Article: Evolving HR competencies - Much has changed

Strategic HR

Evolving HR competencies - Much has changed

Dr. Wayne Brockbank, at the recent NHRDN Power Session in New Delhi, shared the global competencies demanded of HR professionals as they take an outside-in approach to their role
Evolving HR competencies - Much has changed

High performing HR professionals operate from an outside-in approach where they strive to influence the internal HR agenda


The new HR professionals must have the competency to be a credible activists and aim to build their personal trust through business acumen


Dr. Wayne Brockbank, at the recent NHRDN Power Session in New Delhi, shared the global competencies demanded of HR professionals as they take an outside-in approach to their role

In his 75th visit to India, Dr. Wayne Brockbank brought to light the roadmap to something we, in HR in India, have been toiling with for over a decade now – HR becoming strategic! Going into the root of the matter, Dr. Brockbank shared learning from the Global HR Competencies Survey underway since 1989 when the survey was first launched to really asses what should be the competencies for HR professionals. Dividing the survey results into four critical milestones until now – Dr. Wayne presented the evolution of competencies for HR professionals over the years.

Every five years, the research picks up a few subtle and current trends that predict the direction the HR function is moving towards. The trends very aptly define the future of HR because the data collected for the study is observed and analyzed with a single purpose – to understand what HR does not do well; and when it does, what is the impact it has on competitive business values. While in 1989, the competencies for HR professionals was primarily restricted to business knowledge, change management and HR delivery; the same has moved on to also include ‘personal credibility’ according to data in 1992 and further, had ‘culture’ added to the list in 1997. The trend captured in 2002 made HR’s role closer to the business agenda which therefore, saw the definition of HR competencies expanding to include business knowledge, personal credibility, strategic contribution, HR delivery and HR technology.

 Thus, the role of HR has moved from discovering its role in the business context, to predicting business outcomes and acting accordingly. Most high performing companies, be it in India or abroad, have an outside in approach where HR’s agenda is defined by what their customers’ demand.                                                               

 The RBL research found that by upgrading their competencies in six domains, HR professionals can respond to the business themes and create sustainable value. These six HR competence domains come from assessment by HR professionals and their line associates (over 20,000 global respondents) to 139 specific competency stated survey items. These six competencies have emerged from a three-point overall theme that runs along each one, including:

  • Outside-in: Referring to HR’s need to turn outside business trends and stakeholder expectations into internal action points.
  • Individual-collective: Referring to HR’s need to target both the individual and collective agenda, therefore focus on individual ability and organization capabilities.
  • Event-sustainability: Referring to the fact that HR is not an isolated activity (a training, communication, staffing, or compensation & benefits) but sustainable and integrated solutions.

Theme 1: Strategic positioner

High performing HR professionals operating from an outside-in approach where they strive to influence the internal HR agenda to create a culture that will help deliver on customer expectations. High performing HR professionals are knowledgeable and therefore, are able to translate external business trends into internal decisions and actions. They understand the general business conditions (e.g., social, technological, economic, political, environmental, and demographic trends) that affect their industry and geography. Given this information, their approach is to make decisions that serve key customers by identifying customer segments, knowing customer expectations, and aligning organization actions to meet customer needs. Thus, the focus is towards interpreting the global business context; decoding customer expectations and co-crafting a strategic agenda for their business.

Theme 2: Credible activist

The new HR professionals must have the competency of being a credible activists and aim to build their personal trust through business acumen. This is keeping with the shift from being individualistic towards taking a more collective role. Earning trust through results, influencing and relating to others, improving the self awareness and shaping the HR performance, together contribute to emerging a ‘credibility activist’ that HR professionals need to become today. Therefore, it starts from mastering the art of clear and consistent communication, along with the need is for HR professionals to have a point of view, not only about HR activities, but also about business demands. As activists, HR professionals learn how to influence others in a positive way through clear, consistent, and high impact communications.

Theme 3: Capability builder

The key capability of any organization comes from its culture. A high performing HR professional focuses on creating the corporate culture and then on identifying, maintaining and leveraging the corporate culture to align it with the strategic practices and behaviors. In the present context, an emerging capability of high performing organizations is to create an environment where employees find meaning and purpose at work. HR professionals can help line managers create meaning so that the capability of the organization reflects the deeper values of the employees. Dr. Wayne also explained how companies can arrive at the company mission by understanding the customer demands and align those into the company culture. This will ensure there is a clear message to every employee and they work with a purpose.

Theme 4: Change champion

While the good news is that HR professionals have often been masters at initiating change in organization, the need of the hour is to sustain these changes further on – and this is a challenge in the new workplace. Thus, as change champions, HR professionals make sure that isolated and independent organization actions are integrated and sustained through disciplined change processes. As change champions, HR professionals partner to create organizations that are agile, flexible, responsive, and able to make transformation happen in ways that create sustainable value.

Theme 5: HR innovator & integrator

HR professionals have so far been used to ‘doing their bit’ to carry out the basic people functions of recruitment, performance or compensation & benefits. The way traditional HR approaches it agenda shows a clear demarcation between HR and line. The present concept of free economy urges the need to integrate if efforts can reap must reap benefits where the whole is larger than the sum of parts. Furtehr, the knowledge economy demands HR professionals to become more proactive and determine how it must act to influence its defined dependent variable – the bottom line. Unfortunately, data shows this competency as the weakest area for most HR professionals. Optimizing human capital through workforce planning and analysis, developing talent, shaping organization & communication practices and driving performance are the critical tools for HR professionals. Innovation and integration will results in high impact on business results when HR professionals focus over the long run and integrated outcome from such efforts.                                     

Theme 6: Technology proponent

There is no fooling that technology is a critical part of everyday life and as more people from the younger generation join the corporate league, the role of technology will only increase. At a basic level HR professionals need to move towards using technology much beyond the HRIS systems to improve utility of HR operations. While the misconception is that technology within the organization is the IT department’s responsibility, the truth is that it is the L&D Head who owns the technology agenda. This is true because technology controls the flow of information – identify, import, prioritize, dessemininate, leverage, and brand. In the outside-in approach, to enforce capability building, HR professional need to control the flow of information, leverage it and ensure that it translates into the brand definition. Another trend is in using technology as a relationship building tool through social media. Leveraging social media enables the business to position itself for future growth.  HR professionals who understand technology will create improved organizational identity outside the company and improve social relationships inside the company.


While these emerging themes are quite reflective of what is demanded of a HR professional today – these competencies required great investments from HR professionals. The research shows that an effective HR department has more impact on a business’ performance (32%) than the skills of individual HR professionals (8%). So the need for HR professionals to work together as a unified team to fully creates business value. Further, the most critical for HR to contribute to business include the competencies of HR innovator & integrator and technology proponent. While world-over HR professionals fair worse on these two competencies, and scoring much higher on being a ‘credible activist’, India is at an advantage here – fairing much better in their readiness for HR innovator & integrator, and technology proponent – but of course, it is still just the tip of the ice berg. 

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Topics: Strategic HR

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