Predictions for 2020: Clarity, Focus, Action!

Posted by David Mallon on December 02, 2019.

2020: From one vantage point, this number represents the coming year. From another, it describes a measure of visual clarity and focus. As we anticipate what awaits the world of HR, talent, and learning, we will need more than perfect vision to thrive as we move forward.

In a time of increasing turbulence, HR leaders will need:

  • Clarity of purpose for their organization and meaning for their workforce
  • Focus on where and how to spend time and resources on what matters most
  • Action, taken with precision and courage, driven by confidence in their ability to create value and a willingness to leave behind tired perspectives and old ways of working

The world of work is an increasingly uncertain place, and the pace of change and technological innovation continues to accelerate. Organizations are struggling to find talent in the market1 and best use the talent they already have.2 Geopolitical and economic headwinds are intensifying in the form of trade conflicts, a predicted slowdown in the overall global economy, new relationships forming in the wake of the final Brexit decision, and a highly contested election cycle in the United States.

Not surprisingly, collective confidence throughout organizations is low as 2020 approaches:

  • CEO confidence is at its lowest level since 2009.3 Only 4 percent believe that economic conditions are set to improve in the near term; 67 percent expect conditions to worsen.
  • Only 26 percent of surveyed millennial workers—including only 18 percent of those in developed markets—expect their economic situation to improve in the coming year.4
  • Continuing a two-year downward trend, only 55 percent of millennial workers believe that businesses have a positive impact on wider society.
  • Faith in leaders is also falling: only 27 percent of surveyed millennial workers say that political leaders are making a positive impact on the world, with business leaders just moderately higher at 37 percent.5

How will HR leaders respond to this crisis?

Our previous Predictions, spanning the past five years, have called on HR to:

  • Lean into the redesign of the organization itself to better ride the waves of change (2015)
  • Be bold in its aspirations to bring value to the organizations that it serves (2016)
  • Leverage the energy and the agency that comes with digital transformation to improve the experience of the workforce (2017)
  • Embrace—rather than fight—the radical transparency of today’s always-on, always-connected, data-saturated world and workplace (2018)
  • Hold the well-being and productivity of the workforce as HR’s highest calling (2019)

In the coming year, we believe all these past imperatives will continue to remain important and relevant. But let’s be clear: 2020 looks like a year in which the demands on HR will be greater, and available budgets will be less. We know from similar moments in the past (e.g., the global financial crisis of 2008–2009) that simply reacting to changing conditions can do more harm than good.

Considering this increased uncertainty, it is more important than ever to seek clarity about intended destinations and the lodestars that guide us. We must arm ourselves with the ability to sense our environment so we can recognize small changes in conditions that will become larger disruptions and track broad patterns that will transform our marketplaces over time. We sometimes call this the ability to “zoom in/zoom out.”

We must then focus our attentions and move to action with precision and courage. HR cannot do everything or be all things to all people—HR leaders must focus on what will create value, both for the organization and for the humans who comprise it. This focus will likely be hard, as times of scarcity tend to be. You may need to let go of beloved programs, processes with years of sunken costs, or methods that have rightfully garnered affection because of their success thus far. But in their place, we must make a much-needed shift to new ways to working—indeed, new ways of being—that are better suited to the age, more fit for our organizations’ current purposes, and more apt to help leaders focus on what will matter most.

From December 2 through December 12, Bersin analysts will share their viewpoints on Capital H regarding the most relevant and interesting developments to watch for in 2020 as HR and business leaders endeavor to find Clarity, Focus, and Action.


Prediction: Metrics that evaluate how organizations balance profit with purpose will gain influence
Organizations’ behavior as social enterprises is under greater scrutiny than ever before, driving the need for better ways to monitor those efforts. New certifications and assessment frameworks will emerge to help reflect and shape which companies people choose to buy from and work for.

Prediction: The alternative workforce will be the next frontier in the war for talent
More workers are opting out of traditional employment scenarios in favor of alternative options. Organizations that want to access the best talent among this segment will have to cultivate new mindsets and strategies, with a focus on curating a positive experience.


Prediction: Nurturing capabilities will be as important as building skills
The pace of change in the market renders more skills obsolete with each passing day. Rather than trying to keep up through reskilling the workforce, organizations will focus on defining outcomes and nurturing the innate human capabilities necessary to achieve them.

Prediction: Organizational network analysis will expand from examining current networks to architecting new ones
Business ecosystems and agile teams are sparking innovation, but they also bring incredible complexity. The new technologies disrupting work and the workplace will grant leaders the insights needed to activate communities, redesign work and incentives, and ease the pain of change management.

Prediction: Assessment will go mainstream for engaging, hiring, developing, and retaining workers
Organizations continue to bear the burden of their own ineffective talent practices. Tools that help evaluate candidates’ unique capabilities and culture fit will finally bridge the gap between recruitment and retention.


Prediction: Organizations will use internal talent marketplaces to unleash talent mobility
Internal mobility can provide better candidates and improve workforce experience, yet organizations still struggle to move people from role to role. Internal talent marketplaces will provide the transparency and the structure needed to connect the right employees with the right opportunities.

Prediction: Organizations will use AI and behavioral nudges to reduce bias across the workplace
Unconscious biases deplete productivity, engagement, and well-being. Aided by AI and the thoughtful use of behavioral science, organizations will foster environments that mitigate bias and promote better decision-making.

Prediction: Organizations will use virtual work and workforce development to improve the performance and productivity of people and teams
The need to tap into remote talent will only intensify in response to reduced budgets and geopolitical uncertainties. Emerging technologies will connect individuals, provide coaching, and create learning experiences—enabling the development and management of the distributed workforce.

In 2020, you can also expect to see Bersin focus our research efforts on helping you find clarity and act with precision. We are privileged to be part of how you focus on what matters most: increasing your impact and the creative value for your workforces, your customers, and your wider stakeholders. We wish you all the best in 2020. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and productive new year!

David Mallon is vice president and chief analyst at Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

1 “Unemployment vs. Job Openings,” / Stephen Slifer, November 5, 2019,

2 2019 Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights, 2019.

3“CEO Confidence Declined to Lowest Level in a Decade,” The Conference Board, October 2, 2019,

4 The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019—Optimism, trust reach troubling low levels, Deloitte Touche Tohamatsu Limited, 2019.

5 The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019—Optimism, trust reach troubling low levels, Deloitte Touche Tohamatsu Limited, 2019.

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