Surprising Talent Management Predictions For 2021

In addition to the obvious 2021 talent trends related to Covid, remote work, diversity, etc., plan on changes in other off the radar talent areas. Here are 10 quick predictions in areas that are often not even considered by HR and management leaders.

  1. HR’s shift toward paternalism will backfire. There has been an outpouring of genuine corporate empathy for an employee’s situation during 2020. Subsequently, there has been a push by some in HR to manage “the life experiences” of their employees. This involvement and control of  “outside of work” factors move HR into the historically dangerous corporate paternalism area. I predict that these misguided attempts to influence employee happiness, mental, financial, and family health will backfire. It will raise fears of excessive corporate control and privacy.
  2. Employee engagement is pushed aside by a focus on innovation and productivity. When so many corporations are fighting for survival, keeping employees engaged will simply no longer be enough. Engagement is only one of several factors that contribute to the most important employee output, productivity. Instead, all talent management actions will eventually need to measure the impact on employee productivity and innovation directly. HR will also be forced to accept responsibility for the two remaining drivers of productivity that they currently ignore – Minimizing administrative distractions that reduce the time employees are actually doing their job duties and increasing individual employee energy, excitement, and motivation (Source: Garton and Mankins’ research). 
  3. The death of corporate provided learning. During three quarters of this year, employees figured out how to learn quickly on the fly with almost no help from corporate training and development. Unfortunately, in a world where on-the-job self-directed learning has become king, most executives will quickly learn to demand eliminating any learning programs that can’t prove that they directly increase productivity. Executives will instead focus on hiring and retaining individual employees who excel at bleeding-edge learning independently.
  4. Individual performance metrics will dominate Work From Home.  WFH has proven to be amazingly productive. The return to in-person work will be much slower than many have anticipated. As a result, HR will be forced to address the almost completely ignored one remaining factor that has the most impact on remote work effectiveness, individual performance metrics. Soon every job that qualifies for remote work will have to have its own numerical performance metrics scorecard – covering productivity, innovation, and the quantified business impacts of the individual.
  5. Regrettable turnover remains a major issue.  High unemployment will cause general employee turnover. Many HR functions will essentially eliminate their retention programs. However, that will be a huge mistake. The turnover of top performers and employees that work in “impossible to fill” areas like machine learning, technology, innovation, healthcare, delivery, and cybersecurity will continue to be expensive problems.
  6.  The dominance of remote work pushes HR to become data-driven. Although being data-driven is not a new trend in HR, that trend will accelerate because it’s almost impossible to “keep tabs” on HR programs that operate remotely unless HR is 100% data-driven and digital. 
  7. Adaptability and resilience become required corporate skills. The forecast that economic and business turmoil will continue for several years. HR will need to work with hiring managers to ensure that all new hires are adaptable, resilient, and that each can handle the stress of constant change. 
  8. The continuing recession forces HR to prioritize formally. Even if the economy begins to turn around in midyear, HR budgets and resources will continue to be stretched. To increase its business impacts, HR will need to formally and transparently prioritize its HR programs and those managers and employees that it serves first.
  9. Recruiting allows the death of the candidate experience. Recruiting will quickly forget any focus that it previously had on the candidate experience and speed of hire with a record number of applications coming in. Because colleges have finally embraced remote learning. Remote college recruiting will soon literally kill off physical on-campus recruiting. 
  10. The march of the robots and algorithms continues unabated. Clearly, all of the health & safety issues related to human employees have made employing humans problematic. These issues will continue to force managers to reassess the value of robots and algorithms that can effectively do human work without virus concerns. HR will need to learn how to identify and prove specific cases when human employees are superior to installing technology.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to remember that in our turbulent world. The most obvious talent management predictions at the beginning of the year are soon supplemented with numerous “surprise issues” that require immediate attention. This article attempts to give you a “heads up” warning covering some of those surprise issues that will likely arise during 2021.

Author’s Note: Please pass this article throughout your team and network. Next, please follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn, where you can also leave comments on this article. His 1,300 other talent management articles can be found at

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

Check Also

The “No Application Required” Recruiting Strategy (Providing employed top talent with “job search deniability”)

Top employees are reluctant to apply for external jobs because it makes them appear disloyal. …