Thursday 5 June 2008

The New Disciplines of HR

Hello, Jon asked me to contribute a few high level thoughts for the upcoming HR Carnival. In support of this event, here are some thoughts on some of the big changes taking place in the world of HR, specifically focused on the new disciplines and skills needed to succeed in this important profession:

  • Understanding integrated talent management: it is no longer enough for HR specialists to focus in specific topical areas, such as compensation, diversity, compliance, benefits, performance management, coaching. Today's integrated talent management strategies demand a holistic view of people management. (For more information please review our talent management framework.)
  • Focusing on strategic competencies: all our research indicates that the highest value HR solutions focus on identifying strategic competencies, assessing such competencies, developing people to improve these competencies, and developing compensation and support systems around these competencies. If you do not understand the pivotal roles and the critical competencies (or capabilities as we call them) in these roles, none of these HR programs can be focused and strategic. Our Top 22 high-impact talent processes illustrate how powerful this focus can be.
  • Developing processes for talent planning: the biggest challenge we find in HR and talent management strategies today is the lack of detailed, integrated people planning data. Fewer than 5% of the organizations we research have an integrated view of the current and future talent gaps in their organizations. And a talent plan, as we describe it, goes far beyond a headcount plan - it must include skills, competencies, management behaviors, culture, and far more. We are working with several major organizations to help them build such integrated planning processes and the results are critically important.
  • Rethinking leadership development: by far the biggest focus area for the organizations we study is the need to rebuild and improve their leadership pipelines - and the two essential elements of this solution are leadership development and succession management. Again, fewer than 10% of the companies we talk with feel expert in these two areas. It is now important to build leadership development programs which are holistic, reach through all levels of the organization, are built on strategic leadership competencies, and are supported by the top business leaders.
  • Thinking like a business consultant: many books have been written on the HR business partner, performance consulting, and more. Again and again when I meet with HR leaders and managers I find a need for them to dive deeper and deeper into their own organization's business strategies and help line management implement talent solutions which encompass and improve strategic business plans.
  • Understanding the needs of multi-generational and global workers: finally, I find again and again that organizations now face significant challenges in the recruitment, development, and support of younger employees -- and in bridging the gaps in skills and styles between the generations. We have a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of our rapidly changing workforce, but only if we understand it and build programs specifically focused on meeting these new needs.

The HR profession is poised to become more strategic and important than ever - in today's slowing economy, increasingly tightened skills market, and changing demographics, our role is becoming more strategic than ever. Remember that everything we do in this profession should be focused on making our organizations' business strategies more effective - and if we build our HR processes to last, our organizations will see tremendous success.

(For more information, please feel free to email me directly or visit our website.)


  1. I think the challenge for many HR functions is to move away from the transactional approach to become the business partner.

    I have witnessed a real shift to this in my organisation over the past year. This is largely down to a new HR Director who is extremely commercially focused. This has made the rest of the board really listen to what he has to say.....because he has lots of value to add!!!

    So getting the right person in the HR leadership role is crucial.


  2. The deeper and deeper we go into this, the more I'm convinced companies need to focus very carefully on their selection of people to staff HR departments.

    Everything Jon has said is of course true but the question I always come across is this - where is the talent going to come from to execute on all these areas modern HR is expected to manage?

    HR people, simply put, don't have the abilities, competencies or skills to deliver on these areas - I suppose that's why they're in HR!

    A top-notch HRD is of course central to this happening but, above all, what's needed is the vision from the senior leadership, then a good deal of luck and ingenuity when staffing the HR function!

  3. Thanks to you both,

    Talent Talk: welcome to the blogosphere. Please note the post was Josh' not my own and I don't want to take credit for his asute observations.

    However, I will comment that from my own perspective, I don't think people join HR because that's the only function they can get into. Most people in my experience pick it for very sound reasons.

    The issue for me is more that we need more clarity on how we can manage people in a different way - not whether we have the capability to do so.

    Cheers, Jon.

  4. Thanks Jo, take your point completely - and apologies for getting my credits wrong!

    I suppose my view's formed by working more in an international sphere, where the very problem is that multinationals globalise their processes, and completely ignore realities at the local level.

    I posted something on the subject here:

    I suppose the process I'm advocating there is influenced by the Gallup approach, which is to start with the customer and work backwards, from a local level upwards. In my experience I feel this approach is really the most effective (though Gallup's execution I also believe is poor in many cases.

    The problem over here is a dual one:

    1. Lack of strategy (which Josh raised)

    2. Lack of human capability / conceptual understanding to implement it.

    Result: HR stays in its functional box, adding value through such earthshattering things like getting the payroll done on time, and organizing staff walk rallies.

    Human Capital is a very important topic and it's sad that companies don't understand it or take it very seriously.

    The big gain for companies lies in the emerging markets (most of Asia) where staff turnover is in many cases 30% or more. 'Not getting it' here is costing them $10s of millions every year, but ho hum...


  5. Thanks for sharing your perspectives on what HR needs to do in order to play a significant and relevant part in their companies.


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