When research aligns: HR in three-part harmony

When research aligns: HR in three-part harmony
Posted by Bill Pelster on December 09, 2016.

We take research very seriously at Deloitte, for the direct and indirect value to our clients and for the validation that only comes from multiple research efforts independently producing similar results. Three of our recent reports canvassed thousands of business leaders about three fairly distinct topics:

Deloitte business confidence report 2016
The bold organization—innovate, lead, attract

Aligning the organization for its digital future
Findings from the 2016 digital business global executive study and research report (with MIT/Sloan Management Review)

Global Human Capital Trends 2016
The new organization: Different by design

Although each of these surveys viewed businesses through a different lens, all of the reports echoed similar HR concerns and opportunities—and present some intriguing ideas for HR leaders.

Digital transformation—an antidote to brain drain
One consistent theme throughout the research (no surprise to HR leaders here): The “brain drain” is real and some of your best employees really might be ready to flee. In our Business Confidence Report, the vast majority of C-suite respondents expressed concern that at least 1 in 3 of their best managers will leave before joining senior ranks.1 Our research with MIT/Sloan Management Review (MIT/SMR) says the worry over talent loss is valid: At companies in early stages of digital development, more than 50 percent of employees surveyed said they are planning to leave their organizations in less than three years. That number drops to 25 percent at more digitally advanced companies—a huge wake-up call to businesses not planning to move fast on digital. In addition, 30 percent of SVPs, VPs, and director-level leaders who don’t have resources and opportunities to develop and thrive in a digital environment reported planning to leave their companies in less than a year.2 Bottom line: Significant numbers of employees and executives are ready to leave companies, especially if their companies aren’t keeping pace with digital change.

The good news? Some of the most important moves HR can make for retention happen to also be very good for business. Most notably, our research confirmed the inextricable link between HR and the steaming-hot topic of digital transformation. Effective digital transformation—like so many technology disruptions before it—is all about the people, hinging on HR themes such as culture, leadership, learning, and talent more than technology. At the same time, digital transformation can help HR keep people engaged and on board longer.

Soft skills, soft skills, soft skills
Deloitte and MIT/SMR’s research confirmed that soft skills tend to be more important than technology knowledge for digital transformation:

  • Only 18 percent of respondents listed technological skills as most important.
  • Most important? Managerial attributes, such as having a transformative vision (22 percent), being a forward thinker (20 percent), having a change-oriented mindset (18 percent), or other leadership and collaborative skills (22 percent).3

Deloitte’s Business Confidence Report results showed a similar theme, reporting a shift in demand from technical skills to soft skills that are often hard to find and even harder to cultivate. More than half of the business leaders who responded said their top in-demand skills are now the ability to develop expertise quickly, work across multiple roles, and work with advanced technologies.4

Rethink everything—really
Providing a backdrop and context to these findings, Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 survey reported a surprising top trend: 92 percent of the executives responding were planning or in the midst of complete organizational redesign.5

In summary, these three research reports roll up into several important key themes: Leaders should be concerned about “brain drain”; digital transformation is happening whether you like it or not, and soft skills are trumping technology skills; employees want to work for digitally savvy leaders, and leaders are realigning their entire organizations to more effectively attract and retain ambitious, talented employees.

Because of this confluence of change, digital transformation and HR transformation share a lot of common ground, perhaps most crucially, timing. It’s clear that both are inevitable and both are happening already with some sense of urgency, especially in competitive industries and markets. Digital transformation and HR transformation are potentially great candidates for simultaneous implementation.

The only way to truly understand the evolving human capital landscape is to get outside of your own bubble, and that’s where research can prove incredibly valuable. When researchers go out into the marketplace, gather data from many HR and business leaders in different environments, and compare the results, we can all gain reliable guideposts to respond to trends—or even better, anticipate trends and make bold moves to help strengthen both HR and our businesses.

About the research
Deloitte Consulting LLP’s business confidence report launched May 4, 2016. For the second year, the report took the pulse of 600 of America’s top business leaders and examined their levels of confidence to outperform competitors.

In July of 2016, MIT Sloan Management review, in collaboration with Deloitte, released the results of its 5th annual survey of more than 3,700 business executives, managers, and analysts from organizations around the world and interviewed business executives and vendors about practical issues facing organizations today.

The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report is based on survey responses from more than 7,000 business and HR leaders in 130 countries.


Bill Pelster is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP and a US Board Member for the firm. In his current role, he is responsible for leading our Bersin by Deloitte research and products practice and is a senior adviser to our Integrated Talent Management practice focused on issues and trends in the workplace.

1 Deloitte business confidence report 2016, The bold organization—innovate, lead, attract
2 Deloitte, MIT/Sloan Management Review, Aligning the organization for its digital future, findings from the 2016 digital business global executive study and research report
3 Deloitte, MIT/Sloan Management Review, Aligning the organization for its digital future, findings from the 2016 digital business global executive study and research report
4 Deloitte business confidence report 2016, The bold organization—innovate, lead, attract
5 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016, The new organization: Different by design


As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

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