KPMG: experimental HR brings the most value to businesses

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The HR leaders bringing the most strategic value to their organisations are those ripping up the rulebook, according to a new report from KPMG.

Its 2021 HR Pathfinder report, which is based on the views of 18 HR leaders from the likes of Microsoft, Aviva, Thames Water, L’Oréal and Santander, looked into what people practices make a market leader, especially in the face of digitalisation, Brexit and COVID-19.

The top practices these so-called HR ‘pathfinders’ had in common were:

  • Employee experience relating to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce
  • Experimenting with new ways of working and adopting emerging technologies
  • Challenging their talent processes and focusing on a whole-workforce approach to skills needs
  • And using data and analytics to explore how HR can work better in a more integrated way with other business functions to get the best from the workforce

According to Robert Bolton, report author and head of global people and change at KPMG, the ‘double-disruption’ of AI and the events of 2020 is causing HR pathfinders to challenge conventional ways of working in a way which will disrupt the market.

Bolton told HR magazine: “I think we’ll see the pathfinder group increase in size and the gap will grow between them and those not in the group.”


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Pathfinders overall had a more positive outlook, helping to drive their organisations through the last year not by looking back or staying still and using the situation as a catalyst for change.

“One of the cornerstones is looking at the data on your own organisation,” said Bolton.

“What we’ve learned from the past two years and the qualitative research from this year is that the key about analytics is not just having an ability to do analytics but to have a front end, talking to people and asking questions, and the back end is about having people that act on the insights you have.”

The success of organisations like Microsoft and Direct Line, he said, lies in using analytics and research like ingredients for creating their own way of doing things.

“It takes you off the path of just following others or adhering to old guidelines,” he said.

“It’s incumbent on enterprises to look at their organisations as organic societies, vehicles for promoting inclusion and diversity and more environmentally responsible ways of doing business.”

In addition to becoming more strategic allies to business, HR pathfinders benefitted overall from higher levels of employee trust and morale and were more likely to have responded quickly to the coronavirus crisis.