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Today's Human Resources Professional

On a regular basis I am confronted by the disappointing reality that Human Resources is seen by many as an administrative, service function; a necessary evil for business. Recently, a friend was telling me that her company, a small but global medical supply business, had just promoted an administrative assistant to a role focused on starting the human resources function for their company. Now, I don’t know this administrative assistant, but at first glimpse, to me, this is a huge mistake. If an organization truly wants to get value out of their people, HR needs to have strategic capabilities, not just administrative. That is not to say that strong administrative systems and capabilities aren’t a part of the job, but if that’s all your HR department does, your human resources (that is, the people in your organization) will not propel your business forward.

1.  Business Acumen

If you don’t understand the business, you’re not going to be able to develop people practices that impact the business positively.  It’s critical for HR pros to know how your business works – how you make money, who your customers are, industry best practices.  HR pros have to analyze this information to determine where the talent gaps are, how they can be filled, and influence their partners in finance, operations, marketing, etc to implement and execute people practices that drive business.

2.  Change Leadership

In today’s world, the only constant is change, and the biggest problem with change initiatives is the people piece. HR leaders must know how and be ready to create catalytic change, and how to engage people’s hearts and minds in the change in order to execute and sustain it.

3.  Innovation 

HR professionals (and professionals across all functions, in my mind) need to practice innovation in order to build great culture and achieve great results. This means keeping up to date on research and technology, thinking creatively about problems, not always looking to “best practices” but developing your own. Right now, for example, social media is transforming business, and HR must embrace it and use it innovatively in the war for great talent and developing people.

4.  Strategic Thinking

HR leaders must be able to think strategically and holistically about their programs. They must be able to visualize future possibilities, and to see how their actions and people practices affect the organization. Strategic thinking is really counter to administrative task-work, as it’s about getting your head out of the day-to-day administrative “to-do”s and into thinking broadly about the business.

5.  Leadership Coaching

In my experience, this has been critical, especially at more senior levels in HR. As an HR professional, you are often faced with situations in which leaders are unsure what to do, have made mistakes, or may even engage in unethical behaviour. The ability to coach leaders, even those more senior than myself, has been essential to my success. It’s not always easy to give difficult feedback or to help leaders realize their mistakes, but I have found that when I coach from a place of genuinely trying to prevent disaster and to improve business and people, my coaching has been well-received.

I think that as HR professionals enable leaders to engage diverse people and generations, embrace globalization and technology, and develop talent for future needs, these five skills are far more important than the more administrative and generic skills like organizational ability and multi-tasking.

What do you think?  What are the core traits that HR leaders must have in today’s business world?

This blog post has been updated and revised from a post formerly shared HERE.

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