HR Skills: Build a Strategic and Impactful HR Function

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Augment HR With External Expertise to Improve HR Competency

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Develop and augment the skills needed to support an ever-evolving business

HR functions today are responding to a wider range of business needs, which requires a wider portfolio of skills. The problem? The need is growing faster than HR can build, and some of the skills are not typically found within HR. Download our comprehensive toolkit to:

  • Discover the HR capabilities needed to align with today’s business needs

  • Explore new roles within the HR operating model of the future

  • Learn how to augment HR expertise with external knowledge from different areas of the business

The key components of a future-ready HR function

As the HR function and role expectations evolve, HR leaders must ensure HR talent is equipped with the competencies necessary to effectively provide value to the business.

Augmenting expertise to address a wider range of organizational issues

Since the beginning of the pandemic, HR functions face greater demand for support: Fifty-five percent of HR leaders say they receive more requests for help on a wider, more complex variety of topics than before the pandemic. As such, HR staff are under pressure to expand their expertise, sometimes into unfamiliar areas.

Gaps in expertise are frustrating for many CHROs who have invested in upgrading their teams’ capabilities in recent years. The problem? It's not enough. The breadth of expertise needed to fulfill HR’s growing portfolio of responsibilities is expanding faster than HR can handle through internal development alone.

Many of these responsibilities are in areas where there is no proven practice — or where HR may have related expertise but no applied experience. Generative AI, for example, has massive implications for the workplace, but few HR professionals understand it at a sophisticated level, and its impacts are not yet fully known. New technologies, volatile economic conditions, social and cultural conflicts, and other hot-button issues are all landing on HR’s plate, but HR employees may not have the background to handle them effectively.

To address these new challenges, CHROs must shift from just expertise development to augmenting HR with external expertise. This requires going beyond their team’s internal capabilities to find ways to regularly incorporate knowledge and ideas from outside the function into HR’s work.

Most HR functions are not well set up to do this. Only 26% of HR leaders say their staffing model allows them to bring non-HR people into HR roles. Plus, only 35% of HR employees say their function actively seeks to bring in concepts or methodologies from outside HR. But HR teams that succeed at expertise augmentation can achieve improvement in functional excellence.

Successful expertise augmentation includes three key components:

  1. Permeable HR talent movement: Rotating talent into key HR roles from other parts of the business

  2. Collaborative experimentation: Dedicated budget or resources for experimentation

  3. Integration of external ideas: Creating opportunities to integrate new ideas and ways of working from outside the function

The current and future skills HR teams need to succeed

Just 58% of HR leaders believe their function is viewed as a strategic partner to the business. To attract and retain HR talent, HR leaders must assess their employees’ competencies and provide opportunities for them to develop skills that will be necessary for growth in their current and future roles. HR leaders must focus on six core competencies to be successful in their current roles:

  • Business acumen: The ability to work effectively within the organization’s financial and operational context

  • Talent management: The ability to identify, support and execute HR activities of strategic value to the organization and meet employees’ needs across the employee life cycle

  • Data judgment: The ability to handle, analyze, interpret and communicate data effectively and responsibly to drive business outcomes

  • Relationship management: The ability to build relationships and coordinate effectively among a wide range of stakeholders and collaborators

  • Strategic consulting: The ability to develop and execute solutions to business challenges and to influence strategic business decisions

  • Agility: The ability to respond to shifts in the business environment, adapt and change course when necessary

But the above expertise is needed faster than HR can build it. Today’s capability mandate means finding ways to regularly incorporate knowledge and ideas from outside the function into HR’s work. This can be done in three ways:

  1. Permeable HR talent movement

  2. Collaborative experimentation

  3. Integration of external ideas

With permeable talent movement, HR professionals can accelerate the development of their business acumen and be taken seriously as strategic partners, without having more exposure to the organization beyond HR.

Only 28% of HR employees say their function has a dedicated budget or resources for experimentation. A cautious approach to change and limited willingness to experiment can hinder HR’s innovation potential.

Collaborative experimentation is a less risky solution for piloting HR projects and creating a more fruitful environment for experimentation, learning and growth. For example, tightening the criteria for suitable pilots, establishing a clear decision tree for determining whether a pilot should be accepted, implementing a rigorous process, and full transparency on experiments are all ways to implement collaborative experimentation.

Finally, you can build capabilities through expertise augmentation by creating opportunities to integrate new ideas and ways of working from outside the function. Continuing to develop capabilities on the HR team remains fundamental to competing in this business environment. However, CHROs should also take advantage of more of the expertise that lives outside HR to ensure their function can keep up with its rapidly growing and diversifying portfolio of responsibilities.

The roles and skills in the HR operating model of the future

Only 30% of HR leaders believe their current structure allows them to adapt to changing business priorities. In response and in conjunction to augmenting expertise, HR must transform its operating model to enable the function to operate with agility, strategic alignment with the business, and operational efficiency.

The new HR operating model is driven by four imperatives that impact the roles and skills within the HR function:

  • Build a robust HR operations and service delivery team. A centralized, dedicated team, led by an HR COO, serves employees and managers with infrastructure and processes to carry out day-to-day operations.

  • Reinvent the HR business partner (HRBP) to be a strategic talent leader. HR leaders align with specific business units to serve as their de facto CHRO, and partner with business leaders to address the unit’s strategic talent priorities.

  • Create a dynamic pool of HR problem solvers. The heart of the HR function, problem solvers apply project management and critical thinking skills to short-term HR-related projects.

  • Provide agile support with next-generation centers of excellence (COEs). As problem solvers deliver timely agile solutions and technology meets employee needs, COEs will become smaller and bring on contractors and consultants as needed for deep HR expertise.

Strategic talent leaders

Strategic talent leaders are an analytically oriented, VP-level evolution of the HRBP, focusing on HR’s strategic priorities. They identify the most pressing talent opportunities and challenges throughout the organization and are aligned with a specific business unit or function, owning talent management strategy for that group.

They need strong business acumen and talent management skills to work with and influence the aligned business unit or functional leader. And they must also have strong strategic consulting and relationship management skills that enable collaboration and networking both within the HR function and throughout the organization. High proficiency in data judgment will help strategic talent leaders analyze, interpret and communicate data effectively and responsibly so they can drive business outcomes.

HR problem solvers

HR problem solvers work on various strategic projects formerly owned by the HRBP and other HR experts, such as creating and upgrading resources, practices and policies used by HR and the workforce.

Any HRBPs who move into the problem-solver pool should demonstrate high agility by embracing innovative ideas, being comfortable with iterative ways of working, synthesizing a wide range of information, having interest in collaborating with individuals throughout HR and the organization, and possessing the ability to tailor communication based on their audience.

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FAQ on HR skills

HR must have six core competencies to be successful:

  • Business acumen

  • Talent management

  • Data judgment

  • Relationship management

  • Strategic consulting

  • Agility

Because HR competencies are needed faster than HR can build them, HR must find ways to regularly incorporate knowledge and ideas from outside the function into HR’s work. This can be done in three ways:

  1. Permeable HR talent movement

  2. Collaborative experimentation

  3. Integration of external ideas

Drive stronger performance on your mission-critical priorities.