Putting the ‘H’ back into HR – 10 Predictions for HR in 2020

The Christmas Tree is up, the larder has been stocked full and is quickly emptying of mince pies, the wine is on its way from France and Stop The Cavalry is pumping full blast from the stereo.

The Christmas Tree is up, the larder has been stocked full and is quickly emptying of mince pies, the wine is on its way from France and Stop The Cavalry is pumping full blast from the stereo.

That means it is also time to dust off the crystal ball and risk what little reputation I have left to make some no doubt unfulfilled predictions for HR in 2020.

I concur with Danish physicist Niels Bohr that ” prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future,” and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams that ” Trying to predict the future is a mug’s game.” However, I also agree with Adams that increasingly it’s a game we all have to play, even reluctantly, because ” the world is changing so fast and we need to have some sort of idea of what the future’s actually going to be like because we are going to have to live there, probably next week.

…and who could resist the temptation to apply some 20/20 vision to the year 2020?

As it transpires, I was either ahead of my time last year or I am simply going to be wrong again, as many of my predictions for 2020 are a continuation for my inauspicious forecasts for 2019. This even applies to once again predicting Liverpool will win the Premier League (surely this time?), Brexit being reversed (one can live in hope) and finally co-authoring a book (watch this space).

So just as Shakespeare’s Henry V rallied the troops at Harfleur it’s time to go ” once more unto the breach…


Robots will not take all our jobs. It might make for a great headline – a bit of dystopia is always good for circulation, but it simply isn’t true. History tells us that more jobs are created than lost in an industrial revolution. There is no reason to expect that the fourth industrial revolution will be any different. Indeed, data from the World Economic Forum forecasts that 133m new roles will emerge by 2022 and 75m will disappear. Those that will be automated are for the most part comprised of routine and repetitive tasks whilst many of the jobs generated by AI will allow us to be more creative, more impactful and more human. This is where HR has a critical role to play, not only in being the conductor of the future of work orchestra for people related issues, but in putting the ‘human’ at the centre and ensuring that our workplaces become fairer, better and more humane.


As adoption of People Analytics continues to rise (see #3) and the use of AI and Machine Learning in HR multiples, so the need for an Ethics Charter to mitigate risk around the use of people data and drive benefits to the workforce becomes a pre-requisite. The good news here is that according to research from Accenture, 92% of employees are open to the collection of data about them providing they benefit personally. Expect to continue to see a rise in personalisation (see #5) and personal analytics to support decisions around performance, career and wellbeing in 2020. Recent research we undertook at Insight222 found that only 23% of companies currently have an Ethics Charter for People Analytics. Developing an Ethics Charter was the first co-creation project we undertook with members of The People Analytics Program. Those companies – and others that have implemented ethics charters – have flourishing people analytics teams, create value for the business and the workforce and are setting themselves up for continued success into 2020 and beyond.


If 2019 was the year People Analytics finally arrived, 2020 could well be the year it goes into overdrive. We work with a lot of people analytics teams at Insight222. Pretty much all of them are growing in number (many of the teams we work with have doubled or trebled in size in 2019), in budget (whilst resources in other areas of HR are shrinking) and responsibility (adding more breadth and depth in areas like employee experience, workforce planning and in developing analytics based products). I expect this to accelerate in 2020 in line with more Heads of People Analytics reporting directly into CHROs and increased investment by organisations to improve the data literacy of its wider HR teams.


EX is already pretty much the biggest thing in HR but, as the recent State of Employee Experience research by TI People reveals, it is only going to get bigger with 92% saying that EX will be even more important in 2021 than it is today. Whilst the focus on EX may have initially been driven by increased employee expectations (just as in the case of Customer Experience) there is mounting evidence that companies with strong EX outperform the market (see FIG 1). Most of the companies we work with at Insight222 are currently developing or implementing EX programs. The methodologies being employed to understand, design and measure employee experience – particularly at the ‘moments that matter’ are getting more sophisticated, more data-driven and more continuous.

FIG 1: Stock performance of high-performance companies vs. Dow Jones and S&P Indexes (Source: Willis Towers Watson, Identifying the factors that make a high-performance employee experience, 2019)


A key element of EX is the creation of personalised experiences – a radical shift away from the one size fits all HR programs of the past. Perhaps the area of HR where personalisation is being most widely applied is learning, which given we are in the era of reskilling and lifelong learning is especially timely. Tools such as myHRfuture, which enable employees to create customised pathways based on the skills and knowledge they want to learn with content curated through machine learning are becoming increasingly prevalent and helping to power a revolution in learning.


Perhaps the biggest challenge in the Age of Automation isn’t the wholesale replacement of people but the shift from a focus on jobs to one that sees companies segmenting by skills or tasks (see FIG 2). Based on the companies we work with at Insight222, this new currency of skills is going to have an increasingly significant impact on workforce planning (skills for the future, mix: build, buy, borrow or bot), learning (reskilling, learning and unlearning), talent acquisition (location strategy, brand, talent pooling) and M&A strategy. This is a huge opportunity for people analytics (which is increasingly being coupled with workforce planning) and HR Technology (which based on feedback from clients I work with is currently underserving requirements here).

