Supporting HR Strategies and Priorities for 2024

Hosted by

Mervyn Dinnen

Analyst, Author, Commentator & Influencer

About this episode

Supporting HR Strategies and Priorities for 2024

Host: Mervyn Dinnen

Guest: Kay Phelps, CEO & founder of Consultancy PR in HR

In this episode Mervyn talks to Kay Phelps about their latest research on HR priorities for the year ahead in both the US and UK, and the support they need from the HR Technology sector.

They discuss:

– The key findings from PR in HR’s ‘HR Strategies and Buying Decisions’ research

– HR priorities around Talent, Experience, OD and DEIB

– The main barriers to addressing HR priorities

– What kind of support HR leaders need, particularly when investing in technology

– The role of data and subject matter experts

– Helping the decision making process


* The report can be downloaded at

Thanks for listening! Remember to subscribe to all of the HR Happy Hour Media Network shows on your favorite podcast app!

Transcript follows:

Mervyn Dinnen 0:19
Welcome to the HR Means Business podcast, which is part of the HR Happy Hour Network. I’m your host, Mervyn Dinnen. Today I want to take a look ahead to 2024 some of the strategies, the challenges priorities that human resource teams will have. And I’m delighted to be joined by a lady called Kay Phelps from a consultancy PR in HR. They have recently published a research report, looking at HR strategies, they’ve spoken with a number of HR people in both the UK and the US, and compiled trends challenges. And also during the conversation, we’ll have a bit of a look at maybe what the technology companies might be needing to do in 2024. To to bring HR more on side. Firstly, Kay, would you like to welcome to the HR news business podcast and would you like to introduce yourself?

Kay Phelps 1:15
Thank you. It’s lovely to be here. Thank you, Mervyn. So yes, I’m Kay Phelps, and I’ve been PR in the HR sector for a scarily long time about 30 years now. But we’re basically a PR agency specializing in this. It’s such a noisy, lively, vibrant market, and we know it really well. So our customers need to share a voice to raise awareness and build trust. But what they find is there’s an awful lot of direct and indirect competition, trying to get into the workplace media. So we help them do that. But we did the research because it helps our clients and potential clients as well. The report is unique, I think it adds weight to our work, but it also helps steer supplier suppliers to the HR actions. So for instance, it shows HR issues, absolutely. But those are not not new, not people know about those. It also shows where HR buying intentions are. But it’s also shows and gives a snapshot of what is stopping HR BI. And what helps them make statistics excuse me decisions, it helps them make decisions. So it’s really, really interesting. And this year, we also created a reports that actually shows the views of both UK and US HRs.

Mervyn Dinnen 2:35
Fascinating and we’re going to begin to pick the report apart we say and look at the key trends and themes. So in terms of HR priorities, there are kind of five areas that I think the these fall into. So if I take them one by one, I think the most pressing one that I picked up from the report was talent strategy.

Kay Phelps 2:58
Yes, absolutely correct. And in fact, just to go back slight step, we found that 69% of the HR respondents had created or adjusted the HR strategy in the previous 12 months, and 67% plan on buying new products or services. There’s an awful lot of growth and room and change and things going on in the HR market. But with talent specifically, we found some of the major issues that they’re experiencing. And most of these won’t be a surprise but attracting and recruiting the best candidates is the biggest issue by far with both UK and US respondents. Many said that retention was still a huge problem. And then fairly equally split but interesting that you can see where employers are struggling is identifying and addressing skills gaps, providing valuable opportunities to their staff, and also a big one providing flexible work opportunities for all that’s still pressing on the minds. We found in the talent section of this that a third of hrs are considering purchase, excuse me purchasing new services or products. Interestingly 36% of UK respondents said they’re planning on buying new stuff. And 30% of us respondents said they’re planning on buying new support for for their talent issues. We also asked about budgets and whether they’ve changed 52% said they did increase budgets for talent strategy in the last year. So there’s there’s a lot of growth, there’s a lot of movement. And, again, just to show a slight difference in the UK 48% that they’ve had increased budgets. And 56% said there’s increased budgets, budgets in the States.

Mervyn Dinnen 4:58
Interesting talents. strategy is, obviously, seems to me from all the conversations I’ve had recently to be top of mind, particularly what you said about retention. Because one of the things that I’ve noticed, which which in some respects, I’m pleased about, because a lot of my, a lot of my research and writing is focused around kind of your employee experience and work experience is, is employee experience as being a key priority, which I believe you also found pretty much alongside talent, but as you as being key.

