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Survey Rates HR Skills

Knowledge is not enough. HR professionals need to have "a point of view" that executives trust in order to move their organizations forward, according to a global study on HR competencies.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007
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Speak up. That's one of the key findings from a global report on the human resource competencies most critical to organizational success.

It's not enough to be informed on a specific subject. HR executives need to be "credible activists," according to the Human Resource Competency Study conducted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and the RBL Group, an HR consulting group based in Provo, Utah.

"You have to have an attitude or a point of view and without a point of view, this trust [that executives have in an HR professional] isn't going to go far enough," says Dave Ulrich, a professor at the Ross School and a partner and co-founder of the RBL Group. His RBL partner, Wayne Brockbank, is also at Ross, as director of the Center for Strategic HR Leadership.

"Our data says you have got to be an activist," Ulrich says. "If you are not an activist, it's not going to move you forward."

When asked the "most critical" HR skills, survey respondents in the United States gave "credible activist" a 4.36 (out of 5) rating, highest among the six regions studied. It was followed by 4.21 for both Europe and Australia/Asia Pacific, 4.18 for India, 4.15 for Latin America and 3.97 for China.

The other five facets of HR competency, as noted in the report, were: talent manager/organization designer; operational executor; culture and change steward; strategy architect; and business ally.

In past surveys, "personal credibility" alone was cited as the most critical competency, Ulrich says. The need from business now, however, requires "doing HR with an attitude," according to the survey, which polled more than 10,000 respondents from the six regions, including HR and non-HR professionals (generally line executives and internal customers).

The HR and other professionals surveyed differed on the importance of HR in dealing with external customers, according to the poll. HR respondents still identify their customers as employees and line managers whereas the other respondents said HR needs "to bring customer expectations into the organization," Ulrich says.

Another difference in opinion related to designing rewards systems. Those outside of HR saw compensation, benefits, performance appraisals and the like as connected to talent management and organizational development, according to the survey. HR professionals saw reward systems as an operational or tactical item, such as drafting and implementing workplace policies or advancing HR technology.

"This could be a weakness in building an integrated view of HR practices," the study states.

Other high-scoring critical competencies for HR, according to the survey, are "culture and change steward," reflecting the importance of corporate branding for employees, Ulrich says, and talent manager/organization designer, reflecting the importance of building great teams.

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"Our study says if you have great talent and they don't work well together, you won't have great success," Ulrich says.

The survey respondents also noted the importance of the entire HR department versus the HR professional, saying that HR departments have 25 percent more impact on the performance of the company than individual HR professionals.

There were some differences in findings among the various regions, such as in China, where HR is still in its infancy and is more focused on more operational and administrative duties.

In the other regions studied, organizations assume that the administrative work associated with HR -- payroll, benefits and so on -- will be done and done well. "In China," Ulrich says, "that's not an assumption. It still has to be proven."

Another difference was in India, where the performance of HR as a "business ally" held more weight than in other regions studied. Factors making up the "business ally" element were: serving the value chain, articulating the value proposition, interpreting social context and leveraging business technology. Each one of those factors was seen as more critical to the survey respondents in India than elsewhere.

In general, however, Ulrich says, there are only subtle differences in HR -- and expected of HR -- in large companies in the various regions studied. It would be different for smaller companies, he says.

Ulrich says he hopes the survey findings "affect the fabric of the field at large, the thinking, and helps get the field focused on what delivers the most value" to the organization.

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