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Human Resources 2016: Year in Review

Andrea Weir
Published January 3, 2017


The function of human resources is constantly growing and changing. This infographic is great for a quick low-down on the evolution of HR over the past ~150 years. HR has grown in depth and complexity: what started as a means of protecting workers’ rights has become a key player in an organization’s overall strategy. The importance of keeping up with this progression is perhaps best summed up by The RBL Group:

“HR effectiveness matters more than ever because leaders of business and not-for-profit leaders have increasingly recognized the importance of individual abilities (talent), organization capabilities (culture), and leadership as key to the success of their organizations”  – New HR Competencies Report

With 2016 having come to an end, it’s time to look back on the year in HR – and to look forward to trends to watch in the coming year. Envisioning a plan, however rough, for your department can help clearly set your strategic vision for the year. What your plan looks like will likely depend on your organization – however, here are some things we think are important to consider in your planning.

Anyone familiar with human resources knows it is a department filled with an ever increasing variety of tasks. For the sake of simplicity, we will discuss here some trends in just a few of its categories.


Candidate Experience

In the field of recruitment and selection, candidate experience is becoming increasingly important to companies. Attracting top talent needs to be a two-way relationship in that both the employer and candidate must feel that there is a good match and be satisfied with the hiring process. This means providing an experience that is both timely and pleasant for both parties. Extra points if your process offers some sort of value to the applicant (for example, the opportunity for a candidate to learn something about themselves or make new connections).

A massive number of millennials are entering the workforce – the cohort is expected to dominate the working world by 50% in 2018. This shift is predicted by some HR experts to present a new challenge for recruiters and hiring managers. This infographic outlines the skills that will be particularly important for aligning recruitment strategy with this group, such as greater focus on social recruiting skills and increased technological aptitude.  


Corporate Culture

Culture has become a buzzword in the business world. Unfortunately among the masses of in-office kegs and free lunches, it has become somewhat of a murky term. There’s no denying beer and food are great perks and can contribute to an enjoyable work environment – however, we need to focus on what really entails a company’s culture. This means clearly establishing the shared values, beliefs, and practices that govern an organization and define its nature, and subsequently defining initiatives to foster this culture.


Employee Relations

HR has shifted from a function of talent management to people management. One facet of this trend involves figuring out how to effectively engage employees. People can no longer be viewed as cogs in a well-oiled machine – the pillars behind Fordism are outdated. The most successful companies of the 21st century recognize that focusing on empowering and engaging their employees is critical to their success. Josh Bersin calls out this need:

“The change we need to make is to redefine engagement beyond an ‘annual HR measure’ to a continuous, holistic part of an entire business strategy. If your people love their work and the environment you have created, they will treat customers better, innovate, and continuously improve your business.”

Numerous reports have shown the annual engagement survey of the past to be ineffective. The market for employee-engagement technologies has been rapidly growing, allowing for more accurate, thorough analysis.

Enhancing employee engagement might also mean a fundamental shift in culture from the ground up. Industry giant GE has undertaken an overhaul of their organization, including changing the way employees deal with uncertainty: “The point, says Ms. Semper, is to reward employees for asking questions, rather than for simply “being right.” (Janice Semper, a GE human resources executive).

Typically engaged, empowered employees perform better, are more creative, and more dedicated.

“Performance can actually improve when companies empower people, let them contribute to goal-setting, and even give them free time to be creative on their own.” – Marshall Goldsmith (HBR)


Organizational Design

To build on the previous section, a company’s organizational design strongly ties into concepts of culture and engagement. Rigid hierarchies of the past are increasingly “flattening” into more agile, flexible structures. This means improved communication, greater ease of collaboration, dilution of decision-making power, and arguably, more engaged employees. Changes in organizational design have been undertaken by many large firms looking to modernize their structures. 


Training & Development

This infographic illustrates the evolution from a promotion based to growth based culture. Leaders should focus on developing employees in order to benefit both the organization and its people. PWC’s 19th CEO Survey found that 49% of CEOs are changing their focus to optimizing the leadership pipeline – in other words, developing employees to be future leaders. A 2015 KPCB study found that training and development opportunities are the most important job benefit to millennial workers.

A crucial part of development is providing feedback to subjects. Companies like Deloitte and GE are abandoning traditional performance reviews, focusing on re-engineering their process to be more agile, with period check-ins, shared goals, and regular developmental conversations.


Increasing Use of Big Data & Technology

Human Resources is, as we all know, becoming an increasingly data and tech driven organization. The department not traditionally known for its work with numbers is finding new value in applying data and technological advancement to many areas of their operations. And buy-in for this change is high: one study found that 80% of corporate executives polled agreed that their company required an assertive, data-driven CHRO to be successful. The New HR Competencies Report identifies “technology proponent” as one of the key competencies for HR personnel. Spending on HR tech has been steadily increasing, with a boom in 2015. Now is the time to harness the power of these tools within your organization.

HR technology started out simply automating pre-existing HR tasks. Today, it has moved towards finding new ways to improve an organization’s HR functions in many areas. Software has become more advanced and more effective. For example, scientifically based pre-employment assessments (shameless self-promotion) allow hiring managers to make quality hiring decisions for every role via deeper insight into a candidate’s behavioural and cognitive characteristics. Other tools allow better judgment of a candidate’s skills – for example, Uber uses the website HackerRank to give coders a chance to complete challenges and show off  their skill set.

Technology and analytics have also been found to assist in increased innovation, retention, reduced fraud and compliance violations, reduced accidents, and increased diversity.


In conclusion, HR professionals are not living in a stagnant world. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many ways in which the realm of human resources is changing; rather it is a brief glimpse at some of the major trends of the recent past, and some educated guesses about the future. And with that, Happy New Year, everyone!




Bersin, Josh. (2016). HR Technology Disruptions for 2017: Nine Trends Reinventing the HR Software Market

Bersin, Josh. (2014, April 10). It’s Time To Rethink The ‘Employee Engagement’ Issue.  

Bolden-Barrett, Valerie. (2016, December 14). Businesses are strongly optimistic about 2017 but still face hiring challenges

Boudreau, John. (2015, August 20). Workplace 2025: Five Forces, Six New Roles and a Challenge to HR

Cullimore, Ron. (2016, October 27). Top Skills Recruiters Must Have in 2017 (Infographic).

Goldsmith, Marshall. (April 23, 2010). Empowering Your Employees to Empower Themselves. 

Halvorson, Chad. (2013, April 2). The Evolution of Human Resources (Infographic). 

Irvine, Derek. (2016, October 19). What’s Ahead for HR in 2017?

Lawler, Edward E. (2016, February 4). What Should HR Leaders Focus On in 2016? 

Morgan, Jacob. (2016, March 29). Top 5 HR Trends for 2016 and Beyond. 

Petrov, Kosta. (2015, December 29). 10 HR Trends You’ll See In 2016

PWC. (January 2016). Redefining business success in a changing world: CEO Survey. 

Rodriguez, Salvador. (2016, December 20). These Are the Tools Uber Uses to Make Smarter Hires. 

Schwarz, John. (2015, April 27). The HR Leadership Revolution — Will You Thrive? 

Silverman, Rachel E. (2016, June 8). GE Re-Engineers Performance Reviews, Pay Practices.

Ulrich, Dave et. al. (2011). The New HR Competencies: Business Partnering from the Outside-In. 

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