What Business and HR Leaders Must Focus on in 2017

It's the beginning of a new year, a time traditionally reserved for reflection and self-analysis – not only for individuals, but for businesses as well. Many of us spend January pondering our resolutions for the coming year, but in boardrooms around the world, executives are looking back over 2016 at what they did right and what they could have done better.

A number of issues seem to have been flagged across organizations and industries this year. Many companies are using outdated training programs, struggling to retain top talent, and/or lacking in employee engagement initiatives, according to a study from Waggl, an employee feedback platform.

Training Day

Only 34 percent of respondents to Waggl's "Voice of the Workplace" survey – or "pulse" in Waggl parlance – said that their current training programs are meeting development needs. That means a whopping 66 percent are using training programs that are out of date or at least partially ineffective.

"We work with companies of all sizes, and the common issue we see with respect to training is that although most organizations have training programs in place, they aren't always getting enough feedback on the effectiveness to make updates in real time, given the pace of rapid change in the workplace," says Michael Papay, CEO of Waggl. "HR departments often send transactional 'smile sheets' right after a training program, but the feedback isn't authentic or dynamic enough to really help shape the program."

Papay also notes "it is important that the organization's leaders support and help facilitate the learning events in order to ensure that they are aligned with the company's strategy."

"Companies that do have effective training programs in place are better able to retain talent, which ultimately cuts down on the churn and disruption and eliminates the need to constantly recruit for new talent," Papay adds.

Best of the Best

Of course, before you can train workers, you have to hire them. Eighty-six percent of survey respondents said their company could do more to attract top talent.

"These results clearly illustrate that hiring, retention, and communication are top of mind for HR and business leaders right now," says Papay.

Hiring has accelerated since 2008, and there are now many jobs available. That means talented individuals have more options in the job market than they had just a few years ago.

"[T]he power dynamic has shifted from the hiring managers to the employees," Papay says. "That creates a context where skilled workers are in such high demand, they can theoretically go anywhere they want. Recruiting may be the hot button right now, but once the talent is secured, engagement and training are essential to building the type of team culture that can effectively execute on strategic goals – especially in our current business climate, which is rife with constant change. Surviving and thriving in the age of disruption means learning to retain the best talent, and that requires actively measuring and monitoring culture."

Rules of Engagement

While employee engagement has become a frequent topic of important discussion, many companies still struggle to actually engage their workers.

According to recent data from Gallup, 50.8 percent of employees in the U.S. are not engaged and a further 17.2 percent are actively disengaged. Employee engagement has consistently hovered around 33 percent of the workforce for the past decade or so, and these chronically low engagement levels come with significant costs. The overall U.S. economy may be losing between $450 and $550 billion a year in productivity as a result of widespread disengagement.

"What is causing this epidemic of disengagement? The most likely reason is that people don't feel that their opinions matter within the workplace," Papay says. "Business leaders may believe that they are open to hearing what's happening within the organization, but often the 'listening' consists only of measurement. One-way communication tactics like annual surveys are a chore for both participants and administrators, and they are too slow to conduct and analyze. And as helpful as quantitative data can be, it only tells part of the story."

Papay suggests that it may be time for organizations to "stop measuring and start actively listening."

"Progressive companies are starting to rely on crowdsourced feedback for decision making because it's more inclusive and more agile," Papay says.

Everyone knows the famous quote from philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Looking back at the end of each year is an important practice for companies that want to make sure they aren't going to keep repeating their mistakes. If you want to cut your organization's bad habits, now is the time to review your training, talent acquisition and retention, and employee engagement methods.