What’s really keeping our leaders awake at night?

By Jill Miller, CIPD Research Adviser, @MillerJillC

What organisation issues are at the top of the agenda for our HR and business leaders? Are our priorities changing? Would other business leaders agree with us about the impact HR is having on the business?

These are the key questions we examined in this year’s CIPD HR Outlook survey. In the report we compare the views of HR and other leaders about what’s keeping them up at night as well as their views about HR’s contribution and impact on the business. The survey examines key areas of attention for the profession – focusing upon areas where HR may need to do more and where it could shout more about the great things it is already doing.
To delve further into the survey findings launched at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition in Manchester, Vanessa Robinson and I have been invited to run interactive sessions and facilitate debates at various events. We thought it would be interesting to share some of the headline findings and views with you.

Where do HR and the wider business agree?
There are some clear areas where views are aligned about current and future business priorities.  It’s not surprising that cost management remains the top business priority for today and in three years’ time. But the survey results also suggest our priorities are changing, with innovation and exploiting new technology now featuring in the top five priorities list.

Whereas last year it appeared that attention was engulfed by the immediate demands of cost control, taking a step back and consolidating, perhaps the focus on costs is now being seen as the ‘new normal’ rather than a temporary environment. Businesses are findings ways to balance this focus with the need to also fulfil their longer-term ambitions.

And it would appear that both HR and other business leaders are kept awake at night by the same issues. The longer-term issues of leadership capability, and ensuring that the organisation has the skills and talent needed to drive the organisation forward, are at the top of the agenda for both groups. However, this is of course within the context of delivering on priorities with reduced budgets.

Is the economic climate an opportunity or limitation for HR?
Forty-three per cent of HR leaders said the economic context had increased their opportunity to make a strategic contribution. Economic challenges have created the increased need to focus on workforce planning, succession planning and leadership development. Also, the non-HR business leaders that we interviewed talked about how top-quality execution of the operational aspects of HR e.g. redundancy, has increased their views of the function.

Where is there a disconnect of views?
Once again this year there is a difference in views between HR and non-HR business leaders about HR’s role in strategy. And worryingly, around a fifth of business leaders said they didn’t know what their senior HR people’s involvement in strategy was. We delved a bit deeper into this mismatch of views, asking both groups what they thought the barriers were to HR increasing their contribution.

Both said that HR can be seen to focus more on operational than strategic issues and there is a question mark around how well some HR professionals understand the rest of the business. Some business leaders outside of HR question HR’s credibility, citing ‘HR are not perceived to be the same calibre as other business leaders’ as a blocker to increasing their strategic contribution. HR doesn’t see their calibre as an issue. But they do flag their visibility as an area for improvement, needing to make their contribution more apparent to the rest of the organisation, which perhaps explains some of the business leaders’ views.

There was also a disconnect of views about how well HR identifies, hires and develops key talent the business needs for the future. Again, is this a perception or reality?

What does all this mean?
Is changing perceptions about building better relationships throughout the business and being more visible? Is it about how we communicate HR’s impact better? Do we need to be closer to other areas such as the finance team? Is it about better interpretation of HR data into the language of the wider business?

I think the real value of these survey findings is the interpretation of what they mean in practice. Through running workshops and interactive discussions it’s become clear that the necessary action is dictated by the individual organisation context, size and sector. And some of the issued raised are likely to resonate in some organisations more than others.  But it’s through the discussion and debate that these kind of questions raise (not just among HR, but between HR and other parts of the business) that we can uncover what’s needed in our own contexts.

Read HR Outlook


Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

  • Great insight Jill. It's good news to hear that the business is agreeing on some key concepts, and unsurprising to hear that cost management remains the key priority given current economic conditions, but perhaps a significant sign here is the awareness of cost management within HR. The importance of creating and maintaining value through sustainable investments isn't something sat just within the walls of the finance and business development functions of the organisation; its something HR has been doing (knowingly or unknowingly) for a long time. Accessing, nurturing, and crucially retaining talent, the human capital of the business, is a core role of HR, and its good to see that skills and talent play on the mind of the whole business as central issue.

    I think the greatest concern comes from the role of HR in strategy, both organisational and functional.  The crucial link between investment and performance is something we're investigating in our Valuing your Talent initiative. We're working to understand how to recognise "good" performance from HR data, and crucially how to communicate that to the rest of the business using effective language that the business is comfortable with. Its great to see HR Outlook unpicking some of these concerns, and highlighting them for all to see.

    You can learn more about Valuing your Talent by visiting www.cipd.co.uk/valuingyourtalent , and by following our research blog here: www.cipd.co.uk/.../humancapitalblog

  • Anonymous

    I think, it is the very good and important blog, I had ever seen. Thanks for the post....