Running in Place, Staying One Step Ahead

Human Resources

The modern HR professional looks a lot like poor Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, running feverishly with the Red Queen only to be staying in the same place, says Queen’s IRC Director Paul Juniper.

In a keynote address to the Association of Ontario University HR Professionals (AOUHRP) 2009 Conference, Mr. Juniper offered a sweeping perspective on the new roles of the modern HR professional.

“It’s all HR people can do to keep pace with the changing demands and expectations that are being placed on them,” he told attendees. “But they are going to have to run even harder to if they hope to stay relevant in their organizations.”

Running harder means honing skills that are outside the traditional HR silos. Of late the case was made most convincingly by academic Dave Ulrich and colleagues, who listed six competencies required for high-performing HR professionals of the future. The first three are foundational: credible activist, business ally, and operational executor. The higher order competencies address organizational capabilities: strategy architect, culture and change steward, and talent manager and organization designer.

This maps well onto research by the U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management, Mr. Juniper said. Its survey asked HR professionals to identify the most important factors in attaining their next HR job. The top three were strategic/critical thinking skills, leadership skills, and interpersonal communication skills.

“If you’ll notice, for these higher order roles not much depends on your technical ability in compensation, benefits, or recruitment,” Mr. Juniper said. “The minimum price of admission is to be operationally excellent because no one will trust you to talk about strategy if you can’t get people paid on time. It’s necessary but not sufficient.”

Many HR professionals will have to leave their comfort zones of managing HR processes and take on entirely new portfolios. Mr. Juniper cited the results of a recent survey by the B.C. Human Resources Management Association on the new focus areas for HR. They included organizational restructuring, employer branding, measurement, strategic workforce planning, corporate social responsibility, and risk management.

“These roles are open to HR people if they want them,” he said. “It’s like corporate communications; many HR professionals don’t want to have anything to do with it because they think it’s boring. But control over corporate communications gives you control over the corporate agenda. It is not a traditional role but there are real synergies and opportunities.”

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