Postgraduate study options in HR: Doing it by the book

The role of HR is constantly evolving. Responsibilities are changing and the HR function is increasingly expected to align the work it does with the wider business objectives of the organisation.

The response to our competition to receive a bursary to study at Henley Management College is testament to how HR recognises the importance of building its general business acumen.

To thrive, HR professionals have to develop an understanding not just of their own function but of the overall business goals of the entire organisation.

This business acumen is becoming a sought-after skill. New roles such as HR business partner abound, so it’s hardly surprising that more and more HR professionals feel the need to study past their Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development qualification in a bid to become more rounded and commercially focused.

“Many HR professionals feel they need to develop further if they are to get on with their careers,” says Stephanie Morgan, associate lecturer at the University of London.

“HR is now more about motivating the right people within a business than understanding the contractual, practical side. If you want to move the agenda forward and develop board-level understanding, you need to develop your thinking.”

One route open to any professional is to study for an MBA. But unless you are sponsored by your employer, taking this route can cost tens of thousands of pounds, and means a huge commitment because of the study time required.

Luckily, more universities and management colleges have spotted this gap in the market and there are other options available that can provide a valuable learning experience without taking so long to study or costing quite so much.

And it is not just about taking HR-specific courses embarking on a more general business course can provide more rounded learning and give you the opportunity to study with professionals from other functions.

Martin Clarke, programme director at Cranfield School of Management, says that HR professionals’ traditional view of further study needs to change.

“All too often it is just people in sales, marketing and finance that embark on general management and business courses, when it is HR people who tend to be criticised for failing to have a more rounded view,” he explains. “It is vital that HR people learn a broader business perspective and mix with people from other functions so they can begin to understand the competing agendas within organisations.”

There is a growing choice of courses, both those aimed specifically at HR, and general courses relevant to the HR function. Here we outline a handful that could give you the edge you are looking for.

Organisational Psychology

Where: University of London

Length/cost: This course can be studied as an MSc, but has the option of being taken as a postgraduate diploma (six modules – between one and five years’ study) or single modules of 10 weeks’ study each. The diploma costs £5,675. Single modules cost £850 each.

Main content includes: For the diploma, the following two compulsory modules must be studied:

  • Organisational analysis
  • Organisational research.

Then four modules are chosen from the following:

  • Selection and assessment
  • Organisational change
  • Life career development
  • Career counselling theory and practice
  • Work and wellbeing
  • Motivation and performance at work
  • Training and development
  • New technology at work.

What’s in it for HR? Stephanie Morgan, associate lecturer, says that today’s HR professionals have to learn how to be more strategic.

“This course helps you develop your thinking and how you can help the whole organisation become more strategic. Part-time study options also mean you can carry on doing your job and apply the theory you learn straight away,” she says.

Former student Jane Sendall says: “Although I am an experienced HR and people development specialist with several qualifications under my belt, I really felt the need to deepen my knowledge and increase my confidence and credibility.

“If you’re looking for a course to challenge your thinking and open your mind to new insights, this is definitely worth looking into.”

Developing Business Acumen

Where: Henley Management College

Length/cost: The course lasts five days and costs £3,950.

Main content includes:

  • Understanding the difference between strategic and operational decisions
  • Studying industry logic – what drives return on investment
  • Defining vision, mission, strategy, business plan and budgets
  • Establishing a positioning strategy
  • Discussing key drivers of shareholder value and how they interact
  • Developing a marketing plan
  • Understanding how to read the economy
  • Understanding key indicators as published in the Financial Times and the Economist
  • Presenting to shareholders
  • Understanding the drivers of cashflow, liquidity and sustainability
  • Discussing key elements of practice in commercial negotiation
  • Developing alternative models for raising profitability.

What’s in it for HR? Roger Martin-Fagg, programme director, says the course gives HR people a holistic view of business so they can link areas such as strategic positioning, headcount and shareholder value. “It also gives HR the ability to ask the finance director meaningful questions and to engage more convincingly on non-HR aspects of business,” he says.

Julia Bufton, head of learning and development at Allianz Cornhill, attended the course and says it increased her commercial knowledge and understanding. “It gave me experience of making difficult commercial decisions against tight deadlines, and the opportunity to see the impact of those decisions on the business. Working in HR, it is essential to understand the business and market pressures faced by the people I am working with,” she says.

General Management Programme

Where: Cranfield School of Management

Length/cost: One year – involving a 12-day initial course, after which a business plan is devised. This is followed by three- and 12-month review modules. The course costs £10,995.

Main content includes:

  • Strategic management – analysing the competitive environment and strategy-making
  • Business environment – developing an external perspective
  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Change management
  • Managing organisational politics
  • Marketing and creating customer focus
  • Organisational knowledge
  • Financial management
  • People strategy.

What’s in it for HR? Martin Clarke, programme director, says the course helps HR to think from a commercial perspective. “This helps you to understand different functional views and create a more unified direction for the business. It helps you to see the bigger picture. You can then identify strategic priorities and create a meaningful direction that others in the organisation can follow,” he says.

After taking this course, Laura Cliffe, head of HR operations at oil and gas business Total E&P UK, said that it gave her personal insight and invaluable feedback. “It also encouraged and challenged me to ‘think outside the box’ and get new skills,” she says.

Human Capital Management

Where: International School of Human Capital Management

Length/cost: This Masters qualification takes between six and 12 months. It includes 26 days of workshops and lectures, plus coursework, amounting to total study time of about 400 hours. The course costs £5,750 and requires annual attendance of a three-day continuing professional development event, which costs £995.

Main content includes:

  • Organisation performance and technical application
  • Enterprise governance and business ethics
  • Enterprise strategy and finance
  • Strategic human capital management
  • HR operational excellence
  • Workforce intelligence
  • Human capital reporting
  • HR governance.

What’s in it for HR? Nicholas Higgins, dean of the school, says this new course, which is due to start in September, is designed to provide HR practitioners with an enhanced knowledge of business-related HR, incorporating recent industry developments. “This qualification can enhance your practical knowledge, capability and prospects,” he claims.


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