Talent acquisition a barrier to boosting business agility, CHROs say

One year into the pandemic, talent tops executives’ concerns, but CHROs have asserted limited responsibility

Leaders say talent acquisition and development is a primary barrier to improving business agility.

The COVID-19 pandemic clarified many of the obstacles organizations must overcome if they are to improve business agility, the strategic imperative to survive and thrive in challenging times. C-suite leaders agree that talent acquisition and development is one of their primary barriers to agility. That’s according to a survey conducted by ESI ThoughtLab of 200 C-level leaders worldwide.

However, CHROs, the business leaders with the most influence over hiring and talent decisions, are not asserting responsibility for enterprise-wide agility.

Rather, CHROs report specific, role-based responsibilities. As a result, the business leader who is best positioned to address an enterprisewide challenge is confined to a silo.

Disconnect between hiring and agility

Throughout the pandemic, C-suite leaders have come to recognize the importance of hiring and talent acquisition in maintaining agility. But leaders are worried their business is not doing enough.

As a whole, C-suite leaders say developing and acquiring skills and talent is a top challenge in improving their organization’s agility. CEOs are especially worried: 70%, as opposed to 59% of CIOs, 55% of COOs, and 40% of CCOs.

Out of all leaders, the CHRO is best positioned to make substantive changes to hiring and talent acquisition. And 58% of CHROs agree with their peers that talent acquisition and development are barriers to agility. Unlike their peers, however, they may not see the link between talent and agility.

None of the CHROs surveyed say that they play a key role in boosting agility. A striking 80% report only limited responsibility for enterprise-wide agility. That is in stark contrast to their peers, who see themselves as directly responsible for fostering agility.

Role-based responsibilities

CHROs have a narrow view of their impact on the organization.

Overall, they report specific, role-based responsibilities: 98% say they are responsible for finding and developing talent, 88% take responsibility for building immersive employee experiences, and 75% take responsibility for employee training programs. But they do not see a link between these specific responsibilities and business agility.

Just 5% of CHROs said that their corporate culture, systems, and processes were agile before the pandemic.

As a result, they are not ranking their performance during the pandemic especially high. Just 5% of CHROs said that their corporate culture, systems, and processes were agile before the pandemic, and only 15% say they are agile now.

Agile culture

Fortunately, CHROs plan to widen their impact on the organization by investing in initiatives meant to boost business agility. Out of all C-suite leaders, CHROs are most likely to expect agility investments to generate a high return on investment. Already, 70% are seeing improved profitability, while 58% are seeing improved customer satisfaction, and half are seeing improved employee satisfaction.


of CHROs report increased investment in hiring and onboarding

Throughout the pandemic, CHROs have made limited strides in developing an agile culture. For many, that is about to change. Nearly one-third (28%) say they will take responsibility for developing an agile culture in the next year or two, as opposed to just 3% when the pandemic started.

To that end, CHROs are taking steps to foster collaboration across the enterprise and to build better hiring and training programs. A third of CHROs say they plan to invest in coordination across the org, while 58% expect to implement a digital enterprise platform that integrates workflows and teams across functional areas. A vast majority (95%) say they will invest in training and upskill programs, and a fourth will invest in new programs and experiences for staff.

Like their peers, CHROs expect to spend more on hiring and onboarding over the next few years; 58% of CHROs report increased investment in hiring and onboarding, versus 40% of CCOs, 63% of CEOs, 48% of CIOs, and 73% of COOs.

That said, C-suite leaders disagree on whether it is worth continuing to promote remote or flexible working. Only a fourth of CHROs say they are planning to invest more in remote or flexible learning, in contrast to 33% of CCOs, 65% of CEOs, 48% of CIOs, and 33% of COOs.

Overall, CHROs are hopeful that their investments in agility will generate high returns across the organization.