The world of HR has changed tremendously in the past few years. Today’s HR leaders must manage new high-level responsibilities while at the same time sourcing and retaining talent in today’s hyper-competitive environment, deal with growing cyber threats, and manage a host of compliance regulations and documents.

Here are a few of the most pressing challenges HR leaders have to juggle and strategies for overcoming them.

Becoming Business-Savvy

As organizations emphasize skills and the employee experience, HR leaders are assuming a more strategic role. “HR used to be the administrative department, pushing paper. Now the HR leader is the right hand to the CEO at most organizations,” says Tracie Sponenberg, SVP of Human Resources at the Granite Group, HR speaker, and member of an expert panel for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

To be a valued C-suite participant, HR leaders need to move beyond their traditional administrative and people-oriented focus and gain a better understanding of business. “You need to be able to read a balance sheet, know what a budget looks like, and learn the language,” Sponenberg says. 

Taking business classes and if possible, getting an MBA, will earn you respect. You should also have a thorough understanding of your company and its business sector. Attending industry events and having in-depth conversations with customers helps. 

It’s up to you to take the initiative. “I hear so many people say, ‘I don’t have a seat at the table.’ You have to stand up and take it,” Sponenberg says.

Finding Talent

Every organization wants the best and the brightest, but that’s a tall order, especially with unemployment hovering near historic lows. Seventy-two percent of CEOs are worried about the availability of key skills, according to PwC. Sixty percent of employers have vacancies lasting 12 weeks or more, costing an average of $800,000 a year. High-level technology skills are especially scarce.

HR managers should consider extending their recruiting to technical schools. They can also widen the candidate pool by hiring remote workers and tapping into the skills of retirees and others who want to get back into the workplace, including those who may have a criminal record but have fulfilled their sentences and are looking for a second chance. 

A little self-promotion doesn’t hurt, either. 

At Granite, Sponenberg says, “We had a wonderful culture, but no one knew about us.” The company ramped up its social media presence and entered best-place-to-work competitions, publicizing the results of those it won. “It’s time-consuming, but we heard back from potential employees, and also customers. People like to patronize good places to work,” Sponenberg says.

Retaining Employees

“Attracting employees is relatively easy compared to keeping them,” Sponenberg says.

Nearly 30 percent of workers leave their jobs in the first 90 days, a Jobvite survey found. Forty-three percent said their role wasn’t what they expected, over a third complained of a bad experience, and another third left because of company culture.

While offering amenities like free beer and ping pong may get people in the door, it won’t keep them there unless they get the support and attention they need. Front-line managers make or break the employee experience, Sponenberg says. 

Today’s employees crave feedback and help with career advancement, but many aren’t getting it. In the Jobvite survey, 57 percent of workers said they had been bullied by managers. Managers need leadership training so that they know how to give feedback, coach and handle difficult conversations.

Be sure you put the right people into management in the first place. Don’t provide advancement to staffers unless they show leadership aptitude or are eager to train for a supervisory position. “Sometimes you see companies put the best widget maker into a leadership role. It’s not the best move,” Sponenberg says.

Managing Documents

While the HR role has become more strategic, managers are still faced with a mountain of documents to process, and as federal, state, and local compliance laws multiply, the mountain only grows higher. 

Implementing efficient paperless solutions can help. Two-thirds of HR leaders report that automation of processes is the strategy of choice for reducing back-office administrative burdens.

 Digital document management with integrated self-service saves time by allowing employees to independently manage their information while giving the HR team the ability to easily find and track it. Employees can securely submit information relating to benefits, payroll, training, or other compliance related metrics. The lack of duplicate entry save time and avoids errors. “As a company, you don’t want to make an error that stops people from getting paid,” Sponenberg says.

Guarding Against Cyber Threats

Despite rising enterprise investment in cybersecurity, the problem is getting worse. The average company has a nearly 30 percent chance of being breached in the next two years, and the average cost of a breach is $3.92 million, according to Ponemon Institute’s 2019 Cost of a Data Breach study. 

Twenty-four percent of incidents are caused by negligent employees or contractors. Many companies require annual or semiannual online cybersecurity training. That’s a good start, but to make the training vivid and memorable, invite an expert speaker who can provide real-life examples and answer employee questions. 

You should also work closely with IT to keep up with the latest threats. Because HR is the gatekeeper of sensitive documents, it’s often a target of cybercriminals. The Goldeneye ransomware attack flooded HR departments with fake job applications containing malware-laden attachments. Accustomed to opening files with attachments, many clicked. HR workers are also blasted with phishing emails. Your IT or security department can offer tips to keep you from falling into these traps.

The world of HR professionals is more exciting and filled with more potential than ever. But to reach that potential, you need to open your mind to new ways of solving challenges, whether that means learning new skills, uncovering new sources of talent, or adopting new tools to speed your workflow and improve security. If you look beyond your niche and start thinking like a top business leader, pretty soon you’ll be one.

Learn more about the changing role of HR. Download the infographic The Evolution of HR: From Administrator to Strategist.


Nicole Hart is a seasoned global HR leader with over twenty years of experience. She focuses on organizational design, change management and workforce planning at Access which has 1800 employees in over 50 locations.