consider creating broader and more flexible job titles and reimagine how you define people’s contribution by labeling their skills and accomplishments. Managers, as coaches, should work with their teams on an individual level to get clarity around each worker’s desired career paths.

Diversity & Inclusion

People travel to faraway places to be immersed in different cultures so they can broaden their own life experiences. Workers want that same immersion in the workplace, be it in-person, remote, or hybrid. Inclusive and diverse hiring is a great first step, but to thrive managers will need a lot of help and practice learning to communicate in a multicultural environment and to do so will need 1) a feedback loop created by reflective and active listening, 2) to be vulnerable enough to ask for help in understanding various cultures, 3) respect – not frustration – in their tone and body language, and 4) determination to learn.

Trust

Authenticity and honesty matter when communicating with workers. Research tells us that the human brain has a hardwired bias toward the negative which can cause us to act irrationally. Companies can sometimes spin messages to workers in an effort to counterbalance the bias. Managers especially, have to walk a fine line between being overly negative in their words, tone and body language while not being perceived as inauthentic or dishonest. This, again, speaks to the importance of professional development for managers with heavy emphasis on communication.

Culture

Intentionally build a culture of teamwork and collaboration. All great accomplishments are the result of collaborations in one form or another and great accomplishments bring fulfillment (joy). You can’t build the culture you want without listening to the stories being told by people doing the work; they are your feedback loop. Those stories come about based on the words and actions of you and your managers. If your words and actions support teamwork and collaboration, that is what you’ll hear in those stories.  Surveys and exit interviews are great tools, but nothing can take the place of listening to people where they work.

HR leaders are faced with many challenges and opportunities in their day-to-day life. There is no doubt you will need strategies and tactics to deal with the competitive forces in your market that make sourcing and recruiting great talent an ongoing challenge. You will have to develop the communication, project management, and digital tools needed to manage change and minimize change fatigue. You will have to reimagine your workforce by understanding what blend of onsite, hybrid, remote, and freelance workers can best meet the needs of your customers. However, with the fundamentals necessary to help people find true joy in their work firmly in place, these challenges will be achievable opportunities. 

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