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4 ways HR leadership will fundamentally change in 2024

4 ways HR leadership will fundamentally change in 2024

The responsibilities of HR professionals have changed drastically over the past 3-5 years, from supporting emergency responses during the pandemic, to elevating the employee experience (EX) and preparing the workforce for the ongoing digital transformation.

And yet, our recent survey of HR professionals shows that nearly half of companies (47%) still view HR’s role as merely operational. This, despite the fact that 53% of HR professionals say they’re facing more responsibility and having a greater impact on the company than ever before.

This year, HR leaders will expand their impact and influence on business outcomes, especially through turbulent economic times. Here are some key changes to expect, and four predictions for 2024. 

Periods of economic turbulence create dual challenges for businesses, impacting both financial performance and workforce stability. Traditionally, corporate leaders tackle these disruptions by prioritizing high-level strategies that lack ground-level solutions. However, this approach overlooks a critical need—supporting people through change.

As champions for talent and culture, HR brings invaluable perspective on leading teams through uncertainty. They understand how external shocks affect morale, productivity, engagement and retention. Because of this, HR leaders are increasingly seen as strategic partners, combining deep people insights with the business acumen to drive initiatives that help organizations adapt to change. This includes attracting and retaining top talent, fostering professional growth, and sustaining a thriving culture and employee experience—especially in the face of disruption.

If the business is growing, people need to grow, too. Navigating employees through times of corporate change is often an HR team’s most important role. For more common business transitions, such as an IPO, acquisition, or downsizing, HR teams rely on established playbooks and precedents. 

For unpredictable transitions, such as the restructuring of a company, there are no playbooks. This is where HR leaders can really shine, using employee feedback-based data to navigate gray areas and prepare for change. Which brings us to our next major trend for 2024, data-based decision making. 

With profitability pressures mounting, HR must combine good business sense with workforce insights to safeguard organizations' most valuable assets: its people. Because of our insights into company talent and culture, the demand for HR professionals with dynamic skill sets will only continue to grow in 2024. 

Data may not be the first skill people associate with HR pros, but data is used to influence decisions across the board. Finance, product teams, marketing, and other critical roles make strategic decisions with data—why wouldn’t people leaders? Key capabilities like data analytics, strategic communication, and change management will be critical to HR teams in a post-pandemic business landscape marked by ongoing uncertainty and disruption.

After all, decisions and tradeoffs require insight. Data professionalizes the HR function, informing things like labor and location strategy. HR teams must demonstrate the ability to use data to make important decisions around investments, how we're impacting the business, and our value-add. 

The rise of remote work has created new challenges for HR in maintaining engagement, providing learning opportunities, and making social connections. With distributed teams, opportunities for organic mentoring and relationship-building are challenged. HR leaders must be intentional about fostering “osmosis learning” and social capital in a virtual setting.

By being deliberate and adapting engagement approaches for virtual teams, HR enables organizations to fully leverage remote work without sacrificing culture. There are two key areas to focus on in order to do this: 

  1. Create intentional knowledge sharing: Mentors and trainers need to find new, creative ways to share expertise by bringing intentionality to what was once serendipitous, “water cooler” forms of knowledge sharing. For example, new recruiters can glean a lot about a company’s priorities, communication style, and culture by shadowing calls with prospective candidates. New sales team members can also employ a ‘fly on the wall’ strategy to learn about tools and technology, study effective scripting, or discover ways to move through challenging customer conversations.
  2. Maintain social capital and relationships: Interpersonal relationships are the key to growth in any career. They give employees a sense of inclusion, psychological safety, community, and trust, while offering mentorship and leadership opportunities. Without serendipitous interactions—the learning through osmosis of sitting next to a colleague or having lunch with an office mate—an additional layer of effort is needed. Social capital is not well replicated in an entirely remote environment because the networking doesn’t happen naturally—it’s one more thing you have to actively and intentionally invest time into.

At SurveyMonkey, choice in work location is core to our value proposition—our highly distributed model contributes to our ability to hire and retain great talent. Whether organizations decide to enforce an on-site or hybrid work model, or choose to allow their employees to work remotely, they must decide how best to support their business based on their specific needs and goals.

HR has only begun tapping into the potential of AI. Our research shows growing adoption, with over 60% of HR professionals utilizing AI weekly and 53% saying it is more critical than before. However, fully harnessing AI's capabilities remains a work in progress.

AI is not a plug-and-play technology, especially when it can chip away at the roles of humans. In the CNBC SurveyMonkey workforce study, we found that a quarter of workers (24%) are worried AI will make their job obsolete. It takes thoughtful integration to maximize the benefits of AI while maintaining employee trust. As leaders expand AI capabilities in HR, they must remember its purpose is augmenting, not replacing, human strengths. 

When deployed strategically, AI can optimize key HR functions like operations, recruiting, and communication. HR professionals are most excited about productivity boosts: Almost four in ten believe it will help them be able to focus on higher level tasks (38%), and 35% expect AI to automate repetitive tasks. Over a third (36%) hope AI will provide them with a data-driven understanding of employee performance.

HR leaders face emerging challenges without precedents or playbooks to follow. But we excel at solving novel "people problems" through our expertise in talent and change management.

We know that if employees aren’t satisfied, they will vote with their feet—so we listen to what employees want. It’s widely acknowledged that employees value feedback and believe it’s critical to their development and growth. Employees also want to be heard and to know their voice matters. So ask for their feedback, listen to what they need and value, share what you’ve heard and what you intend to do about it—then, act. 

While there may be many obstacles on the horizon in 2024, HR should be seen as holding a seat at the leadership table as we continue drawing on our strengths to empower people while steering organizations through the changes ahead.

To find out how to attract, engage, and retain top talent in 2024 with SurveyMonkey, learn more here.