FIG 2: Workforce segmentation today and in 2020 (Source TI People)

Manish Goel from TrustSphere and RJ Milnor formerly of McKesson and now Head of People Analytics at Uber discuss how to drive business results through network analytics (Source: Wharton People Analytics Conference)


As companies increasingly become more agile, more collaborative and less hierarchical, Organisational Network Analysis can shine a new lens on how work really gets done – and specifically help maximise the value of a company’s social capital. GM has used the insights from ONA to catalyse innovation. Microsoft has used it to support onboarding and highlight manager behaviours that drive team performance and engagement. McKesson has used ONA to understand the networking behaviours of high-performing sales professionals and teams. These are just three of an increasingly impressive collection of Case Studies. Watch the video below of the McKesson case and find out more about ONA in The Role of ONA in People Analytics and explore the work of the leading ONA expert Rob Cross.


FIG 3: The top six skills HR professional want to learn (Source: myHRfuture, HR Skills of the Future, 2019)

Whilst HR is undoubtedly one of the most exciting areas of the business to work, it also needs to change if it is going to meet rising expectations from business leaders and the workforce. Put simply, HR must become more digital, more agile and more data literate to deliver greater business value. The good news is that HR professionals recognise this and want to learn (FIG 3 highlights the top six skills HR professionals told myHRfuture they most want to learn). Their organisations and CHROs must therefore provide the wherewithal, support and investment for this evolution to happen. Alongside building capability, HR needs to continue to shift to an employee centric mindset of doing things with and for the workforce rather than to them. I am seeing this increasingly from pioneering CHROs such as Leena Nair (Unilever), Diane Gherson (IBM), Peter Fasolo (J&J), Kathleen Hogan (Microsoft) and Katarina Berg (Spotify), who adeptly combine a human centred design approach with creating demonstrable business value through HR.


HR Tech continues to heat up with the market currently worth over $300Bn, according to Josh Bersin. Major players like Microsoft, SAP and Workday are making significant investment. The start-up market continues to innovate and is generating significant interest and investment. Perhaps not surprisingly, the market is becoming increasingly confusing for buyers, analysts, investors and the vendor themselves to navigate. Don’t be surprised to see plenty more hype (in areas like AI and Blockchain), innovation (in areas like skills and workforce planning) and consolidation in the year ahead e.g. as I typed this article I learned that Degreed has acquired Adepto. This comes hot on the heels of Clinch being acquired by PageUp. Expect to see plenty more consolidation in 2020.


Whilst EX, People Analytics and the rise of design thinking are all helping put the ‘human’ back into HR, there is still much work to do. Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book Dying For A Paycheck provided a damning indictment on how modern management practices engender stress, damage engagement and the physical and mental health of employees. Pfeffer also provides evidence of how this impacts company performance too. However, perhaps things are changing. If the announcement by The Business Roundtable group of CEOs is to be believed then we are about to see a shift from the world’s biggest companies from a sole focus on shareholders to a more balanced purpose centred on all stakeholders (consumers, employees, suppliers and communities – as well as shareholders). This is where People Analytics becomes even more important especially when it is deployed to help determine the return of investment on initiatives such as employee wellness programs. As an example, Leena Nair shared with me on the Digital HR Leaders Podcast that Unilever found that they get a $2.50 return for every $1.00 invested in employee wellness. Showing the business value of employee wellness – as well as healthy cultures, strong EX and diversity and inclusion initiatives seems to be a quorum HR can form the future of the function around.


There are a plethora of other 2020 trends and predictions out there, and if I could pick three I’d recommend, it would be one of my perennial favourites Tom Haak plus Dom Price from Atlassian and then The HR Trends 2020 report from Visier, which looks beyond the next 12 months and provides some forecasts for the next decade. All are well worth a read:


If you haven’t listened to some of the episodes of the Digital HR Leaders Podcast, I host for myHRfuture, you can catch up now by clicking on the links below:


Watch. Listen. Learn. Succeed. All in one collaborative space. Access bitesized learning content to help you build knowledge in skills such as People Analytics, Digital HR and HR Technology, Design Thinking and Workforce Planning. Get 12 months of unlimited access to all of the content on myHRfuture for one amazing low price.



David is a globally respected writer, speaker, conference chair, and executive consultant on people analytics, data-driven HR and the future of work. As an Executive Director at Insight222, he helps global organisations create more cultural and economic value through the wise and ethical use of people data and analytics. Prior to joining Insight222 and taking up a board advisor role at TrustSphere, David was the Global Director of People Analytics Solutions at IBM Watson Talent. As such, David has extensive experience in helping organisations embark upon and accelerate their people analytics journeys.


Now that my speaking gigs are over for 2019, it’s time to look forward to 2020. I’ll be chairing and/or speaking about people analytics, data-driven HR and the Nine Dimensions for Excellence in People Analytics model at the following events until the end of May 2020.


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