2016 was not humanity’s best year. By some accounts, it may actually have been one of the worst in recorded history.

Still, it was a pretty epic year for HR — in a good way. And the great things that happened in this industry should be celebrated, even if the rest of the world is counting down the seconds until 2017.


We knew this would be a big year for HR, too. Just ask Forbes. Here were their predictions for top business trends for 2016, published on December 1, 2015:

  1. Top performing companies will focus on connecting customers
  2. Smart businesses will shift from complaining about to embracing millennials
  3. Innovative organizations will invest in mentoring and engagement for remote employees
  4. Top businesses will focus on strengths-based more than remedial leadership
  5. Commodity products will continue to see margins erode. Services will extend value
  6. Leaders will invest in a corporate culture of customer service to grow revenue
  7. Leading companies will measure and deliver results not just solutions
  8. Creative businesses will introduce fun and games to engage customers and employees
  9. The best companies will tightly integrate content marketing into their sales process
  10. Rapid growth companies will invest in developing “selling/solving” skills for non-salespeople

Fully six out of ten predictions for 2016 relate directly to people, leadership, or culture. Business, it seems, was fated to become a lot more human. Finally.

So as we bid adieu — and good riddance — to the fading days of this ill-fated year, let us look back on all the great things that happened in human resources.

To prepare this list, we gathered dozens of our favorite articles and interviews from the last 365-odd days, and then carefully distilled them into these 16 most pivotal, thought-provoking, and just plain great articles and resources.

Let them give you a positive lens through which to view the future. Let them change how you think about work. Because, more than anything, 2016 has been a year of growth.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

If you don’t have time to read all 16, here are three key takeaways:

  1. Employee Engagement is both buzzing and buzzworthy, but it may be on its way out. The next big thing? Employee experience.
  2. People analytics did have a moment in 2016 (as predicted). Not only that, but the structure of HR teams are changing to meet the demands of this increased focus on data and employee experience.
  3. We’re better at understanding what culture isn’t than what it is. We seem incapable of talking about culture without mentioning that it is not beer Fridays or ping pong tables. It’s something deeper and more integral to our identities. Culture is a deep, challenging, and complex topic and it is not — I repeat, not — the same thing as having a fun office environment.

Now let’s get started. Here are the top 16 articles and interviews of 2016, in no particular order.

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1. “Employee Engagement in U.S. Stagnant in 2015,” by Amy Adkins for Gallup

We’ve included the Gallup study on the list for two reasons. One, it helps to contextualize the subsequent 15 articles by underscoring the importance of improving the employee experience across the nation. Second, since only 32 percent of employees were engaged in the United States in 2015, it shows us just how far we still have to go towards making work better for everyone.

View the full report »

2. “Your HR Department is Having an Identity Crisis,” by Rebecca Greenfield for Bloomberg

“Forget payroll and benefits, and say hello to happiness and culture.” So says Rebecca Greenfield as she explores how—and why—the human resources industry is undergoing such a dramatic overhaul.

Greenfield looks at Mailchimp’s transition from their HR department to a culture-centric one, as evidenced by Marti Wolf’s promotion to chief culture officer. She also highlights the importance of building culture and engagement as necessities for organizations looking to stay competitive in the modern market.

Learn Greenfield’s take on HR’s new identity »

3. “The Human at Human Resources,” by Adrienne Green for The Atlantic

To me, the power of this article lies in how lovingly HR pro Jeni Strand talks about her work. She is not a Silicon Valley guru extolling the virtues of nap rooms (although we’re not opposed to this). Strand is simply a passionate and dedicated HR executive trying hard to make her company a better place to work.

“We’re getting more and more understanding about the fact that we’re employing a whole being. We’re employing their families, their history, what’s happening in their life, and we better get really good at accepting that nobody just leaves everything else at the door,” Strand says.

Read the full interview »

4. “What Google Learned From It’s Quest to Build the Perfect Team,” by Charles Duhigg for The New York Times

If you’ve ever wondered about the science of collaboration, give this article a thorough read. Charles Duhigg, award-winning author of The Power of Habit, dives into Google’s “Project Aristotle,” a 2012 initiative to “study hundreds of Google’s teams and figure out why some stumbled while others soared.”

The results will change how you think about teamwork, and hopefully make meetings more productive than ever.

See why some teams work better than others »

5. “The Ambition of a Human-Based Company,” by Gary Vaynerchuk

“I am the head of HR as much as I am the CEO of VaynerMedia,” writes Gary Vaynerchuk. In this article published on Medium in April of 2016, Vaynerchuk breaks down why he believes it’s important to be a human-based company — a concept we get behind in a big way.

“To build the company, I have to use the number one asset that I have: people and the relationships I have with them. In the past 7 years, VaynerMedia has grown from 20 employees to more than 600 across five different offices around the world. During that timespan, preserving company culture has always been the number one priority for me.”

Read what it means to be a human-based company »

6. “How Artificial Intelligence Will Redefine Management,” by Vegard Kolbjørnsrud, Richard Amico, and Robert J. Thomas for Harvard Business Review

“Practice 1: Leave Administration to HR.” Authors Vegard Kolbjørnsrud, Richard Amico, and Robert J. Thomas argue that AI will transform the workplace even sooner than we think, and cite an extensive survey conducted by Harvard Business Review on the topic to back their argument.

Why is this a really good thing for management? Because with administration automated, people have time to focus more on creative and cognitive tasks. It will also change the demands on employees, and therefore the required skills.