Kay Phelps 5:31
Absolutely. In fact, we actually found that as the biggest, the biggest thing on hrs mind at the moment, it’s become their biggest challenge. And it’s it is reflecting, as you say, employers ongoing needs to retain and engage staff. And there’s wide, there’s a lot of wide ranging issues within employee experience. So we found that in both the US and the UK employee experience is getting the most attention by hrs 42% have created or adjusted strategies in the past, and 35% are still considering buying new support in the in the next year. In fact, employee experience was the most pressing thing for us HR respondents. Not for the UK, like I’ll go on to the UK is most pressing one and a little bit. But there are specific issues. And this is where I say they’re wide ranging, the biggest one is ensuring employees have sufficient opportunities for career and skills development. This is followed very closely by understanding the best ways to identify and address well being issues. Also responding to changes in engagement and morale motivation, that’s really causing some issues for HR, as well as maintaining productivity, you know, especially when people could be working in so many different locations. And it’s also because it’s so pressing for HR, it’s actually seen the biggest change in budgets, 53% said their organization’s budgets have increased in the last 12 months. And that’s 51% in the UK and 56% in the US.

Mervyn Dinnen 7:11
Okay. Previously, I suppose in previous years and times, things like od would have been, I suppose, top of the list, but I mean, it’s featured in your research, would you say all design is is still as important or prevalent? Or are people more focused on attracting, retaining and developing.

Kay Phelps 7:33
It’s definitely slipped down, I think. So we don’t have a direct cap comparison from before but from our knowledge, and as you say, organizational design Dinnen Excuse me, organizational design was so important after you know, the pandemic hit. And it’s almost like either od in this report has either shown that, it maybe it’s not part of the HR function, because that is, you know, sometimes the case. And it might be because, you know, there was so much change after the pandemic, that now you know, things have settled down. But yeah, only a quarter of EHRs have adjusted strategies in the last year. And most of those were 28. So 29% was in the UK 19% in the US. So a marked difference between the regions. And again, 25% are considering purchasing new services in the future.

Mervyn Dinnen 8:26
Okay, now, previous years, the IMB would have featured very highly is it I’m getting the impression that, you know, it’s definitely part of the agenda. And it’s almost now part of the agenda as opposed to a specific priority. Is that what you are finding? Or is it a bit of a mix?

Kay Phelps 8:45
It’s a bit of a mix, but what we’re finding is so offlane, DEIB, and there’s all sorts of names for DEIB, it could be EDI, you know, DEI, whatever it is. But basically diversity, equality, inclusion, belonging initiatives are coming under a bit of attack. And it’s been noted in several media publications that this is the case, there’s a bit of a backlash, and that’s been very recent. So and then there’s also you know, it comes down to the political discussions as well. So, but the research from this report shows that it’s still really, really important. In fact, in the UK, it’s the highest priority still, they’ve been most concerned about DEIB. And looking ahead, 32% of hrs US and UK are considering buying new products or service to help strategies. So it’s still a really, it’s really high up there. And of course, there are so many challenges within that the issues within DEIB Are are you know, in their widespread so so understanding that from this report is really interesting.

Mervyn Dinnen 9:57
I mean, most of the things we’re talking about here, I suppose, are fairly kind of Cultural in terms of organizational culture, there’s a lot of talk and a lot of speculation, a lot of stuff I read. Looking into the future, I’ve been part of a couple of projects as well in the last year where we’re trying to map out potential, what the future might look like for certain areas of the world of work. Are you finding a future of work to be a priority at the moment with so much going on, as we’re talking about in so many pressures post pandemic, in terms of how when, where where we work, how we keep people, a change on in, maybe in what are employers are looking for, and how they want to be treated? is the future of work? And I suppose building sustainable business for the future, still very much on the agenda, or is it slipping back? Would you say?

