Posted: 08 Apr. 2021 5 min. read

The social enterprise in a world disrupted

Exploring the main themes of the 2021 Global Human Capital Trends Report

The “so what” in 30 seconds

Last year's trends were released just as COVID-19 was starting to sweep the world. The conversation then was very much about responding and recovering from the lockdowns that forced businesses to shut their bricks-and-mortar doors. A year on, we now strongly believe that it is to our advantage to focus on codifying and sustaining a new normal. Organizations of all shapes and sizes face a choice: wait to see how the market changes when the crisis ends and risk being stuck in reaction mode OR think about how to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

The crisis context has moved the workforce squarely into the centre of attention, along with artificial intelligence and advances in technology. We must become as disciplined about designing human systems and human integration as we are in planning technology architecture and integration.

The opportunity is to humanize work while pursuing a competitive advantage in the next new normal—embracing innovative ways of working, developing the skills that will be needed tomorrow, and redesigning the work itself.

A deeper dive

In times of perpetual disruption like the one we’re living through now, organizations must shift their focus from a survival mindset to a thrive mindset. Leaders need to revise their strategies, from preparing for the known to preparing for the unknown. How can an organization’s leaders transform their thinking and position the business to thrive when they’re focused primarily on survival? It depends on the company becoming—or remaining—distinctly human at its core: a different way of being that approaches every question, and every decision from a human perspective first.

Being human at the core is the essence of what it means to be a social enterprise. To combine revenue growth and profit-making with respect and support for its environment and stakeholder network, an organization needs to ground itself in a set of human principles: purpose and meaning, ethics and fairness, growth and passion, collaboration and relationships, and transparency and openness. Adhering to these principles is what puts the social enterprise in a position to thrive—to continually reinvent itself in a climate of constant turmoil.

And as the business world has changed in response to recent technological, societal, and environmental disruption, so too has our approach to the research for Deloitte’s flagship Global Human Capital Trends. Our 2021 report focuses on understanding what characteristics can support organizations in their shift from survival to thriving by revisiting a subset of key trends from the 2020 research, as well what critical strategies can help leaders prepare for future disruptions. 

Completed by more than 3,600 executives in 96 countries, this year’s report included responses from more than 1,200 C-suite executives and board members, as well as those in other management functions. For the first time in the trends report’s 11-year history, business respondents (59%) to the survey, including 233 CEOs, outnumbered human resource (HR) executives (41%). This underscores the growing importance of human capital in organizational decision-making.

Five workforce strategies for 2021

We’ll be exploring each of the five trends of our latest Human Capital Trends report in a series of articles over the coming weeks:

Designing work for well-being: The end of work/life balance

As the lines between work and life blurred even further during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, leaders moved from prioritizing work/life balance to designing well-being into work—and life—itself. Examples include modelling well-being behaviours such as taking micro-breaks; forming teams based on worker preferences, working styles, and personal needs; using wearable technologies and apps to help control distractions, increase mindfulness, and reduce anxiety. Organizations that integrate well-being into the design of work at the individual, team, and enterprise level will build a sustainable future in which workers can feel and perform at their best.

Beyond reskilling: Unleashing worker potential

During COVID-19, leaders called upon workers to expand their roles to whatever needed to be done—and workers rose to the challenge. Worker agency and choice during the pandemic showed that workers can fulfill their potential in ways that leaders may never have known they could, positioning the organization to thrive in the long term.

Superteams: Where work happens

Organizations doubled down on using technology to make teams more efficient as a survival strategy during COVID-19. Leaders now have the opportunity to use what they learned to construct “superteams” that pair people with technology to reimagine work. By amplifying humans’ contributions to new and better outcomes, superteams can play an integral part in an organization’s ability to thrive.

Governing workforce strategies: Setting new directions for work and the workforce

The coronavirus crisis was a rude awakening to the fact that using metrics and measurements that describe employees’ current state for practical insight about their workforce severely limits an organization’s ability to endure disruption, let alone prosper in it. Asking and answering questions that focus instead on what their workforce is capable of can help leaders meet the need for constant change with the confidence that comes from thinking and looking ahead.

A memo to HR: Accelerating the shift to re-architecting work

COVID-19 thrust HR to the forefront of organizations’ efforts to survive the crisis, gaining the function greater credibility. Now HR has the opportunity to build on this newly enhanced position to shift its role from managing workers to redesigning work in order to drive better outcomes.

Leading forward: Leading the shift from survive to thrive

The pandemic accelerated the prevalence of worker agency and choice as employees have been called on to reimagine their work—such as learning to do everything online—and to expand beyond their job description. It’s time to invest in unleashing worker potential, equipping them with the tools, data, engagement and strategies that will help position workers to adapt and the organization to thrive in an era that promises to be one of perpetual change. Read the article series to learn more.

Watch this space for more Human Capital Trends summaries.

For more information, read the 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.