HR practices and professionals


Like any other staff members, HR professionals at the very least must be experts in their specialty. Knowing and being able to deliver state-of-the- art, innovative HR practices builds these professionals’ credibility and earns them respect from the rest of the organization. It is the sine qua non for cultivating a professional “brand� for HR.

The dimensions of the professional expertise are shifting rapidly over time. Therefore, HR professionals must be dedicated enough to continually master the underlying theory of HR and must be agile enough to adapt that theory to their unique situation.

At a chief learning officer conference recently an expert spent some time talking about how some of the foundational concepts by Chris Argyris helped organizations build learning disciplines. At the end of the session, some chief learning officers from large firms approached the expert and asked how to spell “Argyris�. Their questions indicated little understanding of Argyris’s seminal work—a bit surprising given that these were the people tasked with helping to transform their firms into learning organizations. To the extent such questions demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the theories behind learning, and how to build on those theories, HR professionals may have some work to do.

Management of Change

This competency is another example of the increasing role of HR as business partner. Perhaps the most compelling challenge facing most CEOs is the need to refocus the organization in response to new strategic directions. HR professionals are well positioned to drive that change—if they are prepared. An HR professional who can orchestrate change processes demonstrates the following abilities:

* the ability to diagnose problems
* build relationships with clients
* articulate a vision
* set a leadership agenda
* sort out problems and implement goals

This competency involves knowledge (of change processes), skills (as change agents), and abilities (to deliver change) essential for moving the “people� side of the organization.

Management of Culture

Management researchers found that firms with “stronger� cultures tend to achieve higher performance. We have described the strategic role of HR architecture and emphasized the role of systems. The employee behavior produced by these systems become woven into the culture of the company. In that sense, a high-performance HR strategy is a leading indicator of a high-performance culture

Personal Credibility

If the other four domains can be thought of as the pillars of HR competence, personal credibility might be described as the foundation on which those pillars rest. Research projects have found that successful HR professionals were seen personally credible both inside and outside their function.

But what does credibility mean? We believe that it comprises three dimensions. First, it requires that human resources professionals “live� the firm’s values. This, of course, goes hand in hand with being the “keepers of the culture.�

In one of the firms the head of HR was being sued for sexual harassment based on compelling evidence against him. In this case, no matter how much this executive knew about business, HR, culture, and change, he utterly lacked-personal credibility.

Organizational values that often trip up HR executives are openness, candor, ability to be a team player, capacity to treat individuals with respect and insistence on the highest performance for HR executives themselves and their staff. If the HR professionals do not live these values in their work, they can hardly expect others to give them much credibility.

Second, HR professionals build credibility when their relationships with colleagues are founded on trust. Trusting relationships emerge when HR professionals serve as valued partners on management teams, when they have “chemistry� with the management team and are able to work well as team members and exert influence without authority, and when they skillfully support business objectives.

Third, HR professionals earn the respect of their colleagues when they act having a point of view about how the business can win. Human resources leaders especially need that attitude of backing up that opinion of ‘business can win’ with evidence presenting innovative and unsolicited ideas and solutions. They must also encourage debates about key issues building a business case for why and how HR matters in strategy implementation.

HR professionals need to understand that they are the “keepers of the culture� and that their impact reaches well beyond their functional boundaries.