Professional Excellence In HR – Will You Make The Cut?

Posted in : HR Updates on 15 December 2015
Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting
Issues covered:

What constitutes good HR now and for 2016?

Are we getting any better as a function at improving our skills and credibility?

What things have been identified as important skills for the profession?

Anyone who attended the CIPD annual conference this month will have sensed a change of tide in the HR profession. The global and national economic environment is still changing rapidly, and with that comes a need for business and organisations to re-shape old norms and in some cases re-evaluate what it is that defines ‘good’ practice.

‘The remit of the HR function is expanding beyond the familiar areas of setting out policies and supporting line managers and into the areas of organisational knowledge, innovation and brand’ ‘CIPD Research report ‘From best to good practice. Developing principles for the profession’ (Oct 15).

‘GOOD’ Practice

In their recent broad ranging research, the CIPD have begun a new dialogue which shifts away from focusing on HR competence and more towards a principle based approach. The research suggests that to gain credibility and trust, the profession must define the principles that it stands for and develop capability in interpreting those principles for specific business models without losing sight of core values. In short, they say that HR must be the gatekeeper to organisational ethics and values whilst being in-tune enough with the external environment and the commercial realities of the organisation to develop sustainable people management practice and processes which are ‘good for your organisation’ as opposed to reflecting best practice.

Great HR

This notion of ‘good’ practice is reflected in very recent research by Zenger and Folkman, who published ‘What separates great HR leaders from the rest’ in Harvard Business Review in the summer of this year. Over 5 years, the two consultant academics have conducted research on 2,187 HR leaders globally and identified the top four traits or competencies which distinguish those rated in the upper percentile for perceived effectiveness in HR.

  • These were:
  • Establishes stretch goals
  • Solves problems and analyses issues
  • Develops strategic perspective
  • Connects to the outside world

Interestingly, these strengths were also identified amongst the most common areas in which HR managers and leaders were rated weakest at by their commercial or finance partners. Any good HR professional wants to be better. This begins with a desire to improve, followed by a clear understanding of what is required to improve.

So What is it?

David Ulrich is well known among HR academics and was rated in HR magazine's list of most influential international thinkers when he published further research on this question of what will make future HR practice go from good to great. He identified six domains of competencies HR professionals must demonstrate to be personally effective and to have an impact on business performance. These competencies respond to a number of themes facing global business today and are reflected below:

  • Outside/in: HR must turn outside business trends and stakeholder expectations into internal actions.
  • Business/people: HR should focus on both business results and human capital improvement.
  • Individual/organisational: HR should target both individual ability and organisation capabilities
  • Event/sustainability: HR is not about an isolated activity (a training, communication, staffing, or compensation programme) but sustainable and integrated solutions
  • Past/future: Respect HR's heritage, but shape a future
  • Administrative/strategic: HR must attend to both day-to-day administrative processes and long-term strategic practices.

Ulrich’s recent research found that by upgrading their competencies in six domains, HR professionals can create sustainable value. These six HR competence domains come from assessment by HR professionals (more than 20,000 global respondents) of 139 specific competency-stated survey items.

These are key areas of focus for all HR individuals and leaders in the profession:

1. Strategic positioner

High-performing HR professionals think and act from the outside/in. They are deeply knowledgeable about external business trends and able to translate them into internal decisions and actions. They understand the general business conditions (e.g. social, technological, economic, political, environmental and demographic trends) that affect their industry and geography. They target and serve key customers of their organisation by identifying customer segments, knowing customer expectations and aligning organisation actions to meet customer needs. They also cocreate their organisations' strategic responses to business conditions and customer expectations by helping frame and make strategic and organisation choices.

2. Credible activist

Effective HR professionals are 'credible activists' because they build their personal trust through business acumen. Credibility comes when HR professionals do what they promise, build personal relationships of trust and can be relied on. It helps HR professionals have positive personal relationships. It means to communicate clear and consistent messages with integrity. As an activist, HR professionals have a point of view, not only about HR activities, but about business demands. As activists, HR professionals learn how to influence others in a positive way through clear, consistent and high-impact communications. Some have called this 'HR with an attitude'.

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 good ideas, but not much attention will be given to them. To be credible activists, HR professionals need to be selfaware and committed to building their profession.

3. Capability builder

An effective HR professional melds individual abilities into an effective and strong organisation by helping to define and build its organisation capabilities. Organisation is not structure or process: it is a distinct set of capabilities. Capability represents what the organisation is good at and known for. HR professionals should be able to audit and invest in the creation of organisational capabilities. These capabilities outlast the behaviour or performance of any individual manager or system. Capabilities have been referred to as a company's culture, process, or identity.

