Monday, January 5, 2009

HR Skill Set: What you need in these Chaotic Times

We have all said, these are crazy times and that business is forever changed. What does this mean for HR? Last week, I posted a blog that argued HR’s time to be strategic is now. So, what kind of skills will it take for an HR professional to be successful in the next 5 years?

I believe the usual HR competencies still apply:

1) HR Technical knowledge- Be in expert in the field, i.e. benefits, compliance, employee relations, etc.
2) Change Management skills- HR must lead and not follow.
3) Performance Management - It is all about performance.
4) Workforce planning/Staffing - Right people in the right seat at the right time.
5) Strategic focus- Understand the business, the direction, and how HR can impact results

I believe these are the ones that are needed now:

1) Analytical thinking- Demonstrate impact/ROI of HR programs, track trends in workforce planning, metrics, etc., link employee behaviors to customer loyalty and measure results. Shift from making decisions by gut to decisions by data.
2) Understanding the organization’s customer and the service culture-Understand what value the organization brings to the customer, make sure employees deliver on that value and design infrastructure to support service delivery.
3) Relationship builder-Ability to build relationships with line managers, executives, vendors, etc. in order to share knowledge and collaborate on solutions.
4) Business consultant-by understanding the business HR aligns all systems to support business strategies, goals and objectives.
5) Operational expert-HR studies operations to create and improve best processes.

Next question, if you don’t have all of these, how do you go about obtaining those? I am asked that question at least 2-3 times per month. Thoughts?


Anonymous said...


Interesting post. I have a couple of thoughts.

First, I guess I found it a bit disheartening that you consider HR "technical knowledge" to be benefits, compliance, employee relations and so on. Those are primarily administrative functions, and if that's the "technical base" for HR, then I think we're screwed!

I would consider HR 101 to include things like (and you mentioned most of these as separate items): Understanding how your company makes money (and understanding what you need employees to do to support how your company makes money, AND motivating employees to do the things that support how your company money... you get the picture), onboarding, training, employer branding, strategic recruiting, including the use of valid and reliable selection criteria.

Leave the administrative stuff to admins and legal.

A lot of the "new ones" you've identified I think fall into "understanding the business." I think relationship building is a great one - not just for HR but for anyone in the business world. That's how you get your ideas implemented.

Regarding your question: "If you don't have all of these, how do you go about obtaining those?" I would say that you don't.

As the HR mantra goes, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Truly successful people don't worry about their weaknesses as much as they focus on their strengths. That means that the super strategic HR pro who develops an awesome new program won't necessarily be fantastic at managing it on a day to day basis.

Someone who manages a company's employer brand might not be great at training.

I think it's in the best interest of HR professionals to find the stuff their both excellent at and passionate about and spend more time improving those skills than worrying about gaining all of the competencies on a long list.

- Chris

Unknown said...


I guess when I think about technical HR, I think of those thinks that are transactional in nature. When I did my formal HR program that gave me my tehcnical skills it was all about benefits, recruiting, employee relations, etc. When I think of strategic I think of planning, strategy, alignment, forecasting, etc. more transformational. I belive you have to be good at the basics....the transactional before you can move to the strategic. I do think you can learn the strategic, I have seen it happen many times. My point is if you dont learn the strategic then you may be out of a job.

Anonymous said...


Lots of really interesting points here.

I would certainly echo your viewpoint that analytical thinking skills are a much-needed HR competency. The ability to understand, interpret, and communicate data that illustrates the ROI of workforce investments (in terms that a CFO or CEO converse with) are only now becoming a staple of HR training programs. With workforce planning on the rise, these skills are invaluable for HR professionals today and in the future.

I would also suggest that teaching skills are also important; as HR devolves activities to line partners, the ability to teach others about managing human capital will ensure that responsibility doesn’t just fall back onto HR in the event that the line isn’t receptive.

As to where to find these skills? Firstly (and apologies for the blatant advertisement), attend an Infohrm workforce analytics or workforce planning workshop. We train thousands of HR professionals around the world each year.

Alternatively, use your firm’s internal networks to partner with non-HR professionals (Finance staff for ROI training, Operations staff for Process design, Sales staff for understanding customers—internal and external).

If nothing else, building the skills, or seeking alliances with internal partners, can be a whole lot cheaper than buying the skills from outside.

Unknown said...


I agree on the teaching piece...thanks for that. You make a good point there are many external adn internal ways to build these skills....thanks!

Anonymous said...


You wrote, "I believe you have to be good at the basics....the transactional before you can move to the strategic."

Might I ask why? Does experience in employee relations of benefits processing help you better align employee behaviors with the organization's goals? Does compliance and risk management have any impact on the skills that enable you to understand the business and develop value-added engagement programs?

The "transactional" stuff is the stuff I think we should be outsourcing, so we can focus on what really matters - adding value.

Transactional is important, don't get me wrong. But I think transactional and strategic are two entirely different skills sets. It's the same reason why great engineers don't always make great managers.

- Chris

Unknown said...


From what I have seen, if an HR department (not an individual, per se) can't do the basics then they loose credibility and are not given the opportunity to do the strategic stuff, because there is no trust there. I agree, I wish all that transactional stuff was outsourced and we could do the fun stuff all day!! (the stuff that matters and adds value). I do belive it is 2 seperate skill sets....but I do belive a successful tranactional HR person can be taught the strategic skills...

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great discussion and hits many of the issues that make workforce analytics and/or planning as much of an "art" as it is a "science". So much of the success of analytics iniatives within an organization are due to the "credibility" of the existing hr team - sometimes even more than the actual measures that are being analyzed!
Having the "right" measures are extremely valuable, and will provide a great starting point for any program. I have included a link of a presentation from from ahile ago (5 Key Metrics to Impact Business Results) that may be of interest to this blog

Curious to comments/feedback from this group

Unknown said...

Hi Brian:

Thanks very much for the link. I was able to listen to most of the presentation before I have to leave for an appt. Good case studies. I would love to discuss further the gold, bronze and silver measures, when you have time.