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Top 3 Priorities for People Teams in 2020

We are in the midst of a fascinating time for HR, People and Learning Teams. Work as we know it is changing, both on an organisational and individual level. The role and function of organisations as employers is evolving. In 2020, we will continue to face new challenges and different priorities for people teams and we will need to set new standards in the quest for continuous improvement and reinvention.

Recognition of the importance of employees in organisational success has increased substantially over recent years. This means that HR, People and Learning teams themselves have never been more valuable. However, there is a challenge in that the focus and priorities of people teams must be able to continuously shift and adapt to the ever-changing needs of the workplace.

The most successful organisations recognise that they are a platform for growth for employees. They also view the employer-employee relationship as truly collaborative. In this sense, the value of work is being redefined. With it comes a shift in how HR, People and Learning teams contribute to the process.

Here are what we consider to be the top 3 priorities for HR, People and Learning teams in 2020.

Becoming Agile


Agility Learning Dog

In terms of business, agile is not new. It has been used successfully in IT and Project Management for many years and is now gaining traction in HR, People and Learning teams, with Sky and ING being two of many organisations which have embraced it. Agile is a philosophy with a series of tools, principles and practices behind it. The key tenets of agile that are relevant to HR are the speed of evolution, lack of silos and focus on co-creation and multi-disciplinary teams.

The concept of HR redesigning its operating model is also not new. Most organisations have moved towards a more strategic HR Business Partner model in the last 15 years. We must take into account the pace and scale of transformation required to cope with future work challenges. Agile is the next step in this evolution. It will be necessary if people teams are going to deliver what organisations require in order to survive.

Agile HR transforms the HR operative model and starts to build a pool of multi-skilled people able to innovate and design together” – Natal Dank, Co-founder, Agile HR Community.

You can find a quick summary of the key principles of Agile HR here. If you want a more in-depth look at exactly what Agile HR is, this is a great overview and infographic. To read more about some practical examples of how agile is used in HR, they are here.


Focus on Employee Experience


Passion led us here written on footpath

If we recognise that employees are fundamental to the success of the organisation, then it follows that the employee experience is something that organisations must invest time, energy and money into.

We’ve explored the transition from employee engagement to employee experience and the reasons behind it in a previous blog. Namely, a shift away from the paternalistic towards a more human-centred interaction, empowering employees and encouraging responsibility.

We consider there to be several key areas organisations need to think about in terms of employee experience in 2020: purpose, autonomy, belonging, and inclusion.

  • Purpose: There has been a much greater focus over recent years on the search for purpose and meaning. It is no surprise that this has spilled over into the world of work. One of the key drivers for engaged and satisfied employees is when they feel they derive a sense of meaning and purpose from their work. It is one of the strongest factors for retaining employees of all generations. Research shows that it increases motivation, productivity, morale and job satisfaction. If organisations want to harness the power of employees, they must continuously re-evaluate how organisational purpose is lived within the organisation and how the culture supports it. It is also a matter of trust. This is essential because trust is the end game of any corporate culture. The main priorities of people teams need to ensure that employees have trust in the organisation. They should encourage employees to take responsibility and recognise how to get purpose and meaning from their work.


  • Autonomy: Some of us will remember 2019 as the year the four day work week finally became a possibility as Microsoft Japan reported a 40% increase in productivity when it was implemented. Employees are demanding greater flexibility and autonomy in terms of how, where, and for how long they work. Research seems to illustrate potentially huge benefits. In terms of the future of work, we’re likely to see a range of different models of working that deliver increased flexibility and autonomy. For example, more freelancing, contractors and crowd-sourced talent. The future is likely to mean that we will have increased flexibility at work, but we must be prepared for the fact that we may not continue to be an employee in the traditional sense and that self-regulation will be more valuable than ever.


  • Belonging and inclusion: We are working in increasingly diverse workplaces and it is essential that we can generate a sense of belonging. According to a recent HBR article, 40% of people feel isolated at work. Yet, we are spending a huge amount on diversity and inclusion that is still missing the mark. Multiple generations with different priorities are working together. There is also a greater reliance on remote and distributed working, and an increase in freelancing, contractors and crowd-sourced talent. These challenges will need to be addressed and HR, People and Learning teams have an essential part to play. The good news is that when we get it right it has huge benefits. High levels of belonging in the research cited in the same article led to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, a 75% reduction in sick days and a 167% increase in the employer promoter score.


Learning, learning, and more learning


Teamwork writing notes and studying

Continuous learning has never been more essential. It should be another inclusion in the main priorities of people teams in 2020. According to John Seely Brown, the average half-life of a learned business competency has dropped from 30 years in 1984 to 5 years in 2014 and this is likely to continue to drop much further. Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce. It is predicted that more than 50% of leadership positions will be filled by millennials by the end of the decade. Research has demonstrated that Millennials are more focused on their personal and professional development than previous generations and 91% of them aspire to reach leadership positions.

Focusing on continuous learning, together with the other aforementioned challenges is likely to mean changes in how organisations approach learning. With more of a focus on agile working, we can expect to see an increase in cross-functional teams involved in learning initiatives. While professional growth and development will continue to be important, we anticipate an increase in personal growth initiatives. The importance of personal growth in leadership development and the focus on purpose and meaning at work will continue. This is likely to benefit organisations as employees who are committed to personal growth are likely to be more engaged, more motivated and more productive than those who are not.

We are also likely to see organisations encouraging employees to take greater responsibility for their own development and co-creating their development plans and career paths.


We believe 2020 will be a very exciting time to be working in this field. There are so many opportunities for HR, People and Learning teams to drive the transformation that will be needed by organisations to face future work challenges.

Do you work in an HR, People or Learning function? What do you see as your key priorities for people teams in 2020?We are always keen to hear about how organisations are dealing with the challenges faced by the future of work. If you would be interested in discussing over a coffee, get in touch!

The Emotional Salary Barometer is a tool we have developed to measure the non-financial benefits we get from working. These include Autonomy, Belonging, Creativity, Direction, Enjoyment, Inspiration, Mastery, Personal Growth, Professional Growth and Purpose. Providing each employee with a personalised report and action plan, the ESB helps employees to recognise the value of these non-financial elements and take responsibility for them.

If you’d like to find how the ESB can help your organisation cope with the challenges you’re likely to face in 2020, send us an email to [email protected].

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