Development for Leaders and Managers: Top 2021 Priority for HR and L&D

As resilient business professionals everywhere stepped into a new year, Media Partners fielded a survey asking HR and Learning and Development (L&D) leaders and practitioners to identify their most pressing organizational culture priorities for 2021.

Developing agile leaders and managers who can shape effective cultures and meet the demands of a changed work world emerged as the most-pressing issue. It was ranked a high/very high priority by two-thirds of survey participants.

Read on to see what other issues got top rankings, and stay tuned for future posts on the survey ‘s findings related to anticipated challenges and training needs.


Culture is Critical

Organizational culture is a critical concern for companies, one made even more vital by the disruption in business and talent models caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other events of the past year.

When the outbreak occurred, companies quickly shifted to remote work settings for employees whose jobs could be accomplished away from organizational facilities. Essential workers continued to report for duty in workplaces that were adapted to accommodate social distancing and emphasize employee safety.

Now that COVID-19 vaccinations are rolling out, business leaders are considering who will return to workplaces and when, and new hybrid models are emerging to accommodate employees who split their time between onsite and remote work settings.

Through it all, organizational culture has been, and continues to be, the glue that bonds companies and their workforces and the enduring foundation of business performance.


#1 Ranked Priority

After a year in which organizational leaders have been challenged to keep companies afloat, employees productive, and cultures intact, it should come as no surprise to professionals in HR and L&D that development for leaders and managers topped the 2021 priorities list for 66% of survey participants.

Understanding—even redefining—leadership competencies that drive success in a disrupted and rapidly shifting work environment are expectations that have dropped squarely in the laps of HR and L&D. So, too, has the need to provide greater support for frontline managers who have found themselves called on to oversee suddenly virtual teams. It is those same managers who also have had to step up and have courageous conversations with employees on subjects ranging from emotional well-being to racial inequities.

When you consider your organization’s culture in 2021, to what extent are these topics a priority?

High/very high extent responses


#2 Ranked Priority

In the wake of last year’s tragic events underscoring continuing racial inequities in the U.S., it is understandable that HR and training functions recognize the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Six in 10 respondents (61%) said that attention to DE&I issues, including overcoming bias, were compelling priorities for 2021.

Given executive actions already taken by the Biden administration, it is clear that diversity will be top of mind nationwide, likely impacting training mandates for business enterprises—in particular, those companies fulfilling or bidding on government contracts.

Moreover, many organizations made promises to employees, customers, and other stakeholders following the deaths of George Floyd and others. Turning those promises into tangible actions will require strong support from HR and L&D functions, and many of those efforts will begin with thoughtfully designed training and skilled facilitation.


#3 Ranked Priority

Rounding out the top three priorities for 2021 is greater emphasis on building a culture of respect, noted by 59% of HR and learning professionals.  

Respectful workplace cultures are characterized by open communication; eradication of discrimination and harassment, elimination of bullying and incivility; and a pervasive understanding that every employee brings value and unique perspective to the organization.

Over the past year, the pandemic has brought out a greater emphasis on respect in many organizations: respect for employees, their needs, their mental health, and their work/life challenges (childcare, eldercare, financial well-being, and more).

In 2021 and beyond, companies will need to maintain and further evolve that heightened emphasis on respectful workplaces, whether work settings are actual or virtual. Employees have come to value and expect those new levels of consideration and compassion. For employers, that makes a culture of respect a vital component in attracting, engaging, and retaining key talent. And, by extension, a critical element in organizational performance.


Other Priorities

Topics ranging from customer service to virtual team performance and the need to upskill and reskill employees will demand attention in 2021 as well. It is clear that HR and L&D functions will play leading roles in ensuring that their organizations, leaders, and workforces are well equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed as the work of defining and building a new normal moves forward.

The Media Partners survey asked HR and learning professionals about eight topics that fit under the umbrella of culture—elements of it, reflections of it, and results of it. Respondents’ priorities demonstrate the connections and synergies between organizational culture and Media Partners’ core solutions, which cover:

    • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging
    • Sexual Harassment Prevention
    • Workplace Violence Prevention
    • Leader and Manager Development
    • Effective Workplace Communication

For information on effective training programs and products to address your top priorities for 2021—including access to expert facilitators in multiple topics—contact us.