In the early 2000s, “Friends” was a hot television show, N’ Sync and Destiny’s Child dominated the airwaves, and while X-Men also made its debut, the highest grossing movie was Mission Impossible II. Ah, nostalgia! The more things change, the more they kinda stay the same. Today Beyoncé from Destiny’s Child is the hottest female entertainer, and Justin Timberlake from N’Sync is the biggest male star. Our summer box office was dominated by superheroes—and yeah, the X-MEN are still a big draw.
Now let’s take a look at some of HR’s major challenges from 10-15 years ago versus today.
Systems, Applications & Training
I recall trying to get new system upgrades, technology, and software implemented into our training programs back then, and it was not easy at all. We had to create a business case for the need to invest additional resources in new innovations, since the old ones seem to “work just fine.” Controlling the budget was a big concern, and in those days anything to do with new applications, staff, or training was a tough sell.
Today more and more employees are demanding proper training and more innovative tools in order to perform their essential job functions. They are even leaving jobs with companies that don’t have succession plans and professional development initiatives for those more inclined to offer such benefits.
Years ago if you needed new technology you’d have to source it, negotiate with vendors, set up a demonstration and presentation, and then work through a test environment and BETA testing. Oh, and you’d also have to sign a contract locking your company into that product for several years. However, the programs then were not very flexible or scalable – meaning that if you discovered that you needed something different, you could not change it or customize it. You were stuck. This caused major problems, because if a system was not adaptable to change it could make workflow processes cumbersome and more time-consuming, and this affected employee usage.
User adoption hasn’t changed too much over the years. Back in the early 2000s, you had to train workers on the new systems so there had to be a “What’s In It For You” component. Companies had to explain how using a new system or process would benefit the user. Ideally, it would make their work life easier, more productive, or even happier. This factor still remains today. If an organization wants to introduce something new, it has to outline the benefits for employees as well as be transparent about the benefits it will offer the company.
Disengagement & Other Workforce Trends
User engagement has changed dramatically. Now 70% of employees are actively disengaged at work, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. This means that many of them just don’t care about your new systems, vision, mission, and goals. There are several things to consider when discussing engagement and the leading causes of disengagement—too many to cover in this article. However, one of the biggest causes over the last 15 years is the recession that began in 2007. As a result, outsourcing, layoffs, furloughs, bankruptcies, and downsizing have been in the news constantly. Employees witnessed first-hand how personal loyalty seemed meaningless to big corporations. That’s why many employees today are less concerned about the company’s goals and more focused on their own goals. The average tenure for employees with one company is down to 3.5 years, which is an all-time low. Also, consider the multi-generational workforce difference. There are more people of difference ages, races, and religious backgrounds in today’s workforce than ever before—and some employees are just engaged differently than others.
Many corporate objectives take time and continuity in order show a return, so it’s much harder now to gain user engagement in new initiatives with overall disengagement being so high. Companies still need to use HR as a partner when developing and executing any new objectives if they want them to have a fighting chance of success. It used to be that a company rarely saw the delivery on promises of new technologies because the process was slowed by technical limitations and other setbacks. Once the new system finally worked, there was often another new development on the horizon, so companies were always one step behind the times.
But over the past 15 years something rather interesting has happened; technology has become lightning fast. However, in a strange twist of irony, employees are leaving just as quickly, which means that most organizations are in a constant state of educating and training their people.
What’s New & What’s Not
When you consider all of the things that have affected the workforce over the last 15 years: social media; the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; the recession; smartphones and tablets; and the increasing globalization of business—it’s apparent that HR and management must always forecast trends and pay attention to new business models in order to maintain a competitive advantage.
The biggest challenge of today and yesteryear is the same: recruiting. It’s the most important function of HR. Having great people willing to do great things spells the difference between failure and success. No great plan will work without people to implement it. And no lousy plan can be fixed without people to change it. Smart companies have made an investment in their HR departments because they understand the need to find good people, make them happy, and get them to produce. Human Resources is and will always be the best source of the most important asset a company can have: its people.