HR Goals for 2023: Strategic Upskilling, the Metaverse, and More

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HR Goals for 2023: Strategic Upskilling, the Metaverse, and More

Welcome to another exciting episode of All About HR! This is the series for HR Professionals and business leaders who want to future-proof their organization and learn about the latest trends & insights from industry experts, CHROs, and thought leaders. 

What are the most important goals for HR in 2023? In this episode of All About HR season 2, we sit down with Erik van Vulpen — Founder of AIHR — to discuss some of the most important topics and goals for HR in 2023.

Erik is the co-Founder of AIHR and a thought leader in HR upskilling, digital HR, and HR innovation. He believes that building future-proof skills is key for HR to make more business impact.

In this video, we’ll discuss: 

  • Strategic upskilling for HR
  • Hybrid and remote work
  • The evolving role of the CHRO

Watch the full episode to learn what HR professionals should be tackling in the upcoming year.


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Erik van Vulpen: Agility for me goes together with awareness. Where awareness is about understanding what’s going on, agility is about acting on it. And also being able to adopt – or adapt, I should say – when things change. And I think those two elements, you know, in the uncertain times that we’re heading towards, I think are two skills that are of critical importance. Whether it’s an HR professional, or CHRO, I would say, awareness and agility.

Neelie Verlinden: Hi, everyone, and welcome to a very special episode of All About HR, namely our season two finale. My name is Neelie, I’m still your host, and for today’s episode, I get to have a conversation with Eric van Vulpen, founder of AIHR and HR expert. Before we start, however, we really appreciate it if you could subscribe to our channel, hit that notification bell and like this video. Now, let’s get started.

Welcome to another episode, all about HR. Eric, hi, and welcome to the show. How are you?

Erik van Vulpen: Thank you very much Neelie. I’m doing fine. How are you?

Neelie Verlinden: I’m also very well, thanks Eric. Very much. Looking forward to this season finale of the second season of the podcast. This year, we really wanted to wrap up our season with our founder, Eric, who also worked on our HR trends or themes, opportunities, however you like to call them for 2023. Now together with our production team, we have selected some snippets of conversations we had with HR leaders during season two of the podcast, where our guests are talking about topics related to our trends for next year. We’re going to share these with Eric and hear his, and perhaps also my thoughts on them. First off, here’s a snippet of our episode with Dr. Rochelle Haynes. She’s a gig HR expert, lecturer and a global speaker. Let’s have a look.

Rochelle Haynes: So I think gig HR, one of our biggest roles, is working on that mindset transformation. And also to ensure that you’re getting the best out of that and you’re engaging the best people globally. Then the role of gig HR really is to facilitate that experience and ensure that companies are truly transforming rather than trying to replicate the office remotely, because that is not, that’s not the experience. That’s not the new work experience.

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Neelie Verlinden: Yes, Eric, I think that Rochelle here touches on actually two of the themes that we identified for next year, and one of them is managing – what we call managing workforce ecosystems. And the second one is really about redefining remote and hybrid work strategies. Now what she’s talking about here is specifically related to gig workers. But what we are seeing more and more is that as so many organisations have a blended workforce, what’s next really for HR is to have a holistic approach to how they’re dealing with all of the people that work in the organisation, and not just the traditional employees. So let’s start with that. What’s your perspective on that?

Erik van Vulpen: I think she’s making a very good point, you know, she calls it gig HR, I like that, I like that term. It’s a challenge, because as HR, you have limited capacity. So one of the challenges that you have, you know, given your limited capacity, the limited time and money that you have, who are you going to invest it in? And can you equally invest it in full time employees versus, for example, contract workers? I think that is one of the challenges, like where do our priorities lie as HR professionals? And I think that’s a difficult choice. Because on my, the human side of me, I feel like you know, everyone is worth the same time, but in your organisation, you may have people who have more strategic impact, so spending more time on them and developing them will also have more impact for the organisation.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, absolutely. And to that, Eric, I think it’s something that is easily overlooked, but also perhaps because it’s not necessarily a popular opinion to have while it is the reality, I think, in many organisations, right?

