Ask Jeff Smith, HR Executive: What Should HR Focus On in 2024?
With a career spanning decades, Jeff Smith, BlackRock former global human resources executive, has rightfully established himself as a leader in the HR space. His tenure at BlackRock, one of the world’s leading investment management firms, solidified his reputation as a visionary HR executive. Having navigated the complex world of talent acquisition, employee engagement, and organizational development, Smith’s tenure at BlackRock showcased a unique blend of strategic insight and an unwavering commitment to fostering a growth-oriented, productive workplace culture.
From recruitment to retirement, Jeff Smith views each phase as an opportunity to enhance organizational productivity and the individual experience within the workplace. His perspective can guide HR professionals seeking to transcend the traditional boundaries of their roles and contribute meaningfully to organizational success. These are some key aspects HR execs are focusing on now and for the foreseeable future.
The Evolving Role of HR: A Glimpse Into 2024
A key theme for 2024 is the human element of human resources management. In an era dominated by technology and automation, Smith argues that the basis of HR lies in understanding and championing the needs of the workforce. “I prefer to work in and grow companies that actually care about people as much as most companies pretend to care about people,” he says.
“If you understand the people you’re working with, you’re going to appreciate diversity more. And that’s not just measurable diversities, but all diversities,” Jeff Smith, BlackRock’s former HR exec, told ExCo Leadership.
In 2023, 77% of companies globally reported talent shortages, according to the Manpower Talent Shortage Study. Hiring the right person for the job is essential to any successful business. “I care as much that the candidate is evaluating me and my team and organization as we are evaluating them. For it to be effective, it needs to work both ways,” Smith told ExCo. “I want people to feel comfortable. I’m not trying to trick anyone.”
As part of managing careers — and that starts with hiring — HR professionals gearing up for 2024 should pay attention to the importance of investing in soft skills. Emotional intelligence, effective communication, and empathy aren’t just buzzwords; they’re tools that can revolutionize the workplace. In a world where remote work and virtual collaboration are the new norm, connecting with employees on a human level becomes paramount.
“In HR, though, I think people can learn industries, and if you bring in people with the right skills and personality and culture fit, then I think it is much easier to have those things and learn industry than have industry and change your skills, personality, and fit for the culture,” Smith explains.
While the human element remains at the forefront of HR, Smith acknowledges the transformative power of technology. In the age of artificial intelligence, data analytics, and automation, HR professionals must strike a balance between technology and human touch.
“It is a huge advantage to have the best talent that is motivated and incentivized to make decisions for the company in a way they would about themselves,” says Smith.
Technology should enhance, not replace, the human experience in HR. In 2024, successful companies will continue leveraging technology to streamline administrative tasks, allowing HR professionals to focus on strategic initiatives. It’s a balancing act for HR departments that must invest in cutting-edge HR technology that augments efficiency while preserving the personal touch that defines human resources. Technology will be crucial in facilitating seamless remote work experiences, with HR at the forefront of implementing solutions that support a distributed workforce.
Jeff Smith: Navigating Change in a Fast-Paced World
Change is the only constant, and HR professionals must be adept at navigating the ever-evolving landscape of the business world. Smith advocates for an agile HR approach that embraces change as an opportunity for growth rather than a threat.
“I think most of the opportunity and action is in times of change,” he says. “Just being curious leads you to understand your environment better. To understand people better [and] to try to find solutions to issues that maybe aren’t standard or aren’t the easiest leads to change.”
In 2024, the emphasis on agility is more pronounced than ever. The global workforce is experiencing unprecedented shifts, from hybrid work models to the integration of artificial intelligence.
Jeff Smith doesn’t think innovation is the totality or should be the goal of any HR function. He advised HR execs to establish a foundation to innovate on top of. He points out, “I think getting the basics right and executing them is far more important before you are innovating. Pay people right, have great hiring practices, develop [the] leaders, have a culture of feedback, ensure leaders know their expectations and have good solid processes, then innovate on top of that where it is important to the business.”
As HR professionals chart their course into the future, the legacy of leaders like Jeff Smith serves as a guide toward a new era of human resources excellence. He strives to pay it forward with his HR executive expertise. “I have been very fortunate to have mentors and strong leaders in every job I have had, and they have crossed gender and races, so I have not had a single type of mentor in terms of style or background, which I think has been critical,” says Smith.
The future of HR is dynamic, shaped by a confluence of technological advancements, cultural shifts, and the evolving expectations of the workforce. As we prepare to step into 2024, the exec’s insights provide a compass for HR professionals navigating the constantly evolving terrain of human resources.
Leader and manager development includes succession planning. “Leaders need to drive change and help drive strategy and create culture,” says Smith. “Part of this is skill development, but part of it is creating the right job for leaders and managers and the right incentives to do it — both compensation and recognition. Data suggests many people do not want to be leaders or managers, and people who are successful in what they are doing need a reason to take on more and different responsibilities.”