New research highlights the main priorities of HR leaders and their strategy for the following year, 2021.

Gartner’s new report ‘2021 HR Priorities Survey’ reveals what the top priorities are for HR leaders and their strategy over the coming year.

Overwhelming, almost seven in 10 HR leaders (68 per cent) cited that building critical skills and competencies would be their main focus in 2021. Following this, just under half of leaders in HR (46 per cent) felt that their attention would be on organisational design and change management.

Other top priorities for HR leaders included building the current and future leadership bench (44 per cent), focusing on the future of work (32 per cent) and employee experience (28 per cent).

In terms of business-level priorities for the future, around two-thirds (65 per cent) of HR leaders stated their focus was on improving operational excellence. A similar number identified their main priority as growing the business. Just over half (54 per cent) wanted to focus on executing business transformations in 2021. Interestingly, half of HR leaders questioned (50 per cent) argued that they wanted to optimise costs in 2021, a 13 per cent increase from last year.

In order to do this, the research highlights key areas that HR must focus on:

  • Taking a new approach to reskilling – The research suggests that a dynamic approach to reskilling is most efficient as it allows a faster identification of skills needs and allows employees to apply 75 per cent of the new skills that they learn. Currently, only a fifth of HR teams (21 per cent) reported working with peers to determine future skills needs.
  • Redesigning work for responsiveness –  This year has had a significant toll on the information employees can retain as this has been cut in half from this time last year.
  • Solving the leadership gap – More focus must be placed on choosing efficient and diverse leaders. Under half of employees (44 per cent) stated that they trusted their organisation’s leaders to navigate a crisis well. Additionally, nearly 50 per cent of HR leaders reported that their company’s leadership bench is not diverse.
  • Identifiying the future of work trends that are relevant to your business – Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) say that their company does not have an explicit future of work strategy. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have a lasting impact on the future of work which HR must account for.
  • Driving employee experience whilst hybrid working – HR should leverage the hybrid workforce model of today and empower managers and employees to share ownership of location decisions, depending on what environment will drive productivity and engagement.

Mark Whittle, Vice President of advisory in the Gartner HR practice, said:

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, HR leaders are moving away from crisis management toward focusing on what will make their organizations strong, both today and in the future, including having the right skills and competencies, building resilience and having a strong cadre of leaders.

*This research has been taken from Gartner’s November 2020 report ‘Gartner Top HR Priorities Report’ which surveyed over 800 HR leaders across 60 countries.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.