Kay Phelps 10:50
No, it’s absolutely on the agenda. And it’s almost like the future of work is now. So you know, when we talked about the future of work a couple of years ago, it still seemed like it was somewhere in the future. But from now what you’re reading, it’s, it’s, it’s changed completely. So absolutely. Future of Work strategies are seeing change. In fact, they’re seeing the biggest change when it comes to what products or service HR is buying. The number of hrs who said they are have bought a service or product increased by 14 percentage points in the last year, compared to the year previously, there’s a regional difference too. In the US, the number increased by 19 percentage points. And in the UK, interestingly, increased by nine percentage points, there is a difference there. Looking ahead, 32% of the respondents are considering buying new products or services. This is 36% in the UK, and 29% in the US. So it might be that there’s a bit of a catch up going on. And 47% said that they’ve had budgets increased in this area. So yeah, there’s a lot of movement.

Mervyn Dinnen 12:02
And budgets increased this is to kind of, I suppose address the future ought to make the business future ready.

Kay Phelps 12:11
So what they’re saying is their challenges. There are a lot of challenges, but skills are the biggest issue. So they’re really worried about ensuring employees have adaptable skill sets. They’re really concerned about understanding the ways AI generative AI will impact employees and the organization. And because there’s so much there’s so much change, that creating a clear roadmap, and then a clear strategy is also on their mind, they’re not you know that they’re not sure how to do that really yet. Not all of them. Okay.

Mervyn Dinnen 12:47
So the future is yet is obviously unwritten. And organizations, I’m getting the impression are preparing or are looking into, I suppose many different potential scenarios.

Kay Phelps 12:59
Yeah, definitely. They’re keeping their eyes open. But it’s hard to know, it’s hard for even the most the experts in the future of work, you know, they don’t know exactly what’s happening either of the of the people I’ve talked to it’s all it’s all something we’re learning as we go.

Mervyn Dinnen 13:18
What are the main from from the conversations you’ve had? What would you say are the main barriers to addressing these? We’ve been through, obviously, the five key areas that companies are trying to address. What what do they find most difficult? Is it getting buy in? Is it getting budget? Is it understanding the solutions available? Is it having the solutions available? what’s what, what seems to be the problem?

Kay Phelps 13:44
Actually, I really liked this section, because we actually split it out into two different ways. We split it out into the internal barriers that HR are facing. Then we also looked at what the external barriers and how suppliers can help. So reduce the barriers. So internal barriers, absolutely not surprising. Economic business complexities means that budget cuts have been an impact, but it’s much harder for hrs to address their issues. But there are regional differences with that as well. 32% of UK and 24% of us respondents said restricted budgets were a barrier. I found that there was a more interesting story behind that though, because budgets I don’t think will surprise anyone. But they’re also having trouble creating HR strategies that are adaptable flexible enough for continuously changing landscape. They lack a data sorry they lack data or information to understand their issues or plan a strategy. And they also lack subject matter experts be are finding it difficult to form a solid buying decision because of that. So there’s really interesting stuff there. And then factors where supply As can really influence and impact this is the biggest issue HR says that they can’t find the right supplier to meet their strategic needs. They also say they can’t find it, Ah, sorry, a brand with the right cultural fit. And sometimes they don’t even know if there’s a product or a service that will support them. So to me that totally underlines how important that is share our voices. It’s a very lively, noisy sector. And so brands want to get heard more.

Mervyn Dinnen 15:33
Before we look more into the I suppose the solutions marketplace, what what I mean, you’ve you’ve just touched on this. So I’ll expand it a little bit. What what kind of support? Again, from your conversations and research, what kind of support do HR teams need?

Kay Phelps 15:51
Yeah, I also really liked this one, I found it really interesting. So they really want information on other companies issues and how those companies have solved. So basically, really strong, unbiased case studies showing data and and improvements. Now, we all know that really, really hard to actually create good case studies like that, you know, a lot of companies don’t want to divulge the company secrets to have them published in a case study. But the companies that are willing to support that are very, very useful. I’m going to pause a second, can you actually hear my dog snoring?

Mervyn Dinnen 16:34
I can’t No. Okay, good.

Kay Phelps 16:37
He’s very elderly. And he’s just, he’s clearly in a deep, deep sleep. So they also want practical advice from subject matter experts, largely because they seem to not have them internally, which makes sense. So they want vendors, experts to know the market, they need the data, they need to know the organizational issues, they need to know how to overcome challenges. So bringing really rich experience and knowledge to support smart buying decisions is what they want. Just selling the benefits of your product or service is it doesn’t doesn’t work here at all. And hrs also want clear evidence of the impact of initiatives and, and how they will affect excuse me affect broader business objectives. So they want to know how new processes will support all the stakeholders, whether that’s the C suite or employees or you know, or wider.

