Five hopes for people leaders in 2020

If the last few years in politics has taught me anything, it’s that there is absolutely no point predicting anything. So throw those 2020 predictions pieces out the window. Here are some things I hope – not predict – will happen in the business and HR world over the next year…

As culture continues to be taken more seriously at board level, so will HR

Numerous corporate scandals have shown that boards can’t afford to view culture as a side issue. In 2018, PwC research found that, for the first time, more CEOs were ousted due to ethical lapses than financial performance. Culture and people issues need to be discussed regularly at board level, as well as monitored. HR leaders should be culture experts, able to provide the board with the data (hard and soft) it needs to build a picture of corporate culture, as well as working to ensure an organisation has the skills, capability and capacity to actually deliver on its strategy.

The importance of people and culture could mean more HRDs taking on non-executive director (NED) positions. According to a 2016 report by the Financial Reporting Council: “NEDs will need to become more culturally aware, more tuned in and more knowledgeable about human behaviours and relationships.” Sounds like the perfect role for business-savvy CPOs…

Investors to get beyond talking the talk

If boards are taking culture and people issues more seriously, then investors need to do the same. There are encouraging signs but these are undermined by action. Take two recent conversations I have had with CPOs. One was disappointed by the fact investors didn’t see fit to ask any questions on whether the organisation has the capability it needs to deliver an ambitious renewable energy strategy. The other is frustrated by shareholders voting down an executive pay package with a focus on responsible business metrics. As he put it, investors seem to want two competing things: a long-term and sustainable business and short-term financial results.

Meaningful change requires a push (from business leaders taking the initiative) and a pull (from investors asking challenging questions about non-financial issues and caring about the answers). But without alignment between ESG investors and those doing the voting, we are stuck.

Moving beyond 'purpose-washing'

Are you sick of the word purpose yet? In 2020, I hope we see movement beyond rhetoric and 'purpose-washing'. If we are serious about ‘reshaping capitalism’ (as many a think piece would have it), we need to face some challenging questions. As a recent article from Fast Company states: “To deliver on its promise, new capitalism must offer new governance models that can accommodate the complexity of decision-making for multistakeholder benefit. This will require a good hard look at how power works in our organisations, along with significant reform of the structures and incentives that continue to benefit some stakeholders and not others..”

That isn’t easy – and it’s about far more than writing a catchy purpose statement or re-doing your values (again). Does every company really need to change the world? Of course not, but it shouldn’t be making it actively worse.

The why of tech

HR technology: so much hype, so little considered thought… In 2020, I hope people leaders commit to thinking more critically about technology. That means not doing something because you can, but because you should. It means carefully considering the impact of technological change on individuals, organisations and wider communities. It means not expecting a tool to solve everything, without first correctly identifying what the problem is you are trying to solve.

According to CIPD research, HR is the least likely of any function to be involved in investment decisions on AI and automation. This isn’t good enough given the potential impact on people, roles and organisation design.  A tool is only as good as the person using it. People professionals need to be thinking how we can use AI and technology to enhance rather than degrade our humanity.

We will think about good work for all

The CIPD defines good work as work which is: fairly rewarded, enables people to securely make a living, provides opportunities to develop skills, a career and a sense of fulfilment, provides a supportive environment, allows for work-life balance, is physically and mentally healthy, gives employees voice and choice to shape their working lives. And – crucially – it is accessible for all.

Work is becoming increasingly tiered. Some of us are lucky enough to work from anywhere, to be judged on our outcomes and find meaning in what we do. But this is not the case for everyone, particularly in lower skilled jobs, which are often outsourced and ‘invisible’. Unless we think carefully about how we can improve job quality at every level and in every type of job, the labour market will become ever more polarised, having a knock-on effect on our communities at large. This risk becomes ever more pertinent with any weakening of workers’ rights post-Brexit. How are you tackling this challenge in the ‘now’ of work, not just the future?

Katie Jacobs is the CIPD's senior stakeholder lead. If you are an HR leader interested in working with the CIPD on any of these issues, she can be contacted on 

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.