Broadening HR’s horizons

by 08 Jun 2007

THERE IS far more to being an HR professional and having an effective career than mere qualifications and attending courses, recent research has found.

The study, which explored assumptions about HR career development, revealed that 73 per cent of the 111 experienced HR practitioners surveyed had no formal HR qualification, while 69 per cent regarded a stint in line management of most value in progressing to very senior HR appointments.

“Two realities that emerge from this survey are to do with the recognition that a spell in a line role is of great value in an HR career –greater than an equivalent period in getting more HR experience – and that greater value arises from mentors, and from learning from external and internal experts in the various fields of HR, as opposed to attending acourses,” said Hugh Davies, managing director of Macfarlan Lane, which conducted the study.

“This is not to say that attending courses and seminars is a waste of time. It is just that we gain most in action learning guided by mentors and others we look to work with. Line experience is great for achieving credibility, and for tempering or framing advice later on in an HR role.”

The study found 77 per cent of generalists and 70 per cent of specialists felt they had learnt a lot from mentors, in-house functional specialists and consultants brought into an organisation, while the least value could be gained from courses and formal study. A further 54 per cent said they do not belong to any professional HR association.

Davies said HR is about building effective professional relationships with line managers (who are often more senior than the HR individual) and winning respect for providing useful, soundly balanced advice.

In addition, HR requires commercial acumen, maturity and quiet influencing skills rather than simple expertise in the specific fields of HR such as remuneration and culture surveys.

“HR is something which is shared with line managers, all of whom have people leadership responsibilities. There is no clear demarcation. These things make it hard to carve out a distinct profession or patch, so we live by the quality of our advice and our maturity, rather than any layering of professional qualifications,” Davies said.

There were three broad themes behind choosing a career in HR, according to the study. Many were enthusiastic about growing and developing people, while others said they fell into HR by accident. Close associations with competencies and fields of study also influenced moves into HR.

In terms of HR competencies, many rated themselves highly with regard to recruitment (40 per cent), policy and program development (45 per cent) and organisational development (44 per cent). However, many were not as confident when it came to remuneration and benefits and the regulatory environment.

In non-HR disciplines, 96 per cent rated themselves as above average in business strategy planning competencies, while 78 per cent felt they had average or below average competencies in financial analysis and reporting.

“Professional and managerial jobs require broad competencies, such as diplomacy, strategic thinking and so on, going well-beyond knowledge, Davies said.

“Competencies are combinations of aptitudes, preferences, behaviours and practices, which, taken together deliver effective outcomes with others.”

Competencies of specific importance to HR success included influencing (often indirectly), consulting (creating outcomes through others) and organisational leadership (often standing for important values and ethical standards and embodying these in advice and policies).

“The survey revealed these three to be of the greatest concern, or of greatest focus for HR people in achieving seniority,” Davies said.

The most frustrating aspects of HR careers included coping with administration and bureaucracy, poor behaviour and practices in line managers and lack of priority given to HR by the top leadership group.

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