What the 2017 HR Competency Study is Missing

Dave Ulrich, and his team, recently released the 2017 HR Competency study. Apparently, they have been doing this for about 30 years and this is the 7th round of competency study. They looked to answer the question, “What are the competencies of HR professionals that have greatest impact on important outcomes?” After numerous surveys, they came up with 9 competencies. From the article:

Based on the findings, three of these competencies were core drivers of key outcomes:

  • Strategic positioner: Able to position a business to win in its market
  • Credible activist: Able to build relationships of trust by having a proactive point of view
  • Paradox navigator: Able to manage tensions inherent in businesses (e.g., be both long and short term, be both top down and bottom up)

We also found three domains of HR competence that are organization enablers, helping position HR to deliver strategic value:

  • Culture and change champion: Able to make change happen and manage organizational culture.
  • Human capital curator: Able to manage the flow of talent by developing people and leaders, driving individual performance, and building technical talent.
  • Total reward steward: Able to manage employee wellbeing through financial and non-financial rewards.

We found three other delivery enablers that focused on managing the tactical or foundational elements of HR:

  • Technology and media integrator: Able to use technology and social media to drive create high performing organizations
  • Analytics designer and interpreter: Able to use analytics to improve decision making
  • Compliance manager: Able to manage the processes related to compliance by following regulatory guidelines.

Each of these HR competencies are important for the performance of HR professionals.

I’m struggling a bit with the core drivers because I don’t see the mention of “employees” anywhere. Now, I’m going to give this team the benefit of the doubt and assume for “Credible Activist” and “Paradox Navigator,” they forgot to mention this, so I’m going to take a little creative license and expand on these definitions.

For the credible activist, “we build our trusting relationships so we can have a proactive point of view on behalf of our people.

And for, “Paradox navigator,” I’m going to assume that the tensions inherent in businesses are those mainly driven by employee issues. Those issues are gender wage gaps, discriminatory promotion and hiring practices, lack of a voice on decisions or outright mistreatment and harassment allowed without consequence.

Yes, I see in the middle 3rd competencies that we dive into the change and culture champions, but people a lot smarter than me will tell you that culture is not the sole responsibility of HR. It’s owned by the leaders and employees themselves. But that’s another post on another day on another blog.

HR’s primary responsibility is, and should always be, employee advocacy. In some sense, HR has lost its way. We are so insecure and worried about what others think about us. We are so worried about validation by the business to show we can crunch some numbers and act just like the other dudes in the C-suite that we will grab onto the next shiny object we read in a HBR article. Or we cling to some consulting firm’s study that says we need to adapt to the ways of technology and data or disappear.

Now, before you go on and tell me that I’m some old-school personnel guy who can’t get with the times and needs to adapt and ditch the SHRM conferences and head to HR technology conferences to see where HR is headed, hear me out. HR absolutely needs to evolve and improve the technology and systems of organizations, as long as those improvements have the best interest of the employees and the business. Every business decision should be made with the employee in mind. We need to know about the latest and greatest HR technology because, if and when we make the move to a slicker system, we need to understand how this impacts our employees. You want to make a major investment in your performance management systems? How does this impact your managers? Is this really making their jobs easier or are you now making them take 5 extra steps just to give feedback when they can pick up the phone or set a face to face meeting? And does this system really improve feedback for your employees?

You want to outsource the whole HR operations and process? How about jumping on the AI train? How does it truly impact your employees and what will their experience be? Sure, it may strengthen the bottom line a bit, but at what cost? Yes, it would be nice to have a robot answer basic inquiry from employees, so we can get all strategic, but how does that feel to the soon-to-be mother calling to set up her FMLA and maternity leave? Will that newly divorced father want to talk an “Alexa-like” tower to have his questions answered about the impact of benefits for his children? Maybe.

In all the push to improve processes and remove inefficiencies, which I am all for, let’s make sure we are not losing sight of the employees who will actually be impacted. As HR professionals, let’s remember we are, first and foremost, employee advocates. All the other stuff should only help us enhance this.

This is where we are the “strategic positioner” and “credible activist” and “paradox navigator.” We are able to push the business forward by advocating for our people.

Now, I need to go tell Siri to complete my timesheet.


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