Just over 2 years ago, in September 2017, I wrote a two-part blog on “HR 2020” and what the Human Resource function needed to focus on as we approached the end of the decade. Well, as the last days of this decade now approach, with 2020 just around the corner, I wanted to revisit these areas and re-examine them to see if my original views still stand at all.

(You can read the original blogs here: part1 and part2)

A quick recap

In the original blogs I identified 5 areas of focus:

1) Finding, retaining and growing the right TALENT for the future of your business

2) Having the right SKILLS for your current business needs, to meet strategic goals

3) Increasing PRODUCTIVITY through leveraging the human elements that impact positively

4) Listening effectively to your people, feeding back to them and taking action to raise ENGAGEMENT

5) ENABLING HR to be the integrated function it needs to be

My initial take is that these areas broadly still stand as key focus areas for CEOs and People Leaders. Let’s look at the landscape and the specific challenges the UK and global markets face at the moment in this context.


No matter what your political and economic views are of leaving the European Union, it now seems pretty clear that the UK will take its main steps in leaving the EU in 2020. Looking at this with the VUCA acronym can help us, as HR professionals, understand our role in 2020 here.

As a reminder VUCA stands for, Volatility (the liability to change rapidly and unpredictably), Uncertainty (desired outcomes are in doubt due to external factors), Complexity (an intricate relationship of many interconnected parts and variables) and Ambiguity (a situation open to many interpretations, the unknown unknowns).

Compared to this year (2019), there will most likely be less volatility and ambiguity in 2020 with Brexit. Now with a parliamentary majority, the UK Government will enact Brexit part one in January, so our path is laid before us in 2020 compared to the spring and autumn on 2019. However, this still leaves uncertainty around the specifics of the exit deal which is forecasted to happen by December 2020. However, CEOs and People Leaders should now start in constructing strategies and delivering plans to evolve in this new environment. Now, more than ever in the last 10 years, UK organisations need to understand their challenges and make the changes needed. The expected change that Brexit creates, which has been in “stasis” over the last 3 years, will now start to rapidly arrive. In 2020 we need to quickly go from inaction to action. Those who identify the key issues and act promptly will be the ones who hold their competitive advantage and will be the winners in the market.

So, what does this mean in reality?

Examples of key people issues in 2020 and beyond

In 2017 I identified Talent, Skills, Productivity and Engagement as four areas to focus on. All of these matter to all organisations, but to differing degrees and in different ways depending on the sector you are in and the maturity of your business. Here are some examples of how these may manifest themselves in organisations in 2020:

Lowering migration in 2019 and 2020 into the UK is creating people and skill shortages at the lower wage job role end of the market. In addition, a low unemployment rate and international competition for skills is making certain highly-skilled workers scarce on the market. The turning tide against organisations with high levels of zero-hours contracts and casual workers, and the broader introduction of IR35 tax rules, are putting pressures on wage inflation as the ability to have a flexible approach to the financing of the workforce is set to reduce.

Another example is ever-evolving technology. The effect of automation on the future of work which is predicted to accelerate in the 2020’s as artificial intelligence will give rise to the augmented machine/human job role. This will have an impact on which skills will be more desirable in the job market in the coming years and which skills will no longer be of as much importance. This has implications on the cost of acquiring these desirable skills and also the focus of internal learning capability.

In addition, the pace of change and transformation inside and outside organisations will take on a new velocity as organisations can finally act in 2020 on the impending changes of the last few years. This will have an impact on all organisations. One key skill and behavioural trait which will become even more important is the individual and team’s “readiness to change”. Readiness for change may become the most sought-after skill in organisations as the 4th Industrial Revolution gathers pace.

All these areas put pressure on having the right people in the right place at the right time for 2020:

– Where and how do I source the SKILLS I need with decreasing market availability?

– How can I retain my internal TALENT and upskill these people to mitigate my need to go externally with the associated costs of this?

– With the possibility of less people available to work in my organisation, how do I increase PRODUCTIVITY to maintain growth with less resources?

– How can increasing ENGAGEMENT help with these questions?

So, it looks like the key areas of the 2017 blogs might still be of importance as we head into 2020. How we then tackle these challenges in our organisations then becomes a key question.

Identifying your own specific challenges for 2020

From my recent observations, one successful route to take is to tap into the people already in your organisation and get their views and opinions of how to tackle this. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience that often gets bypassed when organisations undergo transformation.

The Exco will have a top line view of the external market, yet your people can give you the detail of the challenges they face in reality and what is stopping them to be more successful. Taking an Organisational Development (OD) approach to this problem could support successful change in your organisation in 2020. OD takes the approach of involving your people to solve challenges together, learning through the process. Through an inclusive process of diagnosis, intervention and evaluation you potentially could, not only solve your 2020 challenges, but also foster innovation skills, collaboration, ownership, autonomy, inclusivity and engagement in your people – some of the key skills and traits that cannot be easily automated in the future of work!

If you haven’t previously looked at an OD approach to understanding and solving your challenges, then I highly recommend it for 2020. A key philosophy to use here is that you “learn through change, and through change, you learn”. With 2020 being such a key year for change and transformation in the UK, within a global context, an opportunity exists to tackle these key issues in this sustainable and collaborative way.

To conclude

In summary, I think that the key challenges of Talent, Skills, Productivity and Engagement are still relevant in 2020, even more so with the “lens” of Brexit upon us. The HR function is in a critical place in the organisation to partner with leadership to deliver this critical change and transformation. The contingency plans we have scenario planned in the last few years now need to be refreshed and acted on in 2020.

We are now a fifth of the way towards the 22nd Century. 2020 will be a challenging year for organisations and business. I hope you get some sort of break over the next couple of weeks and we’ll be back with news about more HR events, podcasts and blogs in January.

Happy New Year from all of us at Tap’d!

Download our report: The Productivity Challenge: Understanding what CEOs and People Leaders need to do in 2020 and beyond, which investigates the topic of stalling productivity growth in the UK.