Frontline Intelligence - HR Recruitment: Professional development in HR

by 25 Jul 2012

The HR function is responsible for the design and execution of professional development (PD) opportunities for organisations. Often the challenge that presents itself is the tension that exists between PD programs that concentrate on functional expertise versus those that concentrate on broader management and commercial capability.

HR professionals also need to ensure that their own PD is technically equipping them for their role as well as accommodating the business context they are operating within. To effectively manage and focus development at both ends of the spectrum is certainly a balancing act!

This month, we look at how well HR is doing in this Balancing Act as there appears to be a disparity between the areas that HR professionals are focusing their PD activities in and the areas that the business considers to be the most important.

The numbers

The PD preferences of HR professionals was just one of the many areas examined by the recently published 2012 Global HR Viewpoint Survey (Viewpoint) conducted by The Next Step. The Viewpoint is based on the responses from almost 3,000 HR professionals within Australia/New Zealand, Asia and the UK/Europe.

There are some clear messages about the preferences of HR professionals regarding their PD in the Viewpoint data. When we asked in the survey what PD HR professionals considered to be the most important from a technical capability perspective, the results in the survey showed that in Aus/NZ:


  • 32.1% cited Organisational Development;
  • 24.3% cited Change Management;
  • 8.0% cited Financial/Commercial skills;
  • 4.3% cited Line Management experience.


Functional expertise

It seems that PD for interest-driven professionals like those in HR is often skewed towards technical expertise instead of general management and commerce. So despite all the talk of “understanding the business”, the evidence in the Viewpoint data indicates that in many cases, HR professionals focus their PD efforts in functional knowledge.

One third of HR professionals considered Organisational Development to be the most required technical capability, making it the most sought-after PD strategy. This was followed by Change Management, with a quarter of all HR professionals focusing their PD efforts in this area. Perhaps not surprisingly given the broader economy and its associated challenges, this figure has increased significantly by 6.4% from the previous HR Viewpoint results in 2010.

Commercial acumen

Given the small percentage of respondents who indicated Financial/Commercial skills as their key PD area, it raises the question of how widely the message is being received on the importance of the role that commercial acumen plays. With only marginal improvement, this figure has increased 0.7% since the 2010 HR Viewpoint.

Linking directly to this, only a very small percentage of HR professionals indicated that some Line Management experience would have the most impact on their career. This is even fewer than those in 2010, with 0.6% less focusing their PD efforts in this area. Our interpretation of these results is that the high regard that business stakeholders hold for those HR professionals who have done a stint in a Line role (and essentially can show they “walked the talk” when it comes to advising business leaders on people management) is perhaps contradicted by the number of HR professionals that see the benefit in doing so.

Increasing business expectations

Another interesting piece of data in the Viewpoint is that 81.0% of HR professionals in organisations employing over 1,000 people indicated they work within the Ulrich model. The underlying premise of the Ulrich model is that HR professionals need to be commercially savvy.

For instance, HR Business Partners are increasingly required to be capable of having meaningful and credible conversations with their business stakeholders.

The final word

All areas of professional expertise need to technically equip themselves for their roles but also be able to think commercially to ensure they understand the financials and can contribute to the business objectives.

Although this concept is widely discussed and understood, it seems there is an opportunity for the HR profession to ensure a more balanced approach is being taken in PD to close the gap between the rhetoric of needing to be commercial and a concerted effort to develop in this area.

HR professionals with the ability to demonstrate their capability in commerciality are likely to be in a very strong position to stand out from their peers in an increasingly competitive market and add real value to the business context they are operating within.

For more information about the 2012 Global HR Viewpoint Survey, please contact The Next Step

About the author

Lisa Robson is a Consultant within The Next Gen division of The Next Step, a specialist consulting practice in the human resources market. For more information call (02) 8256 2500 or email Website: