HR with an attitude

by 15 Dec 2008

HR PROFESSIONALS must become “credible activists” mastering competencies dealing with both people and business issues in order to become successful practitioners.

This competency, described as “HR with attitude”, is one of the six distinct domains outlined in the findings of a comprehensive 20-year study into what HR competencies are needed to succeed in business.

Overall, the study found that HR professionals who emphasised the people side at the exclusion of the business side might be well liked and popular, but they would not succeed, because their work does not further business goals.

On the other hand, HR professionals who focused on the business side without sensitivity to the human element would also not succeed because, although the business might prosper in the short term, people would not sustain success in the longer term.

Furthermore, the study stated that HR professionals who would have succeeded 30, 20 or even 10 years ago would not be as likely to succeed today.

The global study, Human Resources Competencies: Responding to Increased Expectations, conducted by the RBL Group which was co-founded by Dave Ulrich, outlined how HR can engage employees, serve customers and create intangible shareholder wealth. Only through possessing six distinct competencies, can HR experts respond to the increased challenges that face contemporary organisations.

The six distinct competencies needed, outlined in a competency model are: credible activist, culture and change steward, talent manager/organisational designer, strategy architect, operational executor and business ally.

HR professionals mastered these competencies to varying degrees. On a relationship level a “credible activist” means that HR professionals who are credible but not activists are admired but do not have much impact. Those who are activists but not credible may have ideas but will not be listened to.

On an organisational capability level, the findings state that as stewards of culture, HR professionals respect the past culture and also can help to shape a new culture.

Also on that level as a talent manager or organisational designer, HR is not just about talent or organisation, but about the combination of the two. Good talent without a supporting organisation will not be sustained, and a good organisation will not deliver results without talented individuals with the right competencies in critical roles.

As a strategy architect, the HR professional also contributes to the building of the overall strategy by linking the internal organisation to external customer expectations. This linkage helps make customer-driven business strategies real to the employees of the company.

The report states that on a systems and processes level, employees have many administrative needs (eg, to be paid, relocated, hired, and trained), so an HR professional, as an “operational executor”, must ensure staff needs are efficiently dealt with through technology, shared services, and/or outsourcing. This operational work of HR ensures credibility, if it is executed flawlessly and grounded in the consistent application of policies.

And, financially, as a business ally, HR professionals contribute to the success of a business by knowing the social context or setting in which their business operates. They also know how the business makes money, which is described as the value chain of the business.


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