After several years of weak global economic performance, organizations are positioning themselves for growth. However, the human resources challenges they now face are significant.

The 21st century workforce is different from its predecessors. It is more global, more highly connected, more technology-savvy, and more demanding than the workforces of the past. It is also more dispersed and diverse based on a variety of measures including age: today's workforce includes both younger (the millennials) and older (the baby boomers) workers, and each generation has different needs and expectations.

Technology continues to transform all aspects of the workplace, including recruiting, education and training, and analytics. It has also created a new phenomenon: the overwhelmed worker; organizations need to find ways to absorb and adapt technologies, while also making them simple.

Social, political and regulatory pressures are changing perceptions of organizations. Today's workers are very aware of an organization's mission, purpose and values. To attract, engage and retain them, organizations need to demonstrate a commitment to corporate social responsibility.

According to a Deloitte global survey, many organizations are facing four major human resource needs.

Global leadership development. Organizations need to more quickly develop leaders at all levels, in all geographies and across all functional areas. Many organizations are changing dramatically, a result of globalization, digital disruption and other factors, and therefore they may need to look for potential leaders from outside their traditional pools of talent if they are to find the people with the skill sets they need in their new operating environment.

Developing leaders involves more than just finding and developing people with the required technical skills. Leaders also need to have the necessary "soft skills" – the ability to build teams, inspire performance and work as business partners with the leaders of other functions and business units – if they are to succeed.

To develop all of these skills will require a variety of learning programs, including traditional training sessions, acquiring expertise through online on-demand learning programs and mentoring programs through which current leaders can share and transfer their knowledge and expertise to the next generation of leaders.

Retention and engagement. Today, the demand for top-skilled, top-talented employees is greater than the number of workers with those attributes. Organizations, therefore, need more focused strategies for attracting and retaining key people. Today's employees want a passionate and compassionate place to work. Career growth remains important to them and compensation can take forms other than just monetary remuneration, including providing flexible work arrangements, job sharing, and allowing employees to bring their own technologies to the workplace. Through the feedback received during employees' annual performance assessments and employee commitment surveys, organizations can better understand what their employees' value, and how well they are meeting those expectations.

Retooling the HR and talent functions. HR needs to be transformed if it is to be successful in meeting the talent challenges facing the organization. In many organizations, HR's focus continues to be on administering people rather than on enhancing people's performance.

Talent acquisition and access. Finding, attracting and accessing highly skilled people is critical in an environment of changing workforce expectations and shrinking half-life of skills and technical knowledge. Social media has changed recruiting into a strategic function based on marketing, branding and new tools and technologies.

While the needs are clear, the Deloitte survey also found that few organizations believe they are prepared to respond. Organizations recognize the need to take action, but are uncertain whether they have the ability to deliver results. Many organizations, for example, are making use of data analytics in their business, particularly in finance and operations. Few, however, have analytics capabilities in their human resource group. Implementing these capabilities could enable organizations to better manage their people, by allowing them to anticipate trends related to retention, advancement and other attributes.

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