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More than HR Skills

More than HR Skills

28th November, 2017

Let’s start this article by eavesdropping on this conversation between two employees:

Employee 1: “Why are the HR guys like that? Every time I need something from them I think twice before going to see them or even before calling.”

Employee 2: “You are telling me! I submitted a complaint the other day about a work related issue. I was really upset and I needed someone to talk to and understand me. What did the employee relations guy say? You have to submit your complaint online! We cannot discuss any complaint before we receive it in writing through the system.”

This brief conversation exposes the impression many employees have about the dealings of human resources departments in organizations. You will notice in this example that the employees are complaining about the attitude of the HR people, not their technical skill or human resources knowledge.

A substantial amount of time and money is invested in equipping HR professionals to perform their job better. The focus of this investment is typically on the development of technical skills and knowledge in the field of human resources; things like recruitment and selection, training and development, performance management, and compensation and benefits.

At Meirc, we see streams of HR professionals coming into our courses and working hard to better their HR skills. This illustrates very well the value organizations put on HR and their heavy investments in the development of their HR staff. Organizations hope of course, that once qualified, these HR staff members will in turn take care of their colleagues and help them enhance their performance and productivity.

But, is this focus on HR technical skills enough? A recent poll taken by a number of HR professionals who attended a webinar that I conducted on the topic of this article showed that more than 50% of their time is spent using skills outside their HR expertise. Ask any HR professional about their role in the organization, and they will tell you: “I am a consultant to line managers, a customer service representative, a personal counselor to employees, a problem solver for my boss, and these are only a few of the roles I play”.

That’s the reality of the HR professionals’ job. They are expected to deliver HR solutions packaged in layers of customer service, surrounded by proper communication and empathy, covered with the knowledge and understanding of the nature and needs of the business, and all wrapped with personal credibility and high emotional intelligence.

According to Becker, Huselid and Ulrich, there are six main competencies HR professionals should possess. They are listed in the following table:

Competencies Becker, Huselid, Ulrich Findings (2003)
Knowledge of the Business Understanding the financial, strategic, technological, and organizational capabilities
Delivery of HR Practice Ability to deliver state of the art, innovative HR practices. Mastering the theory of HR and adapting it to unique situations
Management of Change Diagnose problems, build relationships, set a vision, solve problems and implement goals
Management of Culture “Keeper of the Culture”. Champions, transforms and reinforces desired behaviors
Personal Credibility Living the values, establishing relationships built on trust and having a point of view
Strategic HR Performance Management Orchestrating firm’s strategic implementation through balanced performance measurement system

In this model only two out of the six competencies are directly linked to core HR functions. The remaining four focus on competencies that are more pertinent to the delivery of HR services.

A different yet parallel perspective is shared by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). It lists nine competencies as essential for HR professionals. They are:

  • HR technical expertise and practice
  • Relationship management
  • Consultation
  • Ethical practice
  • Critical evaluation
  • Business acumen
  • Communication
  • Global and cultural effectiveness
  • Leadership and navigation

Again scanning the list, we see that SHRM puts more emphasis on non-core HR competencies. In this case, only one out of nine is a technical HR competency.

In my twenty five plus years’ experience of practicing human resources, I found myself time and again having to hone my communication skills and my knowledge of my employer’s business sector. And it did not stop there. I also found myself playing the role of consultant to the line managers and counselor to the employees. Empathy was one of the major competencies I constantly needed to cultivate and improve; it was a major contributor to the success of any HR service I provided at the organizational or individual levels. In addition, many other non-core HR competencies were regularly called upon to help me in my work. These included other emotional intelligence related competencies, customer service, problem solving, and conflict management. And to top it all, I had to learn to speak the language of any business: numbers! The numbers language was used over and over again in discussions related to key performance indicators (KPIs), budgets or planning.

The evidence is indisputable. The importance of Non HR competencies definitely equals, and often exceeds, the importance of technical HR competencies.

So here is my recommended list of non HR competencies that any HR professional should develop, at least to a minimal level, in order to succeed in his or her career:

  1. Emotional Intelligence: the ability to understand oneself and others in order to manage one’s own emotions and relations.
  2. Communication: mastering the ability to express thought and ideas, verbally, in writing and through public speeches and presentations.
  3. Problem solving: creatively and systematically providing solutions to existing and potential challenges and obstacles standing in the way of achieving departmental and/or organizational objectives.
  4. Conflict management: the ability to assess conflicts and applying the right technique that leads to resolving conflicts and building better team relations.
  5. Customer service: the ability to respond to organizational and employee needs in a friendly, speedy and effective manner.
  6. Coaching and counseling: the ability to help managers and employees achieve the highest levels of job performance.
  7. Speaking numbers: the ability to perform mathematical operations from an accounting stand point to manage budgets as well as the ability to create and measure key performance indicators.

The above list is by no means exhaustive. However, it is the opinion of the author that should HR professionals master these competencies, even at an intermediate level, they will be on their way to a healthy career and future success.

A final note: although this article was written with the HR professional in mind, the recommendation can easily be given to any professional who works in a support function such as logistics, finance, IT or general administration.

About the Author
Ibrahim Al Yafi


Mr. Ibrahim Al Yafi is a partner with Meirc Training & Consulting. He holds a bachelor of science degree in engineering management from the University of Missouri Rolla, USA and a master of business administration with emphasis on strategic management and international marketing from Southern Illinois University, USA. Ibrahim is a senior certified professional by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM-SCP). In addition, he is a professional certified coach (PCC) by the International Coach Federation (ICF).

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