HR Leaders Identify Top Priorities for 2021

by Eric House, Worldwide ERC
After an unprecedented year that challenged the traditional ways of working, HR leaders are focused on five key areas that will contribute to business and employee growth.

While the year isn’t quite over yet, executive leaders in the field of human resources are planning ahead for 2021. After an unprecedented year that challenged the traditional ways of working, HR leaders are focused on five key areas that will contribute to business and employee growth.

Gartner surveyed HR professionals about the future of HR in 2021, receiving over 800 respondents across all major industries and 60 countries, with 36% identified as Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) or Heads of HR. Overall, the top five priorities for HR leaders in 2021 were identified as building critical skills and competencies (68%), organizational design and change management (46%), current and future leadership (44%), the future of work (32%), and employee experience (28%).

Skill Building Remains a Top Priority

With over 68% of respondents identifying critical skill-building as a top priority, it will be imperative for HR leaders to understand critical skill gaps and to effectively integrate learning experiences into employee workflows. Not only is this fundamental to fostering employee growth, it’s an established business priority that can improve overall excellence, growing the business and innovating for success along the way. COVID-19 has also exacerbated the need for reskilling, requiring what Gartner refers to as a dynamic approach in which all impacted stakeholders work together to identify skill needs and to identify ways to improve them.

Organizational Design and Change Management

Following skill-building, 46% of HR leaders identified the need for organizational design and change management strategies in 2021. From misaligned work design and rigid processes to overwhelmed teams and trapped resources, employees may suffer from work friction without organizational efficiency. But friction met with future-forward work design can provide solutions to these problems. For example, overwhelmed teams can be given clarified work boundaries to help prioritize their efforts. Such changes to organizational management can help employees be responsive to change.

Cultivating Current and Future Leadership

Leading the way for organizations as they manage change and continue to build employee skills are effective leaders, which is why 44% of HR leaders identified current and future bench strength as a priority for 2021. This refers to the strength of leadership, which HR leaders described as not diverse enough as organizations struggle to develop effective midlevel leaders. A solution to the barrier that comes from a lack of diversity is to create a growth-focused diversity network to support underrepresented talent who can lead the future of the organization.

Planning for the Future of Work

Like many in the world of work, HR leaders are focused on the future, with 32% identifying it as a top priority for 2021. COVID-19 has played a major role in shaping the future of work, leading to new questions about post-COVID trends, and how to plan for both immediate and long-term adjustments. From more employees working remotely to the importance of crisis response, HR leaders will need to determine which future of work trends are most relevant to their business to inform future of work planning.

Employee Experience is Essential

Finally, the employee experience was identified by respondents as a top priority for 2021. Specifically, 46% of respondents categorized as heads of diversity and inclusion, 31% of CHROs, and 28% of HR leaders identified this need. With many organizations operating fully remote or entering into a hybrid model, it’s important to preserve company culture and evaluate the value proposition of remote work versus in-office work. For those organizations continuing to operate remotely, such factors as recruiting, virtual onboarding, talent development, and well-being will be top of mind for HR leaders.

Mobility leaders play a key role in each of the priorities identified by HR leaders for 2021. As parts of the world continue to grapple with the pandemic and workforce mobility professionals adapt to its related changes, mobility leaders will continue lead the way in employee experience, safety planning, skill building and leadership, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) and planning for the future of work. As we enter into 2021, mobility remains central to where work is going.


SOURCE: Worldwide ERC,