Stacy Sollenberger, Partner with ISHR Group, recently completed a Benchmarking Study focused on HR Talent Development. Over the course of 3 weeks, we will share the results of this study. Last week, March 7, we shared what Stacy uncovered in terms of the current environment affecting HR. This week, March 14, we will talk about the differentiators for HR talent today, and next week, March 21, we will close with a look at HR development best practices.
Introduction: This study was initiated as part of a project to design career development pathways for a client’s HR organization. We spoke with over 20 leaders whose backgrounds represented more than 40 organizations in academia, large and small corporations, and private equity. Many of you, our valued clients, participated in this study and we are thrilled to share our findings. It is interesting to note that the timing of our discussions coincided with the July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review questioning the role of HR – a topic that seems to be repurposed every few years by the HBR. Given the title of the issue, “It’s Time To Blow Up HR and Build Something New,” you can only imagine our discussions were both thought-provoking and cathartic. While the core insights of our findings are not new, the details may surprise you, as they did our team and our client. For example, the ability to leverage analytics and technology is not new, however, it has moved up in its importance as not only a differentiator, but also as a potential derailer if lacking due to its criticality in many areas impacting HR’s influence. We hope you find the results of the study validating to you and your organization’s contributions and/or that you glean some inspiration that incites new actions toward your own contributions.
Differentiators for HR Talent
Our initial discussion on the current environment affecting HR provided the foundation for our next set of inquiries: What differentiates HR leaders today and what do you emphasize as you evaluate your HR talent? We heard the following seven key themes:
Business Acumen: This was communicated as a “presumed assumption,” as it has been for decades. HR leaders must know their business and industry to make meaningful and strategic contributions as business partners. One of the HR leaders we interviewed stressed, “75% of our profession is too administrative … it’s why we love to hate HR and it hurts our reputation.” Across the board, we heard that HR leaders must know how their business and their customers make money so that “the how and what” that HR contributes has relevance and credibility within the context of their business. As mentioned earlier, those HR leaders who focus their energies on contributing toward the top business priorities are most valued by their businesses.
HR Expertise: One of the realities of our function is that the umbrella of HR is complex and broad. Many organizations continue to struggle with the balance of developing depth in HR specialists versus developing breadth in HR generalists. The responses were mixed as to which pathway is most effective. Regardless, you said the clients that HR serves expect the function to deliver on it all. Many of you said, “You have to deliver above and beyond the basics of what our clients expect from HR to have any credibility.” We heard that this is a key opportunity for HR to leverage technology and create space for HR leaders to focus on the strategic and more complex priorities. One HR leader offered, “It’s obvious HR generalists need to understand their various functional verticals (being competent in staffing, talent, compensation, etc.), but there is increasing importance on HR generalists also having horizontal thinking and being able to walk across the common verticals to have an integrated perspective. They need to have ‘enterprise’ thinking.” The very definition of HR expertise has evolved to include the traditional HR competencies as well as strategic business acumen that enables HR leaders to “connect the dots” to add value.
Talent Expert: With the renewed “war on talent” and impending shortage of talent, HR leaders need to be creative in how they recruit, retain, and develop talent. One HR leader said, “HR leaders have to know how to manage talent internally and externally, from acquisition to development to deployment to success planning … these skills require more input than a traditional C&B or HRIS role and you have to invest time and energy to become a talent scout and have a talent mindset.” Included in these skills is the ability to mentor and coach talent. As one HR leader stressed, “We need to be generous with our time to help develop other leaders (versus focusing on our own careers) … and this includes the ability to assess talent as a core capability.” However, there seems to be a disturbing disconnect on how HR is viewed in this area. As reported in the July-August 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, “Research by McKinsey and the Conference Board consistently finds that CEOs worldwide see human capital as a top challenge, and they rank HR as only the eighth or ninth most important function in a company.” HR leaders need to make significant strides in changing this perception by dding value in what matters most to their stakeholders: talent management and development rank at the top of that list.
Influential Leadership: We heard that HR leaders should be just that: leaders. They need to demonstrate the same leadership behaviors and competencies we expect from business operating leaders and other functional leaders in the organization. They must demonstrate the ability to influence through smart prioritization. They must demonstrate managerial courage and objectivity. They must be strong communicators across a variety of mediums. The best HR leaders must be able to focus their efforts on the strategic imperatives, talk to all levels of the organization with confidence, and adapt their messages accordingly. They must be able to influence others. We heard much about emotional intelligence, self-awareness and the “softer skills” required to lead through the ambiguity of a complex working environment. Finally, a key differentiator will be the HR leaders who are not afraid to bring constructive conflict to the surface in a way that drives collaboration and decision-making. HR leaders who are able to do this, and who can also coach others on how to leverage constructive conflict, will facilitate greater organizational agility and productivity.
Agility: HR leaders and their organizations must be able to adapt to change quickly as well as drive change effectively in an increasingly complex landscape. Lominger defines agility as “the ability and willingness to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.” We heard that this is an imperative for HR leaders to drive change, react to the pace of change affecting their businesses, and develop strategies that enable others to be more agile. One 30+ year HR veteran emphasized how much agility has impacted how she leads and what she expects from her team saying, “My HR organization needs to be able to shift talent to address each business priority. We have coached our leaders to be able to deal with the fluidity of the organization. For example, we have divorced ourselves from the organization chart, which is more of a static snapshot that may change within a month, because it gets in the way and kills our ability to be responsive.”
Leverage Analytics: The ability to influence and help sell the business case for HR contributions through data, information, and technology is key as a differentiator. We heard that this skill is critically important not only to HR’s credibility, but also to the ability to contribute at all levels of the organization. While many companies are ensuring assignments are focused on developing this skill, others are pushing for these skills as a prerequisite to hire. In fact, many companies that recruit from HR masters programs are demanding that HR analytics be incorporated as part of the curriculum to graduate. For example, the Masters of Human Resources and Labor Relations (MHRLR) program at Michigan State University is adding a required HR Analytics course to the program curriculum starting in the spring of 2016.
Well-Networked: Top HR talent needs to be networked on both a local and global level. Those leaders that take advantage of tapping into the insights of like-minded leaders who are dealing with similar issues are better able to assess and offer broader potential solutions. One HR leader expressed some key benefits: “To share issues and best practices is ‘extra-company development’ by learning what problems exist in the HR community … it drives innovation by generating new ideas into the organization. We have to stop thinking that all the answers are internal.”
Remember, check back with here on LinkedIn next week, March 21, for the third and final part of Stacy’s benchmarking report. You can learn more at ISHR Group.