Erik van Vulpen: Yeah, that’s true. And I think there’s also another differentiation between your your contractors, which are, I would say, your deskless contractors, how do you manage them versus your contractual knowledge workers, there’s also a very big shift there. As HR, we have a duty, and as an organisation, we have a duty to, you know, be good for our people to make sure that people have livable wages that they have the support and well being, even though they may not be employees. And we also see a shift there, where, for example, the European Court is now saying, you know, the Uber drivers, for example, are employees and not contractors. So you see that gig element shifting as well. And you see the government is more and more often stepping up and saying: “Hey, organisations, you do have responsibility for your gig workers. At the moment, you’re not taking it so we’re moving, you know, our contractors are now becoming employees again, because you do need to take that responsibility for for the people who work for you.” So I think there’s also interesting developments there.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, absolutely. And then what about, Eric, the part that Rachelle touches on as well, which is more aimed at redefining remote and hybrid work strategies? What’s happening there?

Erik van Vulpen: I think that’s also fascinating. One of the concerns that I have, you know, post pandemic, we’re seeing everyone start working hybridly, a lot of people work from home. One of the concerns that I have with the current economical climate where a lot of news outlets are writing about, you know, there’s a recession coming, or some countries are already moving into a recession, what will happen when we move into a full recession? And if there are some redundancies and managers were asked this in a recent survey, they said, you know, “f I have to choose between full time employee who’s in the office or a remote worker, I would rather you know, if there’s a redundancy, go for the remote worker, or the hybrid worker, because they’re less visible, and I don’t really know if they perform.” You have that performance paradox, where people or managers still struggle to manage people who are not full time in the office. So I think there is a risk of seeing almost a divide between, on the one hand, workers who are regularly in the office, and workers who are mostly at home. And I think as HR, we should be very conscious of that, that is, you know, something that’s coming up. So I’m very interested to see how remote work and hybrid working will develop over the next, you know, six months to a year. With having that in mind, I can very vividly imagine that more and more employees will come to the office more and more regularly, because they see a risk of if there’s an economic downturn, and there are redundancies, my chances are much better if I’m, you know, sitting next to the manager every day, instead of sitting at home and being in calls all day.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, I think this is a very relevant point that you’re making. Eric. Do you, do you already have an idea as to how HR can go about this?

Erik van Vulpen: I think HR needs to be very clear on the fact that remote workers and non remote workers are absolutely equal. I think remote workers need to be brought into the office on a regular basis, you know, in events, and make sure that they become part of the office network as well. And I think that is really about your managerial and your HR practices in order to integrate them because as long as remote workers and in office employees are not equally, you know, the same, I think you will keep that discrepancy. So I think there’s, there’s work there for managers, and there’s work for HR to really embed remote workers in the organisation as well,

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Neelie Verlinden: Any ideas as to how they can do that? maybe you can give an example?

Erik van Vulpen: A good way of doing that would, for me, be, you know, bringing in these remote workers into Team Day, so at least you know, they’re in the office at least four days, four days a year. So you have that in person contact. I think it’s also about managing in a better way. We still run into that managerial paradox where managers don’t really trust people and their performance. And they have to believe that people who they see working next to them, that they are better at work and perform better than people who they don’t see physically next to them. And I think that’s also managerial skills, that if you’re good at setting targets and setting KPIs, it shouldn’t matter whether someone worked eight hours or 10 hours or five hours a day, as long as they hit those targets. And I think there’s also responsibility for HR to enable managers to be better at setting goals, setting KPIs, and then just evaluating performance on the individual level. And I think those are some of the ways in which you can bring that together, and make sure that your remote workers are really equal to your fixed full time employees who are in the office all the time.

Neelie Verlinden: This actually makes me think of a comment that we got when we came out with our HR trends, and we ask people about their thoughts. And so one of the comments was: “Okay, so let’s just stop talking about where we work, but just what we deliver.” And I think this is exactly what you’re saying as well. But this will require some time, I think still.

