What are the key skills for the HR practitioner of the future? by Andrea Lawson

Introduction – Business Context

Traditionally HR has been required to focus time and resources on transitional and operational services which has resulted in a reduced amount of resource and time to provide strategic interventions that will support the people agenda and drive the business forward.

The business environment of the future will require the HR function to deliver a cost-effective and efficient HR service while providing added value to the business through strategic relationships and performance-enhancing interventions.

Transitional Model – “from the triangle to the diamond”.

The diagram below illustrates where traditional HR functions have operated (the triangle), as opposed to a future operating model (the diamond) where resources need to transition to, if HR is to support the strategic objectives with an organisation.

To facilitate this transition, the HR function has introduced technology and telephony to automate HR services, complimented by establishing HR shared service centres or outsourcing transactional and operational services to third-party organisations.

This has enabled HR to focus resources on business partnering and change programmes that will support strategic business objectives.

However for this HR delivery model  to be successful and to transform the HR function, it has to be underpinned by a  behavioural change programme for HR practitioners which will transform and modify their current skills and behaviours if they are to operate within the ‘diamond’.

Generic Skills and Behaviours

The HR practitioner of tomorrow will be required to demonstrate the following behaviours, whether operating in a HR shared services function or supporting strategic change programmes.
These ‘skill sets’ are described under the following five key themes that will support the transition of the delivery model from the ttriangle to the diamond’.

1. Transactional to Transformational 

The HR practitioner is able to transfer their focus from small chunks of repeat interventions to value-added, large-scale activities. They will have the ability to implement new initiatives and adapt processes to suit different circumstances. The status quo will be challenged and they will react positively to change and will be creative and innovative in thinking and application

For example:

  • HR consultants are currently providing support for managers on absence issues on an individual basis.
  • The transactional behaviour demonstrated by the HR practitioner would treat the symptoms rather than the cause of absence related issues.
  • The transformational intervention would require the HR practitioner to analyse the root cause of the problem within a business unit or organisation, which many require a number of different interventions through taking a holistic approach.

2. Service to Consultancy

HR practitioners will allow customers to address their own problems through support and guidance, enabling them to generate and consider their own options rather than simply order taking. They will support the customers in reaching their own decisions. Customers will feel they have made the right decisions.
For example:

  • A team manager who is known to an HR consultant telephones to ask for salary information for his team as he is considering pay rises. 
  • The service approach would be to deal with the request and supply the information.
  • The consultancy approach would be to arrange time to see the manager with the information and to understand what he is trying to achieve.

3. Reactive to Proactive

The HR Practitioner will be able to anticipate future customer needs through appropriate intervention. They will use analytical thinking/techniques to define problems and identify solutions. They will not wait to be asked before exploring new situation and will exhibits behaviours that enable prevention of problems beforehand rather than having to provide solutions after the event. They will remain in control of agenda by getting to the root of any problems in advance.
 For example:

  • An HR recruitment consultant is involved in call centre recruitment where turnover is high.
  • The reactive consultant would continue to recruit rather than review procedures and process.
  • The proactive consultant would initiative a project to review selection processes and recommend exit interviews to get to the root cause of turnover rather than continuing to recruit.

4. Commercial in practice and thinking

The HR practitioner will consider HR as a business in its own right. In addition to service provision, they will consider the balance of cost and benefit. They will demonstrate the ability to challenge the rationale and reason behind a customer request for support, enabling the wider picture to be considered along with the long term goals of both HR and the Business, creating a win –win situation
 For example:

  • HR Consultant has been asked to lead a project to review how HR service is delivered in a particular business unit. The project is expected to deliver cost savings.
  • The non-commercial HR approach would take an inward looking, quick hit approach by reviewing process and identifying areas to cut out costs or headcount.
  • The commercial approach would establish terms of reference, take a more holistic view to change, reviewing customer experience, current service levels, deployment of resource and skills.

5. Working with empowered and capable business managers

HR practitioners will demonstrate trust in managers by letting go of a directive relationship. They will accept the relationship with the business may be more difficult or uncomfortable in the short term, however they will maintain and promote options for the long term.
 For example:

  • The manager requires one-to-one guidance on a discipline issue and requires the HR consultant to help resolve this.
  • The HR practitioner will not trust the manager and will be directive in respect of advice and guidance and hand hold the manager through the procedures.
  • Working in an empowered environment, the HR consultant will coach the manager and provide various options that will allow the manager to resolve the discipline issue without hand holding and be more self-sufficient in the future.

Underpinning Skills and Behaviours.

The 5 behavioural themes are underpinned by different skill sets and this is illustrated in the table below.

 By adopting this transformational behavioural change journey, the HR Practitioner in the future will be able to rise to the future Business challenges and demonstrate the capability required to operate within competitive Business environments.  They will be demonstrating real value HR can bring through being commercially focused whilst delivering transactional services in a cost effective way.

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