What are the key skills for the HR practitioner of the future? by Rachel Oliver

In order to establish which skills are required it is important to understand where the value needs to be added in an organisation – and indeed across the profession – which may not necessarily be the same. A small organisation with one HR practitioner may require a very hands-on approach that deals predominantly with short-term issues, while a large organisation with several HR practitioners at varying levels of seniority may require much broader skills. The skills required can be divided into two categories; technical skills or competence, and personal skills or competence. The skills required for an HR practitioner can be subject to the role they assume within an organisation. A senior HR manager and a junior HR officer will not need the same level of technical competence and will certainly not need the same personal skills. However, the HR officer will need to develop these skills during their career if they are to be effective.

WarningWarning: This article was first published in 2007

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Technical competence
If an HR practitioner is going to add real value to an organisation, they need to have a ‘toolkit’ that is much broader than specific HR skills; a strong commercial appreciation about their own business and about the commercial environment the business operates in; a strategic understanding of what the whole business wants to achieve in the short, medium and long term; and be able to provide HR input to the broader business strategy. Only with this perspective will they be able to shape HR strategy so that it delivers on business needs. A return on HR investment is essential for the HR function to demonstrate effectiveness and value.

A strong financial appreciation is important to ensure that the HR practitioner is able to debate and provide input at a senior level and be a credible business partner of the senior management team. A detailed understanding of the current financial position of a business and its projected position is essential to understand the business and to be able devise and implement a supportive HR strategy.

The HR practitioner of the business needs to be a leader – of change, best practice and of people. A practitioner merely implementing the vision of others will no longer be enough to ensure that they are adding real value. Employees at all levels and key stakeholders need to see the HR vision, leadership and technical credibility of the HR practitioner.

A technical IT appreciation will also be a required skill for the future. Technology will play a significant part of the future of HR. Strong HR technology in an organisation will give HR and managers the time, tools and data to manage the people resource more efficiently. The HR practitioner needs to be competent to lead these changes.

Solid HR skills in employment legislation, employee relations, training and development, recruitment and retention, reward and organisational design will always be relevant.  However, these have to be broadened. The HR practitioner has to be able to think ahead and plan for changes in demographics. An understanding of culture, age and sex of the labour market needs to be reflected in appropriate policies for the future. This is key in order to recruit and retain skills and benefit from the fruits of a diverse workforce.

The ability to manage a project will be a key skill for the future. As more organisations outsource their HR activities, the HR practitioner will be left to co-ordinate the different outsourced organisations to achieve an effective day-to-day operation. They will need to be adept at managing projects in order to bring together cross-functional teams to deliver on HR objectives.

Personal competence
The personal competencies of an HR practitioner of the future are as equally important as the technical competencies. An organisation can buy in’ technical skills, but a strong HR Practitioner with strong personal skills will apply the technical data in a pragmatic and realistic way.

The most important personal skill required for an HR practitioner is simple common sense, and an ability to lead and manage in a pragmatic way that actually works and is not over-complicated. Theories that appear ideal in the boardroom sometimes can’t work in reality, or need to be implemented in a more simplistic way when you are dealing with individuals. Being open, firm, fair and realistic are key interpersonal attributes required by an HR practitioner. The key to the skill is to develop the acumen about when and how to use their interpersonal skills for best effect.

It will be key for the HR practitioner of the future to have the confidence to match their technical skills so that they can feel like – and be seen to be – an equal player around the boardroom table. Courage to challenge and debate with senior executives – and then take action – is essential if HR strategy is to both influence and be an integral part of the business strategy.

Finally, the HR practitioner of the future needs to have a strong sense of intuition. They must have confidence in their abilities to be able to use and trust them. They must have the instinct to anticipate what the organisation needs in the short and longer term, not just react when things happen or when change is imminent.

The HR practitioner of the future needs to develop their skills to survive. Their role will change as businesses change. Operational activities are being devolved to managers, and outsourcing activities will require the HR practitioner to find a new role that adds value.  Awareness of the changes now can allow HR practitioners to develop more skills, perhaps by further training and certainly by grasping opportunities for exposure, particularly in the broader commercial environment. Complacency is not an option; the personnel manager that did the ‘hiring and firing’ will soon become extinct.

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