HR leader identifies key priorities in 2020


While the fight for pay equity and the overtime threshold change have dominated recent headlines, a local human resources leader is keeping her eye on several no-less-important HR priorities heading into the new decade.

Beth Kelly, president of Grand Rapids-based HR Collaborative, recently spoke to the Business Journal about HR trends that have been and will continue to be important heading into the 2020s.

Kelly said as the Michigan economy has expanded during the past decade since the Great Recession, many employers have faced the same problem: talent shortage.

Groups such as Talent 2025 in Grand Rapids formed around identifying gaps in the system, developing and implementing best practices and helping West Michigan employers collaborate to address the unmet talent needs of each industry.

Kelly cited efforts such as Butterball Farms’ and Cascade Engineering’s move toward employing returning citizens and numerous companies elevating the value of diversity, equity and inclusion as steps in the right direction toward boosting the talent pipeline in this region.

Additional steps are needed to bridge the talent gap, Kelly said. HR professionals in the coming decade, starting in 2020, need to focus more on counseling employers on how to develop talent rather than just recruiting talented employees.

“We can’t operate with the same old, same old anymore. We find that we’re moving away from the transactional, where we’re doing the day-to-day tasks, to really start to be creative about how do we diversify a workplace and how do we redesign a workplace so that it’s safe for all employees, both returning citizens and people who already worked there, and how do we find people who can work for us even though they may not fit ideally into the job slots that we have?” Kelly said.

“It really requires a much more creative thought process around how we have to bring solutions to the table that weren’t required five years ago.”

Kelly and her team recently debuted an e-newsletter called Elevating HR that addresses trends that are reshaping the workplace and shares tips for a better approach to HR.

The first edition of Elevating HR identified the top five priorities for HR leaders in 2020 as the need to upskill staff, strengthen leadership, drive digital transformation, become a trusted change-management adviser and enhance the employee experience.

Upskilling, diversifying

Kelly said companies need to change their mindset and realize “the talent dearth” isn’t necessarily a “dearth” as much as it is a mismatched skill set for what the company needs. When looked at in this light, the gap becomes manageable.

For employers who are worried about the time and cost it requires to upskill workers, Kelly said it tends to be the “least risky” of three options: hiring, upskilling a known quantity or leaving the position open until the perfect person comes along.

“Of those three options, my sense is that it’s the least risky to invest in a known product and to invest in someone you know who can help you grow your business. That would be my pitch to someone who’s considering, ‘How do I best invest my dollars to help fill this need that I have?’”

At the same time, Kelly said it remains important to continue to reach beyond the company’s current talent pool to diversify and strengthen the business to reflect the changing customer and population demographics of the country.

She recommends taking an intentional approach to building DE&I in the workplace by forming relationships in the community with diversity-focused business associations, such as the Latina Network of West Michigan, the West Michigan Asian American Association, the Urban League of West Michigan, BL2END and many others.

“There are all sorts of professional organizations that would welcome support, welcome sponsorship, welcome the opportunity for you to connect with them and then you can build relationships with people and you can talk to them a little bit about how you’re trying to reshape your company,” Kelly said.


Kelly said it’s long been known that “people don’t leave companies; they leave bosses.” One of the functions of an HR lead — inside a company or as an external consultant — is to give leaders the tools they need to motivate and inspire employees rather than simply manage and correct their behavior.

This takes recognition of generational differences that sometimes older leaders have not yet recognized, such as the younger generation’s desire to not necessarily just climb the ladder but to affect positive change and create positive experiences for others.

Digital transformation

Kelly said HR Collaborative focuses on being “high-tech, high-touch,” meaning it is the firm’s responsibility to use the available technologies to automate the more rote, transactional HR processes so its team can focus on the “higher-level, transformational work” of people strategy and market research.

Digital tools available today for HR professionals and the employees they serve include paycheck tracking software, online employee benefits management platforms and digital recordkeeping systems.

“Who wants to look for a benefits clerk for two days to find out how much their deductible is when they can just go online and type it in, and it’s right there for you?” Kelly said.

Change management

The world is in a period of economic and technological disruption, Kelly said, and one of the roles of HR personnel is to help employees navigate that change, which includes but is not limited to electronic medical records, artificial intelligence, fintech, biotech and continuing digitalization of information — a level of change that might leave some heads spinning.

Kelly cited the business acronym VUCA, which originated in 1987, as a still-relevant way of helping HR professionals think about guiding clients through change.

“We live in a VUCA world: a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity,” Kelly said. “To succeed in this kind of environment, you need to have VUCA skills: vision, understanding, clarity and agility.”

She said in most cases, this is a self-taught skill on the part of the HR leader that will become invaluable in establishing trust with a client.

“Businesses need someone who can help grease the skids on that, help facilitate those conversations to move people to a point where they can be more comfortable in the VUCA world,” Kelly said.

Employee experience

Kelly said most people spend more time at work — or working outside the office — than they do at home or sleeping, which makes it imperative for employers and people strategists “to make that work time as pleasant and as rewarding as it can possibly be.”

This hearkens back to offering a streamlined digital toolbox that equips the employees to work more efficiently and easily.

But it’s also about creating a culture of “micro-experiences” that incentivize excellent contributions, Kelly added.

This means noticing an employee’s personal tastes and compensating them for outstanding performance in the form of personalized gift cards, tickets and other experiential rewards.

“It enhances the experience for the employee and helps them feel valued,” Kelly said. “There’s significant data that says that someone who is recognized at least once a week for some contribution that they made will have higher levels of engagement, higher levels of productivity and longer retention with the company.”

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