Erik van Vulpen: Yeah, and it will require skill. And I think that is a skill that we don’t talk about enough yet, which is how do you manage a remote workforce? How do you effectively manage your remote workforce and I think that requires a different level of skill and I think that comment just hit the nail on the head.

Neelie Verlinden: Yes, this is going to be very interesting to watch. I’m very, really very curious to see how this is gonna unfold. But we are going to move on to the next fragment though, Eric. And here we are going to listen to Giselle Mota, Chief of Products Inclusion at ADP and she’s also the creator of the Nifty Collective.

Giselle Mota: HR has a unique perspective of knowing what people want, need, how they utilise HR processes and experiences and HR technology. So in a Metaverse space, you can collaborate. You can create like learnings and trainings. I know a lot of people are working hybrid now. Again, if you’re separated by distance or separated because of, you know, issues like remote work or hybrid work, you can still join and like network and have like a happy hour or something where you’re getting together, not on a zoom call, you’re gonna know but maybe something more like an immersive experience in the metaverse.

Neelie Verlinden: This one makes me smile because we just talked about where work takes place, hybrid, remote, and then we have this snippet coming from Giselle talking about the metaverse. Now this one caused quite a stir on my LinkedIn when we published our trends for next year, opinions differed quite a bit about the metaverse just being a gimmick or the metaverse being the future. So I am very, very curious to hear what your view is on this.

Erik van Vulpen: So my view on the metaverse is twofold. So the first part. I think the metaverse offers HR a real opportunity to reinvent how work takes place. For example, when you’re meeting in an office, you’re sitting around a table. What does a meeting in a Metaverse look like? I hope there’s no table because we use a table to write on and you know, in the metaverse, we’re not writing. So I think the metaverse offers an opportunity to really reinvent the way we work, the way we are creative, the way we design. So I think it can be an adaptive space in that sense.

Neelie Verlinden: And also, if I may add, Eric, here, also, it’s a great way potentially to level the playing field between those people who are not in the office and the ones that are because everybody will be in the metaverse so you won’t have these issues that we just discussed. But continue.

Erik van Vulpen: No, I agree. And also if you look at disability, physical disability, that’s another thing where the playing field is levelled simply because you’re in a digital space. So I think there’s more than one equaliser in the metaverse. I think that the next couple of years. And that’s one of the reasons why I put it as a trend in our 2023 report. I think the next year will be pivotal for whether the metaverse will become something or will kind of fizzle out. So I think the next year will be critical in seeing what is the value that we can really create with the metaverse, or is it something you know, that was launched as a big initiative by various companies, but we don’t really see a tactical approach to it. So I hope and I expect a lot of companies to start experimenting with the metaverse trying to implement it in their workflow and then try to see, is it really effective? And is it really working? And if it’s not working, you know, then it certainly is a trend that, you know, then fizzled out. If it is working, then it’s really there to stay. And I think 2023 is the year in which we’ll see that happen and in which that will be decided.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, I wanted to add to that as well, Eric, that I think especially from HR professionals, this will require a certain openness of their minds. And also curiosity as to what does the metaverse actually look like when we want to use it, how could we use it. And also, hopefully, a willingness to start experimenting with it, as you’re saying. So I really, really hope that as HR professionals, we can have this openness and this curiosity and just start to play with it so that we can see if it can actually be beneficial for us as an organisation. And for the people in it.

Erik van Vulpen: Absolutely agree. And I think there’s also a skills component, you know, you start to work with technologies that you may not have worked with before. But it also requires new skills, which is something that I’m very excited about. So I definitely agree there, Neelie.

Neelie Verlinden: And this, Eric, is a very nice bridge to our next snippet, because we’re going to look at Claude Silver, and she’s the Chief Heart Officer at Vanja media. And I believe also that you know her very well. So let’s hear what Claude has to say.

Claude Silver: HR needs to be remodelled a little bit. I think that there’s been an enormous amount of time and energy that’s been put into HR departments to protect the company. And I think we need to switch that to be: HR is partnering with the entire company, and partnering with all of its people, it’s not protecting the company, it’s partnering with. And that’s very, I mean, partnering is an active word, but in terms of, you know, HR, business managers, or business partners, like, there’s that element of coaching there, where you don’t have to have the answers, but you’re guiding people. So that’s what I, that’s where I think the world of HR will be changing, and is changing in pockets.

