By focusing on certain skills, HR can be more strategic and speak the language of business
By Brian Kreissl
HR adds value to organizations by aligning strategic needs with the people side of the business. It’s very important not only to keep our pulses on HR trends and best practices, but also to understand and speak the language of business.
But with business practices and the HR profession changing so rapidly, what should HR practitioners focus on in terms of professional development? While it's impossible to know for certain what the future holds, I recommend acquiring or enhancing the following “top 10 HR skills for the 21st century.”
Project management: Project management is no longer viewed as the exclusive domain of IT. In particular, project management skills and methodologies are useful in managing HR projects and programs — and not just those that are purely technology-driven.
Examples of such HR initiatives include compensation year-end programs, the performance management cycle, designing and delivering employee surveys, flexible benefits enrolment, succession planning and top talent reviews.
Marketing: Like HR, marketing borrows heavily from psychology and focuses on the human side of business. Marketing relates to employment branding and the promotion of the organization as an employer of choice.
Increasingly it’s also becoming important to market the services of the HR department internally. And external marketing is vital for anyone working as an HR consultant.
Marketing closely ties into the overall strategic management of organizations and is related to key strategic concepts such as market penetration, market development, product development, diversification and divestiture.
Information technology: Gone are the days when HR professionals were viewed as not being particularly tech-savvy. Many are now power users of HRIS packages and office productivity tools. There’s also an awareness of the need for organizations to have an effective online HR presence.
Yet, many HR practitioners would benefit from learning more about Web 2.0 technologies, legal and practical aspects of blogging, e-mail and Internet use, information security, and the roles of various IT professionals. That’s because HR has a role to play in developing and enforcing employment policies governing the use of technology - and because we're often involved in recruiting, managing and developing IT professionals.
Employment and general business law: To function at a truly strategic level, HR professionals need to be aware of potential legal risks and liabilities, not only with respect to labour and employment law, but also in relation to other aspects of the law, including torts, privacy, human rights, intellectual property, business associations, bankruptcy and insolvency, pensions, taxation and the general law of contract.
The idea is to spot potential problems before they happen – and not have to run to a lawyer every time the simplest legal issue crops up.
Management and leadership: HR intervenes when people management practices aren’t compliant with legal rules or organizational norms, but does HR drive innovation and excellence around management and leadership? In many cases, the answer is no.
Why, then, is HR expected to be the centre of excellence for management and leadership if we’re not seen as the resident experts? In many organizations, there’s a missed opportunity for HR with respect to leadership development, coaching and mentoring.
Alternative dispute resolution: Dispute resolution in the workplace is a growing area for HR. Whether it’s through mediation, arbitration, negotiation or simple facilitation, HR needs to be equipped to handle workplace conflicts as they arise. Otherwise, organizations become dysfunctional and disputes are settled externally by courts and tribunals.
Corporate social responsibility: Corporate social responsibility (CSR), which focuses on the “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profit, is increasingly viewed as an important consideration for customers, as well as current and future employees. CSR is a very important part of branding an organization as an employer of choice.
HR also has an important role to play with respect to promoting fair labour practices, prohibiting discrimination and promoting diversity, healthy and safe workplaces, workplace privacy and developing codes of ethical conduct.
Metrics and benchmarking: HR is increasingly being asked to demonstrate its value by quantifying results through the use of appropriate metrics. Therefore, in order to prove the effectiveness of HR programs, projects and initiatives, HR must be able to provide accurate metrics and explain how well the organization is doing vis-à-vis other organizations, and against itself over time.
Finance and accounting: Business is all about the bottom line, and accounting is the language of business. In many organizations, employee costs are the single largest expense.
Therefore, HR can add tremendous value and impact the bottom line by managing employee expenses carefully and by properly articulating how HR programs potentially impact the bottom line – using the language of business.
Overall business strategy: Many HR professionals don’t understand what “being strategic” actually means. Therefore, before HR can truly understand how to align people strategy with corporate strategy, it’s important to understand the principles of strategic planning and management from an overall organizational perspective.
Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.