The future of leadership is human – Developing successful people leaders

Katie Burke, Chief People Officer at Hubspot, details some of the skills that matter most in developing current and future people leaders.
By: | September 3, 2021

According to a recent Microsoft report, 41% of employees globally are considering leaving their jobs, a data point that has been highly reported. What has been under-reported, however, is the number of companies desperate to find forward-thinking people leaders across core human resources, recruitment, and employee experience to help organisations develop initiatives that help shape the future of work.

Data from Hays suggests 63% of HR professionals are seeking new opportunities. Needless to say, companies and leaders need to be thinking about meaningfully engaging and developing talent in the people space. 

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“Now more than ever, companies need people professionals to help drive talent strategies that deliver.” – Katie Burke, Chief People Officer at Hubspot.


So, what does it take? Below are a few of the skills that matter most in developing current and future people leaders:

Empathy: COVID-19 brought with it certainly a global health epidemic, but also a mental health crisis and a lot of turbulence and change for people, both in their lives and work. Now more than ever, we need a shift away from HR leaders managing administration and forms and instead becoming the centre of an organisation’s empathy, heart, and compassion.

In July this year, HubSpot leaders declared a Global Week of Rest, a full week off for all employees to prioritise wellbeing after a challenging year. Employees look to organisations and people teams to cultivate this type of empathetic initiative. 

Leaning into the future versus the past: Everyone has a view of what “work” looks like, and often it is shaped by your own experience going into an office, commuting, and meeting with folks around a conference room. As regions around the world re-emerge post-pandemic and return to a level of normalcy, there will be a temptation to fall back to pre-COVID-19 norms.

Forward-thinking people leaders need to help their organisations balance traditions with innovation. Knowing that employees want employers who embrace new ways of working, people leaders need to help shape the future versus relying on the rules of the past.

Leading with data: People analytics, operations and systems teams within people organisations have historically not been as celebrated as they should be. The truth is, people data represents meaningful opportunities to help your organisation be more diverse, more inclusive, and more compelling for top talent in your company.

Training people leaders to adopt leading with data versus following with it will help ensure companies get the insights they need to drive business impact at global scale. 

Crafting great communications: During COVID-19, we realised our internal communications organisation, which had previously been rather informal, needed both investment and intention behind it. Now, our culture and internal communications team work hand-in-hand to ensure employees get communications they need via channels that resonate.

Moreover, because we know that having more than 4500 employees globally means that not every email or Slack is read, we need to ensure our directors around the world are equipped with the right messaging to inform their teams. Most HR professionals are not trained to be great marketers, but as companies grow, it is more important that teams be able to cut through the clutter and tell a compelling story to capture people’s attention and interest.

Now more than ever, companies need people professionals to help drive talent strategies that deliver. To do that, organisations and leaders need to help their human resources teams develop and operate differently than they have in the past.

It is great news that people leaders are getting the kudos they deserve; now it is on all of us to ensure they get the training and support they need to grow into the roles companies and employees expect of them. It is a tall and humbling order, but it is mission critical that we help folks learn to do it, and do it well.

Katie Burke is Chief People Officer at Hubspot, and will be presenting a session titled The Future of Leadership Is Human – How To Develop Successful People Leaders on Wednesday, September 22 at 10.30am (SGT), at HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2021.