What's Next? Key Findings from the 1999 State-of-the-Art & Practice Study

By Wright, Patrick M.; Dyer, Lee et al. | Human Resource Planning, December 1999 | Go to article overview
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What's Next? Key Findings from the 1999 State-of-the-Art & Practice Study

Wright, Patrick M., Dyer, Lee, Takla, Michael G., Human Resource Planning

The HRPS 1999 State-of-the-Art & Practice (SOTA/P) study entailed interviews and surveys of 232 HR and line executives, consultants, and academics worldwide. Looking three to five years ahead, the study probed four basic topics: (1) major emerging trends in external environments, (2) essential organizational capabilities, (3) critical people issues, and (4) the evolving role of the HR function. This article briefly reports some of the study's major findings, along with an implied action agenda--the "gotta do's" for the leading edge. A sense of urgency emanates from some underlying themes: the increasing fierceness of competition, the rapid and unrelenting pace of change, the imperatives of marketplace and thus organizational agility, and the corresponding need to buck prevailing trends by attracting and especially retaining and capturing the commitment of world-class talent. While it all adds up to a golden opportunity for HR functions, there is a clear need to get on with it--to get better, faster, and smart er--or risk being left in the proverbial dust. Execute or be executed.


Over five years, the State-of-the-Art & Practice (SOTA/P) study has become a central activity of The Human Resource Planning Society. With the overall objective of pinpointing emerging developments, the study seeks to arm human resource professionals with timely information helpful to the preparation of appropriate strategies to handle such developments. This article provides a brief report of the key findings from the 1999 survey, along with a few implications for action.

Exhibit 1 shows the researchers who gathered the data, plus the geographical distribution of the 232 respondents. Just under one-third of the respondents were from the United States; most of the remaining were from Venezuela and Australia/New Zealand, with smaller numbers representing Canada, Asia Pacific, Japan, and Europe. The majority of respondents were human resource executives (138, or 59%), but the sample also included 42 line executives (18%), 29 consultants (13%), and 23 academics (10%).

The survey adopted a three-to-five-year time horizon and probed four basic topics: (1) major emerging trends in the external environment, (2) the three most important organizational capabilities/critical success factors required to deal with these trends, (3) critical people issues to address, and (4) ways in which an ideal HR function would address these challenges and issues.

Emerging Environmental Trends: Fierce Competition, Getting Fiercer

This year's SOTA/P respondents foresaw familiar, but intensifying, environmental challenges; namely, unending demands for growth and improved business results in an increasingly globally competitive and complex business milieu.

Key Finding #1: If you're not driving the competition, the competition will be driving you. When reflecting on environmental trends, an overwhelming majority of respondents (across all geographic regions and occupational groups) mentioned, either directly (44%) or indirectly (47%), some aspect of enhanced global competition. Two other frequently mentioned trends were an acceleration of the already rapid flow of technological advances (44%) and an ever-expanding number of mergers and acquisitions (18%). In brief, the respondents clearly viewed globalization, technology, and industry structure as domains in which firms will increasingly either, as the saying goes, "eat lunch or be lunch."

Key Finding #2: The competitive war will be fought on two fronts. Just over one-fourth of the respondents anticipate serious labor shortages in the years ahead. This concern was particularly acute in the United States (57% of respondents) and among human resource executives (32%) and consultants (31%). In addition, again particularly in the United States and among HR executives and academics, is the anticipated spread of the oft-noted change in the psychological contract between employers and employees.

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What's Next? Key Findings from the 1999 State-of-the-Art & Practice Study


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