Neelie Verlinden: Claude, Eric, here is talking about this changing role of HR. And what I really love about what she was talking about here is how HR should be partnering with everybody in the company. And I think that really grasps an important part of what yeah, what HR should indeed be doing. But why did we choose this snippet is because we identified as one of the themes for next year, also the evolving role of the CHRO. So when we look at that, in particular, so the evolving role of the CHRO, what are some of the most interesting things that you’re seeing here?

Erik van Vulpen: I think the CHRO plays really a balancing act on the one hand, listening to the employees and getting a sense of what’s going on, you know, in the employee population and in society, and at the same time, we see a more and more strategic role for the CHRO. You know, advising on policies to ensure that productivity stays up and uptime stays up during a pandemic, in the midst of you know, war in Europe, how to relocate people, how to make sure that business can continues while we also take care of people. And I think that that’s something that Claude says very, or puts very very well. You know, HR is a partner, HR is not there, just for the business. HR is not there just for the employees. It’s very much bringing it together. How can we help people by helping the organisation and how can we help the organisation by helping people. And that is what I really like, and I think when you look at the role of the CHRO, I think the CHRO is evolving and has evolved over the past couple of years to be more and more a spokesperson for employees, but at the same time wearing a very strategic hat. So being that true partner and advising the CEO to speak out on the relevant topics that the employees care about.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah while I was listening to you, Eric, and then when I’m looking at the strands that we identified for next year, it almost feels like the evolving role of the CHRO is almost like an umbrella overarching all of these other developments that we talked about. Because if the CHRO doesn’t evolve, because they’re the driving, kind of the driving force, behind a lot of these developments like this, redefining hybrid and remote work, but also starting to experiment the metaverse, and also some of the things that we’re still going to talk about, it feels to me like, if the CHRO isn’t evolving in their role, then it will become a lot harder for a lot of these other trends to actually come to fruition.

Erik van Vulpen: I agree there. And I think what we’re seeing is that the scope of HR starts to increase and you know, with with complexity increasing, we also see that the complexity of the leader of HR to CHRO is also increasing. So you know, HR becoming more digital, becoming more data driven, being more responsive to employee needs, and sentiments in the broader society. Having a very outspoken employer brand that requires that CHRO person to also evolve and encompass all those additional areas. And you know, be that voice in the board to represent all of those. It also means that the role of the CHRO will become harder and harder and harder. And I think we’re actually already seeing that there is a shortage of highly qualified CHROs in general. And I think that is also a concern, you know, where does it stop? And what is then the expectation that we have our leaders? but maybe that’s a whole whole different topic, Neelie.

Neelie Verlinden: It is, Eric. But one last question about this, though still, what would you say are two of the most important skills for today’s Chief People Officers, CHROs?

Erik van Vulpen: I’m going to fall back on the two most important skills that I also mentioned in our trends report. Those skills are, first of all, awareness. Awareness is important because you know, the world is changing at a faster and faster rate, we see complexity in the role of the CHRO increasing, but we’re also seeing that the economical climate starts to change as well. We need to be aware of what is happening outside of the organisation, you know, when it comes to the economy, also inside in the organisation when it comes to employee sentiments, and also outside in when it comes to societal sentiments, about our brands, about social topics, because those topics will impact the way we govern as HR professionals and the decisions that we make, and the advice that we give to see the CEO as well. So I think awareness is one skill that is of critical importance. The other skill is agility. And agility is important for me, because agility is about having an orientation towards action. But at the same time, being able to be sufficiently flexible, that if things change, you know, you’re agile, and you take different actions. So, agility, for me goes together with awareness, where awareness is about understanding what’s going on agility is about acting on it, and also being able to adopt or adapt, I should say, when things change, and I think those two elements, you know, in the uncertain times that we’re heading towards, I think, are two skills that are of critical importance, whether it’s an HR professional, or CHRO, I would say awareness and agility.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, it makes total sense to me. And I was going going to add, because you said “if things change”, and I was actually gonna say “when things change”. Very nice. Okay, next up a snippet from the podcast we recorded with AJ Thomas, and she’s the Chief Chaos Pilot at X and nonprofit founder and executive coach, let’s listen to what she has to say.

