The pointy end of People & Culture.

Based of the work and research we do, we’re often asked what’s new, what are the trends and where is the whole People & Culture agenda headed.

Based on everything we’ve seen and heard in 2019, we reflected on the biggest topics of 2019, that are already shaping up as the powerhouses for 2020. Here’s our thoughts on the Top 10:

(and yes, we had a little fun with this in a few spots)


1.Strategic Workforce Planning is finally a (real) thing

Colloquially known in the biz as SWP, this has long been the holy grail of the HR profession: an ability to look at your workforce today, and then at the workforce you’ll need in the future, and plan to bridge that gap in terms of numbers of people, capability, aptitude and work structures.

In truth, its often ended up a pipeline for data nerds, with endless esoteric meetings and very little, if any, impactful action. Sadly, it was often commandeered to grandstand on the ability of data to predict whether Sam in Accounts was going to resign based on her pattern of sick leave, rather than look at the macro-management of shifts in required capability.

Now we’re seeing genuine appetite to leave these circular conversations and get gritty on Capability, Culture, Leadership, and Structure, and then map these critical topics into very real plans that more safely deliver organisations, and just as importantly, individuals, into the future.

2. Rethinking Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination – It’s an “all of us” thing

Since we started making Discrimination legislation a few decades ago, we’ve been committed to an almighty quest to achieve compliance to the laws and punishment of those who don’t comply.

That’s still true in most organisations, but for the forward thinkers, it’s changing.

We now understand Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination to be knitted into complex social and organisational systems. Bashing them with a piece of legislation will only achieve so much (although it does feel great to catch the really bad guys – of either gender!).

Instead, organisations are appreciating the role ALL of us play in those systems, and how we might play better roles.

Policies and a dollop of ‘Leadership training’ are being replaced by open conversations, inclusive of every employee, and layered with a language to challenge the status quo and set expectations that we all play a role. Add in a dash of self-awareness, an acceptance that the world isn’t equal or fair, and that privilege plays a bigger role than we cared to admit, and the whole conversation around Inclusion, and Zero Tolerance for BH&D, just ratcheted up a giant notch.

3. Measuring (and Mapping) CultureBelonging

On the back of more than one Royal Commissions (three and counting), where every participant org was walking in with employee engagement scores in 80s (and often getting higher), Board Directors, CEOs and leaders at every level, are finally appreciating that ‘Culture’ is critically important, and cannot be measured by one (very gameable) number.

Culture was, is and always will be a complex human system, which can be mapped and understood at individual, team and organisational levels.

Let’s start measuring Culture much more thoughtfully – ‘belonging’, connection, confidence, accountability, agency and relationships.  The answer might not be 42, or 82.

4. Change – A constant, not an event.

Change has long been the subject of event planning, until we noticed that ‘change’ is also a very important factor in every living thing. If organisations are living things – and they should be – then change is a constant for them too.

Enter the rise of Change as a constant state, not an event.

The models of the 1990s and 2000s (along with their very forgettable acronyms…seriously, do any of us remember what they stood for :D) are over, and ‘change’ (or more correctly, change agility) has become a way of being, every day. Thriving organisations, teams and leaders are creating cultures that expect and seek change, rather than try to control it.

5. Connectedness – Much broader than a Yoga Retreat

In a lonelier world, and with ever increasing use of technology to replace human interaction, organisations and the people inside them, are crying out for connection. The expression “Urban Family” is no longer just owned by millennials or Bridget Jones. It comes with a clarity around how important relationships – genuine ones – are at work, and how easily they are built and maintained with just a little bit of focus. The role we play in creating inclusion, belonging, support and resilience for each other and in each other, every single day. The impact of having an Urban Family in every workplace – that we need, and that needs us too – is now understood to be foundational to belonging, confidence and collaboration.

6. Story Telling and Communication – as a core leadership passion

The soft ‘people’ skills are no longer a distraction from the real work, but an expectation as the most important and valuable skill of every leader. Communicating, telling stories, and bringing messages to life, in ways that get cut-through in a Google|FaceBook-soaked world.

7. Technology

Yep. Technology matters. But maybe not in the way we’ve been thinking about it.

The tech that enhances, supports, lifts and entertains the human experience is finally getting more cut-through. Virtual Reality, gaming, movies, designing your own adventure, finding better ways…. now we’re talking.

Data continues to be valuable too, but not collected in giant irrelevant vats, but rather when data points connect and tell stories that create insight and understanding. When data helps us appreciate each and every person, and create cultures where every individual can thrive.

8. Employees want their own data

While we’re talking Tech, we should mention this one that we’ve been harping on about for years. Companies are creating closed systems to control every person, linking data and locking it down. Employees want the steering wheels of their lives – starting with their own data. Organisations don’t need a person’s old recruitment forms, development plans and performance maps. The person needs them for themselves. Add in portfolio/gig careers, new ways of working, and the diminishing trust of omnipresent organisations, and we have a whole new appetite for open systems, and data being owned by the individual.

9. Flexibility – as a way of working and leading, not an Entitlement Policy.

We couldn’t not mention the rise and rise of new ways of working. While some organisations are still auditing their flexibility policies and making employees fill in ‘I’m entitled to … and therefore you must…” forms, the progressive ones know that where we’re up to now, is just a drop in the ocean of where we’ll be in a year or two, let alone five. The new version of employee is highly accountable and prepared to own their space in the employment relationship. Flexibility will be a ‘way of working’, a ‘way of leading’ and an organisational design, not a policy. Employees will seek out or design their own way of working.

10. “People and Culture” are drivers of Strategy, not respondents to it. 

It is not that long ago that organisations wrote their business strategy, and then the HR added a few pages explaining how they’d ensure the right people were in place to achieve the strategy.

Increasingly, the new norm is that People, Culture, Leadership, Capability and that very effective SWP (see point 1 above) are core components of the Strategy from the first draft. They competitively seek investment, like any other priority, and they do so with a deep understanding of how important these factors are to achieving success, reducing risks, and battling formidable competitors.

In summary, these are our Top 10. We had others that came close, but these 10 were out in front, not only setting the 2019 agenda, but also setting the 2020 priorities as well.


(Special thanks to James Hancock for working with me on getting the long list down the 1o that mattered most).