Mike Rude has spent his career creating value from the CHRO role, whether through business transformations, developing organizational leadership capabilities, or forming strength-based cultures that fuel growth. Now as an Executive Partner in the CHRO Practice at Gartner, he’s advising executive-level HR clients on their most critical priorities, strategies, and initiatives.
In our conversation, he shares the people priorities he’s commonly seeing across the CHROs he’s interacting with, as well as perspectives on remote work, deskless employee experience and AI in HR.
What are Top CHRO Priorities for 2023?
Mike: Based on what I’m seeing, the list would be:
- Cost containment – expense cuts related to real and anticipatory P/L pressures (programs, investments, initiatives, staff, slower hiring)
- Return to office – still working its way out. Trend now is towards bringing remote eligible people back to the office 3 days a week.
- Career development and career pathing – this is a critical employee need to attract and retain talent
- Rethinking the Employee Experience, especially in the light of hybrid and remote. Also focusing on the moments that matter the most when we onboard new hires in order to minimize early attrition. Manager effectiveness is a vital component when rethinking the employee experience.
What are some of the biggest challenges with remote work?
Mike: You have a whole cadre of newer employees who have never had anything other than hybrid. I’m worried about their opportunities to develop meaningful workplace relationships that enhance their ability to perform, feel engaged, and advance.
Relationships are so important to engagement and performance, so how organizations are enabling their Managers with the new skills and technology to lead their teams virtually can be a challenge. Additionally, we know people learn in different ways, and for many folks, they may learn better through in-person interactions.
Another big challenge is work-life balance.
“We’ve seen statistics showing mental health issues are on the rise and with remote work, striking the balance between work and non-work within your home can be more difficult as it may not be easy to “turn it off” working remotely.”
We are also seeing more and more employees wanting to come back to the office for a limited time per week. We’re humans and face-to-face interaction is important for many of us – video calls aren’t the same thing.
Finally, given the importance of career development for attraction and retention purposes, sometimes there can be bias from some senior leaders to favor or place greater emphasis on working onsite versus remote. They can be a bit hesitant to promote people through the ranks without exposure or in-person interaction. So, it’s important to remember to build out networks in ways other than on Zoom.
Do you think work will be more remote or less in the next 12 months?
Mike: I think we will see more organizations go to a hybrid model – 3 days in the office and perhaps 1-2 days remote for those eligible. In addition to the perceived challenges that come along with remote work, with the current economic and hiring environment, I think leaders are feeling a “tailwind” and are a bit more emboldened to set the expectations for employees to come back to the office.
What’s different about Employee Experience in 2023?
Mike: The core components that have always been at the heart of a great employee experience I feel are the same. And one of the greatest aspects for employees is having a strong sense of connection with their manager. Their manager has more impact on performance, engagement, and overall effectiveness than anyone else. I’m seeing clients revisit manager skills and bringing this into center focus.
It’s critical to equip and upskill frontline Managers on the basics – giving them the tools, skills, and support they need to do these things in a more remote environment. They need to provide clarity about what’s expected, connecting with their direct reports to show they care, communicating, etc. to their direct reports?
Finally, there’s also a growing focus on alignment between company and individual purpose. Helping employees clearly understand how the work they perform impacts the company and its purpose is key. The company also has to rethink how it brings its values to life in a more virtual experience.
How does remote work impact those who cannot work remotely?
Mike: It’s a big challenge. Frontline employees are seeing colleagues who don’t have to go into the offices and say, ‘hey, there’s a benefit they’re getting and now I’m not’.
“The wrong company response is taking a “one size fits all” approach.”
Consideration now has to be on how to best manage two different populations. Creating that fairness is new. Now we have onsite workers asking for gasoline stipends. Companies need to get more creative around scheduling and pushing the concept of flexibility, and getting creative on how they can bring greater flexibility to non-remote eligible workers. It’s going to be the new normal and companies have to think about this.
Is bridging the gap between desk and non-desk team members important?
Mike: It is critical.
“Organizations need to find ways to bring people together and appreciate as an organization how people are interconnected even if not physically together.”
Whether that means once a month we bring together everyone in-person at a facility, have a team lunch, or maybe a few designated day every month we bring the department in. It is important to be intentional about in-person experiences – combine work with social. Happy hours, community service – doing things outside of work is important too.
How are your CHRO clients leveraging engagement surveys today?
Mike: We’ve been measuring engagement for a long time. Some are getting skeptical of traditional, once a year surveys and are moving to more frequent pulsing. Regardless of the survey approach, the problem has always been the action planning. The data is interesting, but it just points you in a direction. Then you have to go do something about it – Engagement goes up when employees see that it’s important and that you’re doing something about it. This is also where engagement as a process typically fails – that leadership doesn’t hold Managers accountable to follow through.
What is Action Planning like today?
Mike: Typically, you’ll first look for common trends across the entire organization on both the positive and critical feedback. And then repeat this approach at the next levels within the organization. Finally, you need to take it down to the manager level.
“You can’t boil the ocean so I always recommend focusing on just the 1-2 things that will truly make a difference.”
Some organizations will formalize and capture all these action plans in a system…But I’ve yet to see it really work well because it just gets too laborious. It’s another administrative process – another thing for Managers to do on top of their ordinary workday. And since the surveys provide directional guidance, someone needs to help Managers translate this into an action they can take with their team. Integrating actions and action plans into the everyday work flow is essential if you want to have success with them.
And then there’s accountability which, today, is mostly a cascade of “checking in” to see how the plan is going by 1) informally verifying with each Manager and 2) asking employees in pulse surveys if they feel like post-survey actions are being taken.
What will AI’s impact be on all of this?
Mike: AI is heavily embedded in Applicant Tracking systems, but this could change as new legislation, like that in New York, passes that require companies to allow candidates to opt out of AI screening tools because of potential biases. This creates the need to have, in effect, two processes. So I would suggest following this one closely. It’s still early but there will be some basic activities like writing job descriptions or transactional business processes where AI will add real value. It is moving quite fast, and there will be ethical, quality, and regulatory issues that organizations will have to consider.