Six strategic priorities HR teams need to focus on right now



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6 mins

An ongoing challenge for any HR professional is knowing where to spend their time and energy to have the most positive impact on their organisation. Here are six strategic priorities we believe should be top of HR’s agenda at the moment

 1. Supporting and ensuring workers’ wellbeing

Employee health and wellbeing has been rising up the corporate agenda for many years, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought its importance to the fore – not only in terms of keeping workers safe from the virus itself, but also ensuring the mental wellbeing of employees as they are faced with changes in their working conditions and locations, the difficulty of balancing child and other caring responsibilities with work, and any number of challenges that might be affecting their family and friends.

Health and wellbeing should be an organisation-wide concern – with line managers in particular needing to step up to the plate and regularly check in with, and support, their employees – but it’s likely that HR professionals will be at the vanguard of this activity. Expect to see more and more HR teams not only taking action on mental health, in particular, but also putting in place and publicising support schemes – such as mental health first aiders (MHFAs) and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) – as well at sharing tips and advice for better health, and encouraging staff to participate in activities such as team fitness challenges, healthy eating, and meditation. 

2. Enabling effective flexible and remote working arrangements

Another priority that is rising up HR’s agenda as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is the need to enable effective flexible and remote-working arrangements. A number of technology giants – such as Twitter – have already announced that they expect many of their employees to work entirely remotely for a significant period of time, and a large proportion of them won’t ever return to their physical workplace. As the days of the office appear numbered – a trend that’s been much-discussed in HR circles for years, but has gained more urgency in 2020 – HR professionals can expect to spend more of their time and energy on the logistics of remote working, and the difficult question of how to cultivate an organisational culture when people aren’t in close proximity. They may also find themselves juggling an increased volume of requests for more flexible working, with some commentators calling for the introduction of a four-day working week. 

3. Delivering a brilliant employee experience through technology

As consumer technology has developed rapidly, many organisations still lag behind – which is why we’re seeing a rising number of smart HR professionals begin to think about how the technology their organisation uses affects how employees engage with work, how they feel about the organisation they work for, and their ability to be productive. Putting the end user at the heart of technology choices is a relatively recent shift for HR teams, but expect to see more following suit – especially in the context of a competitive hiring market, and the growing need to effectively engage with employees who are working remotely. 

4. Attracting and retaining top talent

The success of all organisations – especially those that are part of the knowledge economy – rests on the skill, knowledge, experience and effectiveness of their people. As the driving force behind initiatives to hire, retain and develop the best-possible people, HR professionals are at the heart of any successful organisation.

Attracting the right talent no longer means sticking a job vacancy on your company website and watching and waiting for brilliant applications to flood in; organisations and their HR teams need to take a holistic approach and craft both a culture and employer brand that says to applicants ‘you want to work here’. This will include – but is no means limited to – relationships between co-workers and leaders; the values and behaviours that define how your organisation operates; your online and social media presence; your organisation’s approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR); the quality of your hiring process and the applicant tracking system (ATS) you use; the physical working environment; your reward and benefits package; and your approach to onboarding new starters.

In order to retain top talent, HR teams need to make sure they deliver on the promises made to candidates, and that they work with line managers to deliver fulfilling, challenging career pathways – as well as providing plenty of opportunities for learning and development. 

5. Making evidence-based decisions

With sophisticated HR software at their disposal, HR teams should have plenty of data, reports and analytics at their fingertips with which to make intelligent decisions and interventions – particularly if they have integrated various items of HR, recruitment and L&D software together to provide a holistic performance of HR and people performance. Combined with years of professional experience – plus insight gained from reputable sources such as academic journals and leading HR media outlets – this data will help to form a bank of evidence that can be used to advocate for strategies and interventions, particularly in discussions with senior leaders who’ll want to know that time and money is being invested wisely. Those who have yet to pull together comprehensive people metrics – or are uncomfortable extracting, analysing and interpreting data – will find themselves at a significant disadvantage. 

6. Guiding organisations through change and uncertainty

While change projects are often viewed through the lens of technology, or processes and procedures, it is people and their behaviours that are at the heart of any successful change – making HR professionals uniquely qualified to help organisations navigate uncertain or turbulent times. As organisations adjust to the ‘new normal’ and economic downturn, expect to see change and uncertainty high of HR’s agenda; whether that’s reassigning workers or planning redundancies, supporting mental wellbeing, advising leaders and line managers on how to engage employees at a difficult and stressful time, or enabling a change in the core business model.

This article was first published in August 2016. It was updated in May 2020 for freshness, clarity and accuracy.