Shaping the Future of HR in the Decade Ahead

How will your organization maintain a competitive advantage in HR? Workday Chief People Officer Ashley Goldsmith says it requires making the most of data-driven insights, understanding and expanding employee skill sets, and developing an inclusive pipeline of leaders.

With the end of one decade and the beginning of a new one, I’ve been thinking about all the changes happening in the world of work and what’s going to be required to keep our organizations happy, healthy, and successful in the future.

Any well-run organization has a team of leaders who work together like a symphony: smoothly and elegantly, in concert across the organization and with each other. This also applies at a cross-functional level, because when teams operate in silos all harmony is lost and the business can’t progress—the world is moving too fast, work has become too complex, and the competition is too tough. 

If I continue with the music analogy, within the HR function itself, we must prioritize our performers over our sheet music. Here at Workday, while we view policies and processes as necessary, we’re more focused on how we’re shaping the future of work and the human aspects of work. In other words, my team looks at infrastructure as a means to an end rather than as the output of HR. 

As HR helps the broader business meet this new future, I’ve pinpointed three areas that I think are critical for me and for all HR leaders in maintaining a competitive advantage in the years ahead: Making the most of data-driven insights, understanding and expanding our employee skill sets, and developing a diverse pipeline of talent in an inclusive environment.

Data-Driven Insights

Today, HR teams have access to more real-time data and information than ever before, which can provide new insights, helps us make faster decisions, and enable us to accelerate positive change for many aspects of the business. 

Many of us remember manual tools like “smile sheets”—those feedback forms people filled out after a class or a training event. Now, you can launch electronic surveys on any number of topics and go so much deeper on productivity, employee sentiment, and attrition (in previous posts I’ve talked about our Best Workday Survey, which is an invaluable tool). You can get a lot more focused and therefore gain more insight on where to invest and where to scale back.

So how does this connect to the human aspects of work? The data-driven insights we’re gleaning are powerful, but human judgment remains crucial. In other words, we still need to peel back the layers and figure out how to take action on our discoveries, and address them in a way that’s right for our business. Perhaps it’s taking advantage of a market opportunity, filling a gap, or rethinking an organization’s structure. That's where my team members and those they collaborate with—such as people managers—are working together to make a real difference with the help of data.

The data-driven insights we’re gleaning are powerful, but human judgment remains crucial.

A Focus on Skills

With the advent of machine learning, automation, and the changing nature of how and when people work, we’re always thinking about the different skills we need at Workday, now and in the future. It’s critical for us to benefit from the skills we already have in our organization, but also understand how changing business needs and the interests of our employees intersect so we can make wise investments in upskilling. 

Given the talent market is tight in nearly every place we operate, that also impacts how much energy we continue to pour into creating a great employee experience. Because when talent leaves due to a suboptimal experience, not only is this a loss in terms of the time and resources it takes to replace someone, but there’s an opportunity cost. You’re not just losing what a person did, but what they could have done given the right opportunities and learning experiences.

Inclusive Pipelines and Pathways in Leadership

Having a diverse and inclusive workplace at all levels of a company is the right thing to do, but studies show it also improves business outcomes. We measure and examine our leadership regularly, making sure we’re continually paying attention to how people can progress into leadership roles. We know we don’t have all the answers, but we work hard to make sure we’re asking the right questions: What does the path to leadership look like? What’s the diversity of our leadership? Do we have a good representation across the company at large? For example, if insights from our data reveal that proportionally fewer leaders are emerging from a particular employee demographic group at Workday, we might have an issue to address. In that case, we can think about solutions: creating a sponsorship program, for example, or targeted mentoring.

We measure and examine our leadership regularly, making sure we’re continually paying attention to how people can progress into leadership roles.

To keep the conversation front and center, it's so important to have a leader whose primary focus is growing diversity and inclusion across your organization. According to recent data, 47 percent of companies on the S&P 500 index employ a chief diversity officer (CDO), or a leader with a similar title and function. Although this number is rising, we collectively have a ways to go. I am proud to work closely with Carin Taylor, Workday’s CDO, who is helping us to put more horsepower behind some of our programs this year to make sure we’re creating a remarkable workplace for all—for example, at all levels and across geographies, genders, and ethnicities.

The Decade Ahead

As I look back on the 2010s, I’m thankful for the lessons learned and challenges that helped us all become better versions of ourselves. I’m also grateful to be part of an organization that prioritizes making positive change in the world, supporting not only a thriving workplace for all, but also thriving communities for all.

As I look forward to the 2020s, I plan to lead with a continued focus on awareness and accountability, working to perfect our symphony and to embrace all the different ways it can be played. 

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