HR professionals should facilitate capability audits to determine the identity of their organisations. Capabilities include: customer service, speed, quality, efficiency, innovation and collaboration. One such capability is to create an organisation where employees find meaning and purpose at work. HR professionals can help line managers create meaning, so that the capability of the organisation reflects the deeper values of the employees.

4. Change champion

As change champions, HR professionals make sure that isolated and independent organisational actions are integrated and sustained through disciplined change processes. HR professionals make an organisation's internal capacity for change match or lead the external pace of change. As change champions, HR professionals help change happen at institutional (changing patterns), initiative (making things happen) and individual (enabling personal change) levels.

To make change happen at these three levels, HR professionals play two critical roles in the change process. First, they initiate change, which means they build a case for why change matters, overcome resistance to change, engage key stakeholders in the process of change and articulate the decisions to start change. Secondly, they sustain change by institutionalising change through organisational resources, organisation structure, communication and continual learning. As change champions, HR professionals partner to create organisations that are agile, flexible, responsive and able to make transformation happen in ways that create sustainable value.

5. Human resource innovator and integrator

Effective HR professionals know the historical research on HR, so they can innovative and integrate HR practices into unified solutions to solve future business problems. They must know the latest insights on key HR practice areas related to human capital (talent sourcing, talent development), to performance accountability (appraisal, rewards), organisation design (teamwork, organisation development) and communication. They must also be able to turn these unique HR practice areas into integrated solutions, generally around an organisation's leadership brand. These innovative and integrated HR practices then result in a high impact on business results by ensuring that HR practices maintain their focus over the long run and do not become seduced by HR 'flavour of the month' or by another firm's 'best practices'.

6. Technology proponent

In recent years, technology has changed the ways in which HR people think and do their administrative and strategic work. At a basic level, HR professionals need to use technology more efficiently to deliver HR administrative systems such as benefits, payroll processing, healthcare costs and other administrative services. HR professionals also need to use technology to help people stay connected with each other. Technology plays an increasingly important role in improving communications, organising administrative work more efficiently and connecting inside employees to outside customers. An emerging technology trend is using technology as a relationship-building tool through social media. Leveraging social media enables the business to position itself for future growth.

Those who understand technology will create improved organisational identity outside the company and improve social relationships inside the company. As technology exponents, HR professionals have to access, advocate, analyse and align technology for information, efficiency and relationships.

What to do then?

Some implications of the data for HR professionals include:

Get to grips externally. You have heard this one hundred times before, but did you do it? Learn to do HR from the outside/in, understand social, technological, economic, political, environmental and demographic trends facing your industry and knowing specific expectations of customers, investors, regulators and communities - then building internal HR responses that align with these external requirements.

Innovate and integrate your HR practices. Innovation means looking forward with fresh and creative ways to design and deliver HR practices. Integrate these practices around talent, leadership and culture within your organisation, so HR offers sustainable solutions to business problems. Evolve your organisation's HR investments to solve future problems.

Master technology, both to deliver the administrative work of HR and to connect people inside and outside to each other. Make social media a reality by using technology to share information and connect people both inside and outside your organisation.

Earn trust by delivering what you promise. Build a relationship of trust with your business leaders by knowing enough about business contexts and key stakeholders to fully engage in business discussions, by offering innovative, integrated HR solutions to business problems and by being able to audit and improve talent, culture and leadership.

Understand the key organisational capabilities required for your organisation. Do an organisation audit that focuses on assessing key capabilities your company requires for success and their implications for staffing, training, compensation, communication and other HR practices.

Be disciplined about change management. Make change happen at individual level. Help individuals learn and sustain new behaviours. Enable organisation change by applying a disciplined change process to each organisational initiative. Encourage institutional change by monitoring and adapting the culture to fit external conditions.

The Group is Stronger than the Individual

The research found that an effective HR department has more impact on a business's performance (31%) than the skills of individual HR professionals (8%). HR professionals need to work together as a unified team to maximise business value. Conclusion The future for HR is bright and exciting. We can be optimistic about the potential impact the function can have and the indispensable role HR professionals have in shaping the great organisations of the future. We must, however, get better at redefining and developing ourselves as individuals and as a function and pushing our professional boundaries to achieve greater credibility and impact.

This article is correct at 15/12/2015

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting

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