Making the move to HR - what's expected of today's HR professionals?

Written by
Changeboard Team

29 Mar 2010

29 Mar 2010 • by Changeboard Team

What are the Challenges for HR today?

We should perhaps instead be asking what are the Challenges for businesses today? Globalisation, competition, regulatory impositions, parliament acts, taxation changes, mergers and acquisitions to name a few.

The resulting impacts on people can include: restructures and redundancies, loss of key staff, skills gaps, salary freezes, bonus-less staff doing more work and flexible working spring to mind. In a broad sense, the HR function is required to support the business to meet these Challenges - for the organisation and the people.

We have seen a growing need for HR to be a vital partner to the organisation, to add value in its own right, to be the expert, the conscience and the implementer.

How does HR step up to the Challenge?

Specifically, HR meets these Challenges by providing legally sound, transparent and cost efficient packages and approaches for redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE); it supports and tests the board and senior teams on their changed organisational structures.

HR also provides retention plans to keep talent and makes the right sort of training and development available to keep people motivated and fulfil the skills shortages. We have also seen some HR functions take a shared service model approach to reduce administration costs, enabling them to focus on the strategic side of their roles.

The role of HR within a wider business context

HRs variety of functions exist to support the business. In simple terms, the compensation and Benefits experts drive the reward strategy including staff welfare and Benefits. The recruitment team aim to select a capable workforce. The learning and development teams support the training and development required to meet the capability gaps that are identified via processes such as appraisals, talent management, succession planning and training needs analysis.

The HR generalists are the conduit between the expert HR functions and the business. They are the lynch pin to providing consistency across an organisation. They benchmark standards not only in adherence to policy and procedures but across the board; they question evidence of performance in relation to salaries and bonuses, they Challenge subjectivity in talent discussions, they argue for learning and development solutions that will make a difference rather than an easy 'sheep dip approach'.  They couldnt perform such an important role without knowing what the business needs to achieve.

Competencies of today's HR professionals

Commercial awareness, business acumen, a strategic viewthese are all competencies which are associated with the business manager, and HR is now being viewed in this light. The HR business partner now combines the traditional employment law/advice aspect of the role with people matters which align, support and in some cases help drive the business in meeting its goals. 

Clearly, the HR professional today needs to know his/her employment law and to keep up to date with this, but this is only half the story. They need to be practical about what the law/policy means in the context of the in-house culture and the specific situation. Other skills which are key are an ability to Challenge, have tenacity, have attention to detail, see things from a broader view and be objective.

If you are interested in moving into HR, any role that has these traits at its heart means there are transferable skills to HR. With one proviso in my view, an HR professional must be able to combine this skill with an understanding of people and how to affect policies and practices, which support people, rather than lose the people to a process.

Moving into HR - training & development

So, where do you turn if you want to move in to HR? The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is a good starting point. They offer a variety of qualifications from foundation to advanced, post graduate depending on the level of need and amount of experience. They also offer flexible routes to achieving the qualification, such as part-time or distance learning. A CIPD qualification will be viewed positively by employers and it demonstrates you have a level of knowledge and theory regarding HR.

There is also the option to take a more traditional bachelors degree in HR management and several universities in the UK offer three or four year full-time courses. This again provides the theory of HR management and is a good grounding for HR, if you have the luxury of several years to focus on this.

Business focused training for HR professionals

A less academic route, but a route which combines a practical element with the theory are business-focused training courses.

Delegates who attend our courses have often 'fallen' into the role or been asked to take on additional responsibilities. Generally they aid their learning journey by supplementing their training with additional seminars, reading, including the government and ACAS websites.

My delegates say they have initially performed an HR administration role or HR advisor role and gained the theory through experience. Others cite they have been asked to do HR alongside their existing role or have responded to an internal advert. In the first HR course I delivered for Hemsley Fraser, a delegate had been considering moving from her line manager role into HR. By the end of the course, she had decided this was definitely the route for her.

Linking people & business - perfect for HR

Perhaps the perfect route is a combination of academic tests with highly practical training designed to enable the delegate to implement the learning quickly in the workplace and make a difference straight away.

Whichever route taken, in my experience, those who excel in HR have a strong interest in people and can link people considerations with the strategic business issues.