What are 3 capabilities of future HR leaders?

Future of HR | 28 October 2015

The next generation of HR professionals will be a different breed from the current incumbents and there are three professional capabilities which will be critical for HR leaders in the future, according to an expert in the area.

The first key professional capability is business acuity, in which future HR leaders will need to possess and demonstrate sound business savvy, acumen and intelligence, said Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith, SVP Global Research for PageUp.

“Many HR professionals believe they already have this – but business leaders disagree,” she said.

“Calling yourself a HR business partner sounds good – but comes with no guarantee of a real understanding of the workings of the business.”

Business acuity, like other skills, comes from a thorough and sustained immersion in business issues, industry challenges, competitive landscape and future business trends, Vorhauser-Smith said.

“Few HR people are really fully versed in these. Ask a HR-BP what the critical success factors for their business and industry are – the majority will give you a HR, not a business, answer,” she said.

“Calling yourself a HR business partner sounds good – but comes with no guarantee of a real understanding of the workings of the business”

The second key capability is marketing expertise, and Vorhauser-Smith said the HR function is to employees what the marketing function is to customers.

“HR are brand managers to the current and potential employee market and need to think about their organization’s employment brand as a marketer thinks about consumer segments,” she said.

“With the exception of recruiters, most HR people are internally focused.

“Even the internal talent pool should be managed as a market segment with its own wants and needs.

“The disciplines that have been developed in marketing over the past few decades lend themselves well to adoption in HR,” she said.

“Tomorrow’s HR team will be hungry for data that supports what they do and demonstrates a real contribution to business outcomes”

The third key capability is data mastery, Vorhauser-Smith said.

“HR has always been in the numbers game. From salary and benefits costs to headcount, the numbers have always been big in HR.

“The key shift is moving away from counting and reporting toward analyzing and predicting – and therein lies the challenge,” said Vorhauser-Smith, who observed that few HR professionals come from the STEM or IT fields.

“Few purport to have either skills or interests in these domains. But being a ‘people person’ won’t cut it in 2015 and beyond,” she said.

“The fact is that the data tells a story that has profound business value, allowing managers to forecast and align their corporate and people strategies.

“Tomorrow’s HR team will be hungry for data that supports what they do and demonstrates a real contribution to business outcomes.”

The evolving role of HR

As a result of these key shifts in future HR roles and capability, HR functions will also experience a significant change in the process of supporting different business needs.

PageUp’s Talent Lab, an industry focused thought-leadership research project, has found that predictions about the future of HR range from the mild (an adjustment of skills and focus) to the radical (a complete functional transformation).

A mild shift in the evolution of the HR function involves a progressive acquisition of more of the three skills stated above.

“Improvements in unified talent management systems will support both the automation of most current operational HR practices as well as put better diagnostics and tools into the hands of HR,” said Vorhauser-Smith.

“HR ceases to exist”

However, more radical predictions point to revolutionary changes in the HR function.

The first of these is extinction, whereby HR and talent management processes and practices become either devolved into the business, automated, outsourced or completely eliminated.

“HR ceases to exist,” said Vorhauser-Smith.

A second potential (slightly less) revolutionary shift for HR involves metamorphosis, in which she said HR rescinds all transactional activities (through automation and other processes) and turns its attention and capabilities to being talent and workforce strategists.

“This involves working to coach, empower and emancipate managers and leaders to unleashing their team and organization’s talent and creating a strategic workforce plan,” she said.

“We expect that all variations of the above will be in play.

“Different HR models will suit different businesses and contexts. Businesses will package up a HR function that meets their needs,” said Vorhauser-Smith.

6 capability improvement steps for HR leaders

  1. Continuous learning is essential, not an option. Be well-read, be studying something always.
  2. Build your networks to understand more about who’s doing what, why, and learn vicariously from the experiences of others.
  3. Confront your fears – which skills do you know you need but procrastinate from pursuing? Go there.
  4. Get out of HR and take a line role for 2-3 years.
  5. Don’t wait for the future of HR to come to you – be its proponent.
  6. Think about your own career – does this picture of the future excite you or make you want to hide and run? Act accordingly.

Future HR leaders also need to be prepared so take a look at our succession planning software to mitigate the risk and minimize the impact of losing valuable talent.

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