Mervyn Dinnen 17:35
Okay? You and I both know, and I’m sure many of the people listening to this, hopefully listening to this, have had been to events, conferences, expos, and you walked the floor, and there’s obviously many, many, many myriad of solutions, all jumping out. But the what are the reasons you began to outline them? The HR people that you talk to, I suppose, where do they find it difficult to engage with suppliers? Is it because they just don’t fully understand, I suppose, what a solution can do for them? Or is it that the things are not marketed or discussed in a way that I suppose you know, somebody leading an HR department can say, I can see how we can use that? What, what, what, what seems to be the from the conversations you’ve had with HR leaders? What are their main barriers?

Kay Phelps 18:32
It’s actually fascinating, and it comes down to some really logical, emotional buying decisions, you know, we found that 71% are more likely to buy from a brand that knows the market. So they want a brand that has the expertise and can help them and support them. Again, against 70% need to know the brand has a strong reputation in the field. So they really want comfort in their buying decisions. Nearly 70% 69% want to listen to or read content from subject matter experts, they really like learning and the media in the space is excellent imparting useful educational content. So there are as you say, there are so many ways that a brand can get in front of HR decision makers. And I went to an exhibition, it was a learning event and the amount of suppliers there was overwhelming and I wasn’t there to buy anything, you know, so. So making sure you have a share of voice is really important and using as many communication channels as properly as as well as you can. Basically, half I think it was said that they didn’t know which brands they could trust. So trust is also really important. So trust reputation. awareness are just huge in this market.

Mervyn Dinnen 20:03
Which is interesting because the, I suppose a lot of the conversations around, you know, what it can do, and how it’s helped others in the past. But I mean, I can go about to you, we can both go back to the days, days of kind of, you know, people buy people first and everything else afterwards. It may be that the, from what I’m hearing from what I read in the report, that there is this kind of disconnect. A lot of HR people feel that they’re not that I suppose effectively they’re being sold to, as opposed to getting an understanding of, you know, what something could do for them? Absolutely.

Kay Phelps 20:44
And actually, the number one thing they said in the report that so the question was in, we asked HR managers, what sources are most likely to influence their trust or perception, perceptions of a brand. And the number one thing was personal experiences. So being very human people buy from people. And it’s really important in this sector, word of mouth, massively important brand content brand experts. Using the media to make sure your brand experts are being seen and heard and trusted as well, all of those things are really important, it’s just, I’d say, just essential to keep reiterating your messages in different ways. I had a great conversation with one of the really good freelance journalists in the sector, just a few weeks ago. And we were talking about how the HR media, for instance, they talk about the same subjects all of the time, they’re always talking about organizational issues, whether it’s dei or well being or productivity, or, you know, tech, whatever, those subjects are always going to stay the same. So a journalist job, he said, was to make sure they’re just moving the story on by 2%, in just a little bit each time, the story has to move on. So if brands can help a journalist or help move the story on a little bit through their guidance, their insights, their data, what they’re seeing that’s going on in the market, that can be really, really helpful to HR.

Mervyn Dinnen 22:20
That’s interesting, because you’ve, you’ve partly answered what I was going to ask you. Sorry, which is that, you know, what, what could what could suppliers, what can tech companies be doing to address this, and obviously, one of the things that’s coming out strongly from there is to, I suppose use data to tell a story. To you know, a lot of the, I suppose a lot of people from the HR sphere, who are coming to coming to the event I was about to say, but are looking to buy looking to invest in a solution? Want to know, kind of, you know, I suppose, you know, the the story behind it, how you know, how it’s got there, what it’s done for other people, how it could support them. And I suppose we need this firstly, this pit, this honesty, almost from the vendor side about, look, you know, if it’s not right, or you need something that does this, now, ours doesn’t quite do that. But you know, we can package it like it does. Or there could be a bespoke answer as well. I mean, what you I know, a lot of the time you’re talking to HR people about their kind of buying decisions, and they’re, what’s top of their minds. Regard on the vendor side? I mean, do you have any conversations with them, or what’s the kind of advice you give them?