AJ Thomas: I think that is not just about asking why something is important. But how we then land those things, whether it’s a benefits open enrollment, whether it’s this new, you know, Pay Transparency Act that’s happening, I think it behoves us to also think about not just checking the box that we did those things, but also making sure that we’re pouring into how did we do those things? Did we engage folks in dialogue? Did we create an opportunity for folks to be able to access that type of thinking of what it means for them as well, but also in balance, making sure that it’s fulfilling to the mission and the purpose of the organisation that we’re in, then, because it’s not just about you as a young person, knowing your purpose. Think about those young organisations, those early stage startups, right. Some of them have to pivot also sometimes because they bend to discover their purpose in a very different way and create new products or new ways in which they have their unique contribution in the world by continuously knowing that it’s something that is going to be continuously shaped and never final.

Neelie Verlinden: We just talked about how these these evolving roles CHRO are really just this a driving force behind a lot of developments. And I think the move that we’re now seeing towards organisations becoming more and more purpose driven. This is also something that is often initiated within the HR departments, and AJ here, she’s also talking about, yeah, about purpose and really purpose being something that is important for the organisation, but also for us individuals within the organisation. And it’s something that’s been talked a lot about as well. And something that we identified for 2023 and beyond. When we talk about creating purpose driven organisations, what, in your opinion, is the most important element to keep in mind?

Erik van Vulpen: I think a very good question to start with as an HR professional is, why do I practice HR in this specific organisation? And why don’t I practice HR, as you know, any of the different organisations where I can practice HR, what makes my organisation absolutely unique in that aspect? And I think, then you start to boil it down, you know, what makes your organisation unique, that is also the message that you want to communicate to employees, to prospective employees, you know, that will become part of your employer brands, etc. So I think when it comes to identifying that purpose, it’s really about you know, hooking that into what the organisation is trying to achieve, and what makes you unique as an organisation, and also as an HR organisation. And I think if you really identify that and figure out why you practice HR, in your organisation, you know, against all the other organisations, I think that is your starting point of creating a purpose for the broader organisation as well. And I think you can also test it by going to employees, you know, why do you work here and not at the competitor? I think you’ll find those answers very, very helpful in forming that purpose.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, absolutely. And what do you think about what AJ was saying about how it’s something that is always evolving? The purpose? How do you see that?

Erik van Vulpen: Yeah, I think a purpose, you know, a purpose can be a big thing, I think what AJ was trying to say is that kind of the, the journey to water and all the HR activities that you – that’s helped contribute, you know, continuously evolve and become increasingly complex. And we touched on that, when we were talking about the role of the CHRO. You know, there’s so many expectations that employees have of us as HR that are increasing in complexity that are continuously evolving. And I think purpose is one of these things that maybe 5, 10 years ago, people weren’t really talking about. Now, it is really something that you need to have. And I think there is business relevance to purpose as well. So, you know, when you talk to your business stakeholders, or you have a conversation, as a CHRO with the CEO, who’s asking, you know, “Why is this purpose so important?” I think purpose is really about, you know, what gets people up at night? And what makes people from normal workers towards engaged worker? And what is the trigger that makes sure that our people, you know, are not joining the laying flat movements, or the what is the name of the other movement?

Neelie Verlinden: Quiet quitting, but we can just say disengaged.

