People management is the biggest obstacle for 7 in 10 companies, HR professionals say: Finding solutions will be critical in 2024

by | Jan 5, 2024 | Public Relations

As the challenges with digital transformation and AI integration continue to pile up, new research suggests a more organic core issue is the biggest obstacle brands and businesses face today—managing its people. The pandemic forced organizations to clearly define priorities around employee health, safety and flexibility, while escalating social issues and brand purpose initiatives shaped the new workforce’s expectations from leaders. But the environment going forward may be even more challenging, as we are likely to see more frequent and severe disruptions, increasing talent gaps and less fluid talent markets, which will further complicate operations issues like transformation. 

The need for digital technology will not go away, and smart, proactive investments in this area are necessary to anticipate and solve the most prominent business challenges. However, the new research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA), finds that 72 percent of HR professionals today cite people challenges and talent gaps as the biggest obstacle they currently face, while just 35 percent believe that their people management functions are using relevant digital technologies. In addition, only 30 percent agree that HR is using data and analytics to anticipate people challenges.

The firms’ new joint report, Creating People Advantage 2023: Set the Right People Priorities for Challenging Times, is based on a survey of nearly 7,000 HR professionals and people leaders, in which respondents were asked to consider 32 people-management topics, grouped into nine clusters, and rank them by future importance to their organization and by their organization’s current capabilities. Strikingly, many of the topics on which companies show the greatest current strength rank only in the middle of the pack on future importance. The report also examines differences across geographic markets and company sizes.

People management is the biggest obstacle for 7 in 10 companies, HR professionals say: Finding solutions will be critical in 2024

“The respondents clearly recognize that improvement on priority topics—such as strategic workforce planning, upskilling, and AI adoption—is important to the continued success of their companies, but also that their current capabilities in those areas are very weak,” said Jens Baier, a BCG managing director and senior partner and a coauthor of the report, in a news release. “Prioritizing proactive investment in digital and data capabilities is key to solving many of the challenges that limit the organizational impact that people functions can deliver.”

The talent gap challenge

While nearly three-quarters of respondents cited people challenges and talent gaps as the biggest business obstacle they currently face, strategic workforce planning ranked only 18th overall among the 32 topics in terms of current capabilities. As workforce requirements continue to change across industries, failure to adapt data-driven insights may leave companies unable to close talent gaps and secure top-tier recruits.

As people management leaders fret about how to bring in external talent, many are losing out on another valuable opportunity: prioritizing the further development of the talent they already have in place. Despite widespread concerns about a talent gap, respondents’ ranking of upskilling and reskilling fell five places this year from the 2021 results to 9th in future importance and to 17th in current capabilities, overall.

People management is the biggest obstacle for 7 in 10 companies, HR professionals say: Finding solutions will be critical in 2024

“Companies need to continuously prioritize developing the talent they already have—and upskilling and reskilling, in conjunction with effective talent acquisition, is critical to making this happen,” said Anthony Ariganello, president of WFPMA, in the release. “It is important for companies to see digital transformation not as a goal, per se, but rather as an enabler for other goals such as greater efficiency, improved service levels, or a better employee experience. It is a foundational element of multiple people engagement topics.”

Closing the gap

Strategic workforce planning and recruitment processes are perennial challenges for most organizations. With the emergence of AI and other digital and data capabilities, these areas now represent an opportunity to build competitive advantage. The core principles are not new, but the urgency to act has increased. The benefits for those who seize the initiative are clear: results from the first large-scale studies of AI in organizations suggest that productivity improvements of 20-to-30 percent are possible, depending on the task and starting position.

People management is the biggest obstacle for 7 in 10 companies, HR professionals say: Finding solutions will be critical in 2024

The report outlines five recommendations for people management leaders to adopt to prepare for challenging times:

  • Leverage data to accurately plan for talent supply and demand.
  • Get better at talent acquisition.
  • Invest in upskilling and reskilling the current workforce.
  • Unlock value through AI.
  • Focus on change management and organizational development.

“The impact of the pandemic proved that people management functions are good at responding to acute stimuli and can boost their capabilities when they focus on a set of sharply defined topics. For example, health and safety is the number one topic in our survey in terms of current capabilities, and flexible work schemes jumped by 15 places since 2021 in the capabilities ranking,” said Philipp Kolo, a BCG partner and associate director and a coauthor of the report, in the release. “The bigger challenge involves looking ahead and planning for the long-term future. By shifting their focus to topics that yield results in the medium to long term, people management functions can build up the right capabilities to shape their company’s overall people agenda in a truly differentiating way.”

Download the full report here.

The report is based on a survey of 6,893 people leaders in 102 markets (93.5 percent of whom perform HR functions), and is the latest installment in an ongoing joint study conducted by BCG and WFPMA. The first edition was published in 2008, and the most recent one before this year appeared in 2021.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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