New topics for the HR professional

by 11 Jun 2009

It is worth HR's while to become experts in emerging HR and business topics, writes David Creelman

Most HR professionals are eager to learn new things. We study tech niques for training, recruitment, compensation and so on. These are all impor tant topics, but they have been around for decades. It can be interesting – and a good career move – to build expertise in less mature HR topics. If you pick a subject where there is no textbook and no college course then you have a chance not to learn from experts but to be the expert.

There are four topics where there are still a lot of unknowns, and that means there is a lot of op portunity to discover better ways of doing things. Following the best practices of other companies is not enough in this area, you have to create your own best practices – that’s an in teresting challenge for an ambitious HR leader.

Web 2.0 is an area that is rich with prom ise; the term includes tools like wikis, blogs, social networking and prediction markets. Web 2.0 is all about getting people to work in groups and that’s a great area for HR to investigate.

Contingent workers are not a new phe nomenon, but it is an area where HR practices are underdeveloped. Unlike Web 2.0 which is still experimental, the contingent workforce is already a large expense in most organisations; progress in this area has an immediate payback. What is striking is that HR has invested an enormous amount of effort in how to re cruit, reward, train, and motivate permanent employees; whereas relatively little effort has been put into getting the best out of contin gent workers. Learning how to manage the total workforce (permanent and contingent workers) is an area rich with promise.

Analytics is another area where HR lead ers can break new ground. Analytics just means doing some analysis of data; for ex ample, if you analyse employee performance by source of hire you can find out which source of hire gives the best employees. There is a lot of data in HR systems these days but very few companies have devel oped skills at getting useful insights out of that data. Pick up Thomas Davenport’s book, Competing on Analytics, and you’ll see this is an exciting new area to explore.

Virtual teams, where team members are in different locations, are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Virtual teams are becoming so important that developing ex pertise in what makes them successful will be a great aid to your organisation.

Once you have educated yourself on a topic it is natural to become an enthusiastic propo nent of the subject and urge managers to try it out. This is natural but it may not be the best strategy. Busy managers are not eager to try out someone’s pet ideas. Enthusiasts often end up angry because no one wants to take advantage of their new expertise.

The best strategy is to talk to managers about problems and opportunities. When you really understand their situation then you will eventually find situations where your new found knowledge genuinely is of use. If you are working to address their need, rather than working to promote your area of interest, then you will be much more successful.

By David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research. dcreelman@creelmanresearch.com