Posted: 20 May 2021 5 min. read

2021 Global Human Capital Trends

Governing workforce strategies

The “so what” in 30 seconds

The COVID-19 crisis has changed our reality so much, so quickly, that it can be difficult to keep track of its impacts. One fascinating effect was that, for many organizations, tried-and-true processes and supporting technologies no longer worked: The demands of the market had changed overnight. And how did we respond? Through human ingenuity: our people stepped up.

This lesson learned has caused many business leaders to think more deeply about their workforces and, as a result, ask some hard questions. For example: What are their employees’ collective strengths? Who among them has the potential to step up and solve problems? How can companies anticipate supply-and-demand changes quickly, and then build a workforce agile and resilient enough to pivot accordingly?

Great workforce strategy begins with accessing the data to answer these questions, and then with considering all available options in order to maximize human resources. Essentially, an organization’s opportunity lies in getting as disciplined about so-called human architecture as it is about IT architecture, all in order to build a workforce competitor cannot hope to copy.

A deeper dive

The unprecedented health, economic, and social challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated why retrospective workforce metrics and measurements are insufficient tools for navigating continual business disruption. In 2020, as organizations addressed critical employee-health issues (i.e., well-being and safety), work and alternate workforce arrangements, and greater demands for social and racial justice, we saw an accelerated need for—and an ease of access to—insightful, predictive, and future-oriented workforce data. But accessing this data is only part of the equation in trying to manoeuvre through these upheavals; the other part is helping to empower leaders to counter uncertainty with action by first asking themselves questions that can help spur insights on business challenges. It’s the difference between learning that 1.1 million workers dropped out of the US labour force in September 2020 and digging deeper into these metrics with questions such as, “Which groups are at risk of leaving, and why?” The answers would reveal that 80% of those workers who dropped out of the workforce were women, a statistic with clear diversity, equity, and inclusion implications. Data-based insights into questions such as these can allow business leaders to more easily tailor their workforces to meet evolving needs.

In Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends Report, which is based on a survey of more than 3,600 executives in 96 countries, we explore how reflecting on deeper questions around three themes that have emerged over the past year—worker potential, talent ecosystems, and the translation of organizational values into action—can help companies set new directions for their business goals and workforces.

What insights about organizations do leaders gain when they consider the following types of questions?


  • Which jobs are changing, how often, and to what degree?
  • Which new trends, challenges, and scenarios are leaders being prepared for? What percentage of the company’s leaders have the attributes required to succeed?


  • How healthy is the company’s internal-talent market?
  • To what extent can leaders make use of the abilities of their organizations’ broader talent pools?


  • How might workers from diverse communities wield influence in an organization?
  • Which signals might point to outliers in worker behaviours and norms?

As leaders ask new questions and set new directions for their businesses, they’ll need to help ensure that their efforts with respect to workforce strategies, data collection and usage, and insights on all of the above take into account the needs of all of their stakeholders—and to verify that their lenses are wide enough to detect both short- and long-term measures of progress.

What does this mean for organizations?

Businesses leaders will need to have the access to predictive workforce metrics and to ask questions that will allow them to uncover key information—and then to act on those insights in order to mitigate risks and maximize opportunities. This will help them meet evolving talent needs, build flexibility and resilience, and ensure better workforce management and results in a world of perpetual disruption.

For more information, read the 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report

Key contacts

Aaron Groulx

Aaron Groulx

Partner, Human Capital

Aaron is a partner and national Human Resources (HR) transformation advisory leader at Deloitte. He has worked across both Canadian and global industries, helping organizations implement better HR transformation strategy, operations, and technology. Aaron’s focus is helping HR functions expand their services to significantly enhance the role HR plays in business success. He has helped clients adopt a uniquely human approach to extend the influence of their HR teams to alleviate the increasing pressures imposed on modern businesses.

Stephen Harrington

Stephen Harrington

Partner, Human Capital

Stephen is Deloitte’s National Lead – Workforce Strategy, and has been a writer and speaker on the future of work since 2011. With 20 years’ experience in Consulting, Stephen leads transformations in workforce strategy that enable our client’s people to feel personal purpose and impact, as the business drives improved results. Stephen is co-author of the Intelligence Revolution, a recent paper covering implication of the future of work in Canada. He has lead multiple projects in the last few years helping clients build new frameworks and capabilities to stand up future-ready workforces.