HR professionals in 2012- agility required!

by 23 Feb 2012

As many sections of the economy will be a roller coaster ride this year, companies are now faced with looking ahead and planning to meet the challenges of an unpredictable world. Businesses are striving to stay competitive in the face of increased competition from cheaper producers overseas, and battling a strong dollar in export markets. But what does all this mean for HR?

In this month’s Instep, we look at comments made by three HR leaders on what they see as some of the key capabilities required for HR professionals to assist their organisations deal with the challenges of changing markets. There were clear synergies in their responses!

 HR’s response

At a recent executive breakfast held in Brisbane and hosted by The Next Step, a panel of HR leaders consisting of Rolf Moses, HR Director Australia for law firm Norton Rose, Leanne Whicker, General Manager, HR & Strategy for Sunsuper, and Greg Christensen, EGM Business Services at Sucrogen all described the challenges of their respective sectors. Whilst each leader thought that their HR communities had their own respective individual industry challenges to adapt to, there were some common themes for HR in every sector.

As business models change, so HR has to take on extra responsibilities and do it quickly, was the first clear theme. The second was a requirement for HR to help the business be ‘change ready’ as the need for change accelerates with shorter planning cycles. The final theme was described by the panel in one word and became a theme throughout the discussion – the need for HR to be ‘agile’.

Agility in the HR context

The panel discussion about agility in an HR context begged the question – what is this, and is this really anything new? One could argue that over the last three years every company has had to be agile, in some cases just to survive. The panel thought that agility in HR was about assisting companies to adapt to a rapidly changing and fluid situation where a number of factors could change and re-write the rulebook overnight. These include technological change as well as rapidly changing and growing customer expectations.

Whilst these challenges for HR resonated with all the panellists there were some clear examples. Leanne Whicker from Sunsuper said that post-GFC, customers are more mindful and interested in their Superannuation Fund performance and more demanding for information. For Rolf Moses the emphasis in the post-GFC world is about keeping a lean organisation of highly skilled talent and operating as one firm to take advantage of opportunities.

 HR professionals and agility

The panel discussion certainly highlighted the need for HR professionals who want to be ready to meet the challenge to have a combination of the right behaviours, change skills and commercial acumen to be agile.

Agility is also about HR professionals who are focused on transformation. People who turn up and decide to make things happen through a clear understanding of the business, was how Greg Christensen described it.

However, the pace of change is also a factor that people have to deal with. Rolf Moses was clear that we have to be able to act without all the information necessary. Take what is available and advise the best course of action. Be willing to make a decision in that environment.

So whilst everyone was broadly aligned on the attitude needed to meet the challenges of a faster moving world, there was also a sting in the tail. In The Next Step’s inaugural HR survey in 2010, being repeated now for 2012, only 7.3% of respondents felt that development of their commercial or financial skills was important for their professional development. It is time to get real on this point.

As Greg Christensen reinforced, learning the business is a key. Expectations in businesses have accelerated. Being agile is not just about moving at speed, it is about applying our technical knowledge in a commercial environment for the best outcome for the business.

The final word

This year will undoubtedly be unpredictable, and it will be interesting to see whether more of the HR profession has changed their opinion on the importance of commercial and business understanding as part of their development in order to show true ‘agility’. The panel in Brisbane were clear on its importance, and the 2012 HR Viewpoint Survey will be a telling barometer of wider opinion.


About the author

John Baker is the Director of The Next Step's Brisbane office. For additional information call (07) 3121 3225 or email Website: 


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