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Words to the Wise: How can Strategic Anticipation Drive Business and Talent Management Priorities?

(April 2024)

Aligning Business and Talent Management Priorities

It’s relatively easy to look back and see what happened and what could have been done to change outcomes.  That takes discipline to do for the learning it makes possible, but it’s not difficult.

What is difficult to do is to determine what our top priorities should be today to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.  This visioning process should be informed by several considerations, including:

  • Potential impacts to our business – what changes to our business model, capability requirements, operating conditions, financial model, market opportunities, customer and competitor landscape, could be made – or forced – because of environmental, legal / regulatory, political, or economic stimuli?


  • Organizational attributes – what are our strengths and weaknesses, our ability to respond to change, to reskill / upskill capacity, to mobilize resources according to demand, and generally to execute our operating model?


  • Performance culture characteristics – what are our workplace and workforce levers, our employee engagement levels, the degree of alignment / effectiveness of our management and leadership teams?


Being able to assess such considerations is a critical competency for any organization regardless of size or sector.  This process should be the starting point for any strategic planning effort.  It is a data-driven and evidence-based process.  Take the time to examine what’s going on before you make any decisions or take any actions.  There is never a good reason or time for not thinking critically about your organization’s talent strategy.

You should be asking questions like:

  • Do we have the organizational capabilities needed to achieve our strategic intent?

  • If we do not, where are we lacking?

  • Are there areas of surplus capacity that can be shifted or repurposed to close gaps?

  • If we have gaps, how will we acquire the talent?  And how capable are we of doing so?

The intent of this brief post is to share what HR leaders are seeing as top priorities for their organizations for 2024 and beyond. It’s an understatement to say that there has been a lot of change over the past four years affecting the workplace and workforce. And yet, as significant as the changes to our HR operating environment have been during this period, there hasn’t really been much change with respect to organizational priorities. The goodness of this is that we have not been facing a moving target. If we have been working on top priorities and making progress over the past 2-3 years, then we have likely been moving in the right direction.


What are the Top Priorities of CEOs?

The top consulting firms all summarize top priorities and trends based on their annual research.  I will share some of the findings below and then discuss what to make of it all.  But before we consider what these studies say about HR priorities, let’s take a quick look at what some studies show as the top priorities for leadership, i.e., CEOs and CFOs.

  • Growth, technology, talent (2023 Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey)

  • Retaining and engaging employees, improving cost structure, gaining market share (CEO Confidence Index, January 2024, Chief Executive Group)

  • Determining how to execute effectively as important as what to focus on (Gaurav Gupta, Kotter International)

  • Gen AI, outcompeting with technology, geopolitics, energy transition, navigating the road to courageous growth, powering middle managers, identifying the business’ superpower (i.e., sustainable competitive advantage) (Mckinsey & Co. - What matters most? Eight CEO priorities for 2024)

  • Strategy and growth, transformation and innovation, people and workforce, long-term value and sustainability (EY – US CEO Outlook Pulse Survey 2024)


Not surprisingly, people matters consistently rank high among the top-of-mind priorities for CEOs.  This is the starting point for developing the talent strategy since it must align with the business strategy.

What are the Top Priorities of HR Leaders?

What are the top HR priorities for 2024 and beyond?  According to the following sources, we see some consistent themes.  Let’s review these briefly and then summarize what Human Resources organizations should be focused on.

Inspirus’ Q2 2024 Trends & Forecasts Report concludes the following:

  • Employee Retention is the top business challenge of 2024

  • Modernizing Total Rewards and Compensation to boost job satisfaction and retention

  • Empowering Managers to be more human

  • Investing in Wellness to improve happiness and engagement

  • Adapting Organizational Structure and Roles for AI (note: this is the subject of an upcoming blog article from Strategic HR Hawaii)


Mercer’s 2024 Global Talent Trends Study reports the following priorities:

  • Enhancing the EX/EVP to attract & retain top talent

  • Improving our workforce planning to better inform buy/build/borrow strategies

  • Investing more in benefits to improve physical/mental health

  • Redesigning work to incorporate AI & automation

  • Enhancing or modernizing our pay practices

  • Improving people managers’ skills

  • Improving our HR/People analytics capabilities

  • Designing talent processes around skills

  • Investing in talent assessment & employee skills development

  • Investing more in benefits related to retirement savings & financial well-being


Gartner summarizes top talent management priorities in 2024 as driven by:

  • Unsettled employee-employer relationship due to demand for flexibility, disconnect on employee productivity, pervasive sense of mistrust

  • Persistent skills shortage

  • Pressure for operational efficiency identifies the following talent management concerns to focus on:

  • Internal mobility to drive employee engagement and productivity

  • Leadership development remains a top priority as needs and expectations both commercially and culturally shift rapidly

  • All talent leaders should invest in and encourage their employees to utilize AI within their roles


The Hackett Group 2024 HR Key Issues Study lists the following as top priorities:

  • Develop effective leaders for a changing business and workplace

  • Create and maintain a high-performing organizational culture

  • Act as a strategic advisor to the business

  • Recruit and retain staff in key business positions and with critical skills

  • Align workforce planning and strategy to business planning


And check this out – even if we were to look back to 2020, we’d see that HR priorities have not changed all that much.  For example, Gartner’s 2020 study had listed the following top HR priorities:

  • Building critical skills and competencies

  • Strengthening the current and future leadership bench

  • Incorporating organizational design and change management

  • Driving digital business transformation

  • Enhancing employee experience


What trends do the data spotlight?

What you’ve probably noticed is that there are some workplace/workforce trends that have been consistently on the top ten HR priorities list for the past several years.  If some of the following have been on your HR initiatives list, you’re working on the right things.

  • Leadership development

  • People manager effectiveness

  • Competitive total rewards programs

  • Flexible workplace / workforce policies and practices

  • Innovative health and wellness benefits with more employee choice

  • Career visibility and internal mobility opportunities

3 Questions to Evaluate Whether Your HR Strategy Is Working

The questions to ask and answer are:

  1. What progress have we made on our initiatives?

  2. What workplace and workforce improvements have we achieved?

  3. How have we impacted business performance?

Don’t beat yourself up if the answers to those questions are not as positive as you’d like.  We all face significant challenges in the corporate day-to-day, there are never enough resources, and sometimes it feels like we are taking two steps forward and one step back.  So, progress can indeed be slow.  But it is imperative to make progress.  Most people yearn to be a part of making positive change happen, so believe me, the momentum will come.

And don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges – and opportunities – to contribute to the organization’s success.  It is truly an evolutionary journey that must begin somewhere.  You must develop and lead an execution-oriented mindset and culture and develop the required capabilities within HR. The consequences are much too great to keep doing what most companies keep doing!

5 Steps to Chart Your HR Strategy

I suggest starting with the following general five-step planning sequence:

  1. Understand the corporate strategy and the CEO’s expectations

  2. Assess current capabilities relative to what’s needed to achieve the strategic intent

  3. Align the talent strategy, then develop and prioritize the appropriate initiatives

  4. Develop measures of success, then review and adjust on a quarterly basis

  5. Celebrate the wins, and learn from the misses


Take on What You Can Effectively Execute and Work with Outside Partners to Support You When Needed.

Often when I’m talking with CEOs, especially in smaller organizations, the eyes may glaze over, and the concern shifts to how the human resources function could possibly contribute more to the performance of the company beyond the already significant operational and compliance requirements.  Challenges they share in executing include competing priorities, external pressures, lack of resources, disruption of change, potential consequences of failure, and lack of capability.

Not an “All or Nothing” Proposition

These are all legitimate concerns, and though the context and the scale will be different for smaller companies, we know that the talent challenges they face are not. The leverage derived from how we hire, engage, and develop our people is still very key to organizational performance and success.

There will always be challenges to overcome.  However, it is imperative for HR to develop greater talent management capability to drive organizational performance, sustainability, and achievement of the corporate mission.

Your goals – and your Company’s/CEO’s goals – can be achieved by charting a practical, impactful course forward by developing a roadmap that creates more talent management capacity for the organization with a strategy to:

  1. develop/enhance internal resources, and

  2. leverage external resources as strategic partners that extend internal capability and reach

If you find yourself in that place – i.e., knowing that you need to do something but just unsure where or how to start – I’d like to offer my support to discuss where your organization is at, its specific challenges and priorities, and help you determine your best way forward.  Strategic HR Hawaii is one such external resource that could help you develop more internal capacity to become self-sufficient, as well as provide external support capability when needed.

It's always a good thing to have a trusted sounding board and some encouragement along the way!


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