Erik van Vulpen: Why are people not disengaging, but you know, staying on top of their game, and really actively trying to contribute to what the organisation is trying to do? I think that has to do in a big part with that purpose of your organisation. It also has to do with, you know, whether you like your role and whether you have good colleagues, but purpose is also an important part of that.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, I loved what you were saying there, Eric, like when you have to explain this as a CHRO to your CEO, for instance, that purpose is what makes employees from just doing their job to being very engaged and employees. I think that’s exactly one of the differences that purpose makes so yeah, love that. Perhaps one last thing about this purpose driven organisation topic, Eric, though, what would you say to those who would argue that purpose is just another excuse for organisations to make that to make their people work really hard, and not necessarily treating them very well,

Erik van Vulpen:

I think it’s a balancing act, I know an organisation that, you know, is very committed to a very specific environmental goal, I can’t mention the goal, because then everyone knows what the organisation is. So what comes to mind for me is an organisation that is very well known, is linked to a very clear, concrete, environmental goal that everyone will agree that, you know, that’s a great thing to do, and to work towards. They’re very effective in hiring and bringing in people who, you know, don’t necessarily do it for the money, but who are experienced, who have years and years of experience who kind of made it already and then work there for a couple of years, you know, just to contribute to society. Their HR practices are really not that great. They don’t pay tremendously well, because, you know, they’re an NGO, so, you know, you don’t go there for the pay. You know, working there in itself is not the best experience, but because they have such a big purpose and they’re executing towards it, people are willing to take that for granted. Is that exploitation? I think, it’s a different employee value proposition. It is, you know, what do you value as an employee? Maybe when you’re younger, earlier in life, you want to make some money because you want to buy a house, you know, and that is top of mind. And I think that is very valid, so then that company might not be for you. But if you’re, you know, more advanced in your career you want to give back, that might just be the absolute best company to work for at that stage in your career. So I think you will also see differentiation between organisations and you know, there are organisations that are like a cult, and that say: “We do everything for a purpose”, you know, and if that is your thing, you know, then you may very well be there and have a very good match with that organisation. If that’s not your thing, you know, then you might not want to go there. So I say, what I’m excited about in this regard is that it will essentially create more distinct organisations, instead of you know, I can take five organisations and all organisations give me a comparable experience, you now see very different experiences at different companies. And I think that’s a great way for HR to set yourself apart as an employer of choice for a specific demographic that really wants to work for you.

Neelie Verlinden:

Eric, we have one last trend I really wanted to talk to you about. It’s about reshaping workplace learning. And I think the role that HR plays in that because HR should play a central role, I think in that. Now, this might sound really big to people who are listening, so maybe you can just tell us where to get, where to get started.

Erik van Vulpen:

Yeah, so what I like about the trends is we’re talking about strategic upskilling, strategic learning, and I think learning in HR can be much more strategic than it is today. And with strategic upscaling, I really mean identifying what the organisation needs to excel at, in order to win in the marketplace, and then based on those capabilities, upskill your employee population. So very concretely, concretely, for HR, it is, you know, which capabilities which skills do I need in order to realise my people strategy, for example, and then upscaling based on those capabilities. I think that is what organisations should do much more. So taking a much more strategic approach, identifying the capability and the organisation needs, and then moving back towards the capabilities that individuals need, and then upscaling in a strategic way. And I think that is really a big opportunity. Because we see that the world is changing faster and faster, especially in HR, we see that the role of the CHRO, the role of the HR professional is becoming increasingly complex. The question is, how do we make sure that we stay up to date, we don’t do that by learning everything, because there’s a lot to learn. We do it through strategic targeted upskilling. And that is really a trend that I’m seeing over time. And that I think, especially for 2023, will be increasingly relevant, you know, maybe as budgets potentially get cuts, because there’s an economic downturn coming, the upscaling and the budgets that we do have, we should really invest in strategic upskilling.

Neelie Verlinden: So strategic is the key word here, isn’t it, Eric? 

Erik van Vulpen: It is. 

Neelie Verlinden: Thank you very much. And thank you very much for this conversation.

Erik van Vulpen: Thank you very much Neelie. I appreciate it.

Neelie Verlinden: I enjoyed it. Thank you very much, everybody, for tuning in to today’s special episode, our season finale of season two of All About HR. We really appreciate it if you can subscribe to the channel, like this video and share it with a colleague, a friend or a family member. Thank you very much and see you for a new episode in 2023.

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