There’s something about the new year that brings the promise of opportunity, both personally
and professionally. For business leaders, it’s a chance to take our organizations to a new level,
tackle lofty goals, and create better, more engaging cultures for employees.
It’s an especially promising time in the people-performance space right now. Technology and
the human side of human resources are converging in a very exciting way. Technology is
changing the way people work, and leaders are no longer forced to make decisions based on
gut feeling alone. Data is making it possible for employee engagement to be a real, measurable
thing, and allowing businesses to leverage their culture as a strategic advantage.
Here are a few workplace trends I’m seeing that will be significant in 2019:
1. Leaders will put their money where their mouth is and start activating company
In the October 1996 issue of Harvard Business Review, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras published
their seminal piece “Building Your Company’s Vision” on the sustainable advantages of
purpose-centered organizations. Since then, leaders have been articulating their organizations’
core purpose (why the organization exists, aside from profit alone). And yet, few are effectively
operationalizing purpose within their organization. While translating purpose into real,
measurable business goals takes effort, it’s essential to compete for both talent and customer
This year, we’ll see company purpose play a bigger role in both strategy and recruitment.
Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce today, and according to research from
Deloitte, seventy-three percent of them who work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged,
compared to just twenty-three percent who don’t.
To win the hearts and minds of customers and employees, organizations will do more than talk
a good game about company purpose. They’ll share real stories of purpose-impact realized and
weave it into the very fabric of the company culture.
2. Employee engagement will no longer be a top-down initiative — mid-level
managers will play a critical role.
Employee engagement is no longer a “nice to have.” It’s a strategic priority and necessary for
success and growth. And what many executives are now realizing, is that mid-level managers
are essential to engagement company-wide.
For decades, organizations have been doing the ill-reputed "annual employee survey," where
typically only executives see the full results and a watered-down version (if any) is
communicated to the rest of the organization. The idea was "trickle down" engagement, which
has proven ineffective and does nothing to equip mid-managers to make autonomous decisions
for their teams.
3. Upskilling will play a bigger role.
Historically, HR leaders have focused on hiring for specific competencies and skills, with culture
fit and soft skills as more of a secondary consideration. But today’s skills gap, increasing
automation, and low unemployment levels have led to more focus on the training and
development of existing employees. Hiring for soft skills and potential and developing
employees’ technical skills over time can boost retention, expand the talent pool, and provide a
Oftentimes, bringing fresh new talent onboard is best. But investing in upskilling is generally
more cost-effective than recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and ramping a new hire (who may or
may not turn over in a year anyway). Existing employees who are given growth opportunities
feel more valued and engaged and are more likely to stick around.
4. There will be more HR and C-Suite alignment on data-driven engagement and
In 2019, employee engagement is no longer just “an HR thing.” To remain competitive, today’s
executives must be all-in on people strategy and work side-by-side with their HR teams and
midlevel managers to operationalize it.
Best-in-class company cultures often have certain qualities in common — a strong mission,
strategic alignment, high relational trust, empathetic and transformational leadership, etc. But
there’s one strong common denominator I see among all top people-first organizations: They
inform as many business decision as possible (even HR strategies) on data.
Leaders who do this most effectively know exactly what their engagement and culture KPIs are,
how they’ll measure them, and how to equip all managers in the organization with the data they
need. These leaders create quarterly action plans that are hyper-focused and data-driven, and
ensure their executive team, HR, and mid-level managers across the organization are aligned.
I’m predicting 2019 is the year where the “talk” about employee engagement and culture
becomes “action,” calling us to a higher level of leadership and service to our teams, and
helping employees achieve their full potential at work