See how else AI will change the future workplace »

7. “HR Reinvented: The New People Teams,” by Maia Josebachvili for Greenhouse Blog

As VP Strategy, People & Marketing at Greenhouse, Maia Josebachvili thinks deeply about how HR teams are structured, and how that structure is changing. “Tomorrow’s winning companies will be the ones that are reinventing their HR Teams to become more deliberate, strategic, and holistic new People Teams,” she writes.

Not only does Josebachvili succinctly summarize the trends driving the change from HR to people operations, she also provides an insightful table that outlines the key differences between traditional HR and the new people teams.

Learn more about Josebachvili’s predictions for the future workplace »

8. “Beyond Ping Pong And Beer: What Really Drives Company Culture,” by Susannah Malarkey for GeekWire

Even if it’s hard to distill what culture is, we know what it is not. It’s not ping pong, or beer, or words on the wall. In this article, Susannah Malarkey draws upon her 20 years of experience as the head of the Technology Alliance to discuss what culture actually means for companies of the future.

“Simply put, it’s the companies who focus effectively on the human side of the business who win in the long run,” she argues, adding that, “The companies most effective at creating a positive environment combine healthy doses of challenge with authentic employee support.”

Learn Malarkey’s key drivers of company culture »

9. “The Workplace As An Experience: Three New HR Roles Emerge,” by Jeanne Meister for Forbes

“Human Resource departments are re-defining what ‘new normal’ is in the workplace by creating memorable employee experiences for employees,” writes Jeanne Meister. She argues that HR teams of the future will be adding these new roles to their roster: Head of Employee Experience, Recruiting Scrum Master, and Head of People Analytics.

These three roles take into account our increasing focus on new management methodologies, data and people analytics, and creating meaningful employee experiences.

See what these new roles will look like »

10. “Catalyzing Organizational Culture Change,” by” Ajit Kambil for Deloitte University Press

Read this next:

“How to Make Your Company a Better Place to Work”

Read article →

Company culture is starting to hit the mainstream, and author Ajit Kambil wants to help big businesses transition into this new kind of workplace. He gives actionable tips for how executives can drive positive change in a company’s culture.

“Culture is like an iceberg,” Kambil writes. “The bulk of it, the submerged part, comprises the shared beliefs and assumptions that are often shaped over generations and can sometimes punch a hole through titanic corporate initiatives. Which is why changing organizational culture can be both a priority and a challenge.” Preach.

Read how big corporations are managing cultural change »

11. “Great Employees Don’t Stay for the Free Food,” by David Rodnitzky for Huffington Post

As employee retention becomes an increasingly important topic to HR and people teams, this article serves as a reminder to focus on how you aim keep those employees around. Rather than emulating the perks of other companies or investing in objects that make the office seem more fun, it’s important to explore what truly drives your employees so you can focus on that.

“Perks are great, but great employees don’t stay at a company just because they get great benefits (or even great compensation),” writes David Rodnitzky.

See what does make them want to stick around »

12. “Five Reasons Why CEOs Are Clueless About Culture,” by Liz Ryan for Forbes

“Too many CEOs abdicate their cultural leadership role,” Liz Ryan argues. “They figure that the policies and benefits and managerial pronouncements all the way down the line will define the culture, and that’s a huge mistake.”

Ryan — who writes prolifically on topics of culture and people strategies — summarizes what can be a major roadblock for many culture-centric HR professionals: getting through to stodgy leadership.

Read Ryan’s take on the importance — and challenges — of cultural leadership »

13. “Purpose or Engagement? Is One Better Than The Other?” by Meghan M. Biro for TalentCulture

When we talk about the metrics of company culture, it’s easy to find ourselves in a rabbit hole of semantics and synonyms.

Still, it is important to think deeply about the words we use. In this article, TalentCulture CEO Meghan Biro discusses which is the true metric for success in HR.

“Purpose delves deeper than engagement—it’s the reason the company exists,” she argues, adding that, “employee engagement is tied closely to employee productivity and effectiveness, making it a critical component to success for your business.”

See which term wins in the workplace »

14. “Simon Sinek on the Future of Work,” with Simon Sinek & Marc Coleman for HRN

If you want to be inspired about the future of work, read or watch anything that involves Simon Sinek. The man’s a visionary.

“I wake up every morning with a very clear vision of my purpose,” he says in this 13-minute interview with Marc Coleman, CEO of HRN. “It’s to inspire people to do what inspires them, so together we can change our world.” :raised_hands:

Hear Sinek’s vision for the future of work »

15. “The Global Head of Employee Experience at Airbnb on Why They Got Rid of Human Resources,” with Mark Levy and Jacob Morgan for The Future Organization

Mark Levy and Jacob Morgan are two of the most pioneering thought-leaders in this industry, and both care deeply about making work a better place. Their shared passion makes for some pretty lively and inspiring discussions.

“If Airbnb had a Customer Experience Group, why not create an Employee Experience Group?” Levy asks in this episode of Morgan’s Future of Work podcast.

Give this episode a listen on your next commute »

To conclude this list, let’s look ahead to 2017. In this article, author Lydia Dishman chats with Glassdoor’s chief economist to learn what made 2016 a remarkable year, and why big change is coming to HR in 2017.

The first prediction?

“2017 is going to be the year human resources transforms itself into ‘people science.’”

See what else HR has in store in 2017 »

Tada! :tada:

So there you have it: a hefty list for a hefty year. If you liked those resources, check out some of the most-read articles we published on Hazel Blog in 2016:

  1. How to Make Your Company a Better Place to Work
  2. 12 Experts Share Their Best Advice on How to Improve Workplace Culture
  3. A Glimpse into Nike’s Culture

Over to You!

Did we miss any of your favourites articles from 2016? Let us know in the comments below!