What are the key skills for the HR practitioner of the future? by Cryss Mennaceur

Much has been written and debated about the future of HR services. Many experts predict that HR will split in two or three directions.

For example, the decade-old Ulrich model shows a three-point model which splits HR into:-

  • business partners
  • shared service centres
  • centres of expertises

Other models talk about two-way splits and have: –

  • transformational – focusing on a mixture of organisational development and individual capability development


  • strategic – working with business leaders to clarify and implement strategy versus
  • transactional – traditional administrative and systems-based services.

Other factors will influence the future of HR services and the skills required by HR practitioners:

  • The demographics of the working population are changing. Research shows that there is an ageing workforce. In order to retain the services of the aging workforce it will be necessary to provide more flexible and worker-friendly working practices. It will also be necessary to attract younger talent into an organisation and this will be a major challenge for the future. Crafting strategies that will be attractive to both groups will require innovation and skill.
  • Building the workforce of the future is further complicated by many of those entering the workforce not having the requisite skills for business. The DfES estimates that there are 900,000 adults of working age in London with literacy skills of below level 1 and 2.3million with numeracy skills below level 1.  Bringing our workforces up to a level 2, a priority of central government, will be a challenge now and in the future.
  • Increasingly there will be pressure for HR services to be able to deliver more efficient and effective services against the bottom line. Financial pressure increasingly will look for cost-effective technology-based or outsourcing solutions for the more routine activities. Increases in hi-tech solutions will need skilled operatives to be able to effectively use this new technology.
  • There will also be a need to improve the service to the organisation’s customers and address the strategic drivers. Research has shown that there is a marked difference between where HR sees itself adding value and where the customers (directors, line managers, and employees) see the value as being. The future will be where the two visions of HR become congruent.

Fundamentally, I believe that the most important role for HR will be in enabling line managers in recruiting and retaining the right people to deliver the business goals, motivating and developing them, and being able to deliver this in a continuously changing environment. But, there is increasingly going to be tension between demonstrating return of investment for HR services to the customers, knowing what customers require of HR professionals, and still understanding day-to-day operations whilst being able to add value at the top table designing and implementing strategy.

What key skills will the HR practitioner need to be able to deliver this?

It is clear that the HR community will need to develop new skills to be able to continue to add value in this brave new world. If HR is really to become an agent of improvement and change, HR leaders will have to take bigger risks than at any other time in their careers, confronting problems in their organisations’ cultures, and adopting  a key strategic leadership role. What this translates into is as follows:-

  • Focusing on business results – being able to influence and deliver the business goals. Ensuring that better performance is achieved through people.
  • Having a workforce that can deliver against these goals – this means being able to recruit, retain, motivate and develop them.
  • Embracing working with partners in delivering the business goals – this will include working closely with other organisations to deliver products and services using joined up operations and strategies. Working through the complexities of cross-organisational working with the different organisations’ policies and procedures and working along-side the trade unions.
  • Delivering business goals in the most efficient and effective way possible – embracing new technology where available and appropriate. Making use of bought-in or shared services if this is the most efficient and effective way of delivering the service.
  • Ensuring diversity in the working community that reflects the local community – so that the business understands the people that it seeks to provide services for. Developing recruitment strategies that deliver this, particularly focusing on hard-to-recruit areas such as attracting young people into the organisation and being able to recruit (or grow our own) in areas where there are skills shortages(e.g.:- social workers). Attention will need to be paid to what attracts people to want to work and stay with the organisation. Demonstrating corporate social responsibility by recruiting from groups under-represented in the workforce from the community.
  • Ensuring that the organisation’s leaders can lead and manage effectively — by clarity of expectations and continuous development opportunities.
  • Using management information – to inform strategy, enhance processes and procedures, and make changes where things are no longer fit for purpose.
  • Plan for progression – ensuring that there is a mechanism in place to enable talent to progress within the organisation and not take their talent to another organisation to get their next promotion.
  • Ensuring that the best use of available resources are demonstrable – using management information and external benchmarking. Continuous checking of practices and procedures using external audit mechanisms such as Investors in People and peer review.
  • Increasing employee’s engagement with the organisation and therefore their performance – encouraging employee contribution to business planning and workforce innovation to make services more efficient and effective.
  • Continuously checking that criteria for success are set and met.

The HR professional of the future will need a new set of paints in their professional palette.  In additional to many of the current HR competencies there will be more need for skills such as:

  • financial acumen – skills and language
  • analytical skills using quantitative and qualitative data
  • commercial skills – marketing abilities
  • complex decision-making skills
  • corporate social responsiveness
  • change expertise
  • community engagement skills.

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