Kay Phelps 23:41
So, I would always say to be, so when I’m talking to my clients about talking to the media, for instance, I always advise them to be unbiased. This is a market for providing guidance, and education, and insights and data. As soon as you start selling something, you’re going to lose the ear of the person you’re trying to, you know, desperately trying to get to hear you. So education is fantastic. And, and however that’s delivered, is because there’s a lot of ways you can deliver that. Education is really important. And yeah, and being somebody that the HR people can rely on, and, you know, turn to for support when they need it. Because there is so much change and they’re trying to learn a lot. They have a lot of different things they need to have in their remit and keeping on top of them is a constant pressure. So any support that can be Friday is really helpful.

Mervyn Dinnen 24:50
Okay. And how do you think we’re talking possibly about what the vendors need need to be doing? And the suppliers. What do you think in terms of supporting HR from either the external marketplace people like you and me? Or internally? You know, what, what, what can organizations be doing to, I suppose, support their HR teams or HR functions in making the right decisions on investing budget on improving all the things we got to at the best? I mean, at the beginning, you know, better talent strategy, improving retention, employee experience and stuff, how, what support do they need from either externally or internally? Do you think?

Kay Phelps 25:37
We’re definitely externally they need suppliers to provide them with information that helps them make decisions, you know, they, they need comfort in their decisions, you know, and so yeah, so creating insights, creating data that proves points, creating case studies that show how others have gone through the challenges and made it through and, and address some real issues is all incredibly helpful. I’m not saying any of that is particularly easy. But vendors, suppliers, you know, brands that are focusing on HR have got some, usually some really good information from, you know, I can have a conversation with, you know, maybe somebody from the C suite within a vendor or, you know, a subject matter expert, and pick up so much information that’s useful. So it’s gathering those insights, it’s gathering what the experts know about, and sharing that in a logical way.

Mervyn Dinnen 26:43
As we come to the end of the conversation from the research you did and report, and in the show notes, I will put a link to that so people can see it. Was there anything else that came out of that, that that surprised you interested you, or I’ve not really spoken to you about today, but you feel is well worth discussing?

Kay Phelps 27:04
And I think it’s the most interesting thing, for me, came out of the strength of feeling of how trust, how recognition, how brand awareness, and how those are so important to the buying decision. And that, yeah, the data in there was really, really clear. That hrs are crying out for that they need to have that so and that. And I love that because that’s, that’s partially under vendors and suppliers control, you know, they can make positive moves to make that happen. And yes, I would say yeah, trust brand, recognition. And self awareness is really, really important. It shows it really shines out. Okay.

Mervyn Dinnen 27:57
If people listening to this and want to connect with you, and maybe find out more, what’s the best way to?

Kay Phelps 28:04
Connect with me on LinkedIn, Kay Phelps. And the website is PR and HR, which is public relations in HR, human resources. So PR, and HR is our our brands. And there’s all sorts of information and other reports on that site, too, that can be downloaded. There’s also we’re also doing some new reports that we’re working on now, which are actually analyzing both the US media, we’re analyzing 1500 articles in the US to understand what’s going on in the end the US and where they are shortly after follow that with probably a similar amount of UK publications and what they’re talking about. So it’d be really interesting snapshots about what’s going on.

Mervyn Dinnen 28:47
Okay, and we’re having this conversation at the end of 2023. And people will be listening to this in 24. So I’m gonna put you on the spot. And you didn’t know I was going to ask you this. But do you have any prediction or predictions for what you think I know, the world of work or the world of Human Resources is going to be like over the next year or so?

Kay Phelps 29:09
I think it’s just going to be this desk going to be so much change and so much fluctuation I think people, hrs employees, I think everyone’s grappling with how things are going to turn out and, and not so much in 10 years time, but you know, within the next year. So I think online learning is going to be a massive thing. I think well being is still going to be enormously important. dei initiatives are still going to remain important, I’m sure of it. So I think what I do feel is that it’s hrs are still going to feel continual pressure. And so supporting them in any way we can is is a good thing.

Mervyn Dinnen 29:55
Kay, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you and I wish you all the best for 2024.

Kay Phelps 30:00
Thank you so much, Mervyn. It’s been a real pleasure. Thank you

Transcribed by

Leave a Comment

Subscribe today

Pick your favorite way to listen to the HR Happy Hour Media Network

Talk to us

If you want to know more about any aspect of HR Happy Hour Media Network, or if you want to find out more about a show topic, then get in touch.